Peas and Carrots hand embroidered cocktail napkins

After all the pre Christmas, post Christmas and general celebrate-we're-on-Summer-holiday drinks I've been knocking back over the past month and a half, I've decided to give my liver a break and not drink alcohol for the next month, at least. The irony that I've decided that now is the perfect time to post about Cocktail napkins is not lost on me.

mineral water....


As long term blog readers will know, I have a love of embroidery. I also have a love of setting a nice table. So when the two collide, I'm in - Table Linen is my Achilles Heel. 

Marghab "Irises" margandy placemat and napkin in white on white


A company called Marghab produced probably the highest quality of hand embroidered table linen in the world. Sadly, they went out of business in 1980, but they were in operation from 1933 until that time, so that means there are pieces available on the vintage market, although it is now quite collectable and prices are high (although not when compared to new products from the likes of D Porthault etc). Here in Australia Marghab was sold by David Jones and Georges department stores, and overseas it was sold in various high end retailers throughout the US such as Neimen Marcus and Marshall Fields and some specialty stores in Europe. 

A close up of the fine embroidery, all of which was hand done.


It all originated in Madeira, an island of Portugal, where the women were highly skilled embroiderers, and the quality of the embroidery exceptional as a result. Marghab used fine quality lawn, and a product they worked with a mill in Switzerland to produce themselves, a sort of organdy fabric that was much harder wearing, despite its delicate appearance, that they called "Margandie". It's fairly transparent and a little stiff, and is used more often in the placemat sets, such as the Irises ones above. Embroiderers were paid by the stitch.

my cocktail napkins in different coloured backgrounds. I have two of the geranium sets, one in white and one in linen.


After purchasing a couple of sets of cocktail napkins on eBay for drinks or afternoon tea, my Mother in Law said she'd never seen them in this format before - she seems to think that the Cocktail napkins were not sold in Australia. She recalls Marghab being a popular choice for a wedding gift, with the guest hand towels, tray sets (placemat and two napkins for your morning breakfast tray), tablecloths placemats and matching napkins being reliably well received gifts back in the late 60's, early 70's. My Mother in Law also remembered them as being fairly expensive, however for the quality of the hand embroidery, well, I think they were likely a bargain when compared to the machine made linens that are very expensive today.

Pimms cup sitting on Sailboats

So, what is a Cocktail napkin? I hear some of my Australian readers asking... 
These are very familiar to American readers, but for some reason have never really been embraced here. They are a sort of cross between a coaster and a napkin, a small rectangular format cloth napkin that can be wrapped around a drink, or to sit a drink on top of, or to wipe fingers on after eating hors d'oeuvre.  I have been using mine for afternoon tea when serving cake or sandwiches, as well as evening drinks, and with so many different patterns on offer.. it's easy to theme and get a little carried away. 

 Geraniums are a perfect match for cabbage ware

Somehow, I seem to now have a small collection. Madeira linens in general are very good quality, so even if you're not keen on the Marghab patterns that are available, you'll find that other very high quality hand embroidered napkins and linens by other companies may have something that catches your eye in the vintage market.

So, I'm now enjoying my mineral water on one of the Fish napkins, but will return to full cocktail mode in another month's time. So, chin chin and bottoms up!

25 comments:

  1. Gorgeous! I love using cocktail napkins when we have friends around for drinks. I could use another set and would love some Marghab, they are quite expensive on eBay these days though you've tempted me and I might have to keep my eye out for the perfect set.
    Funny that the cocktail napkin thing never caught on in Australia, but maybe they will become increasingly popular. Standing around with drinks and snacks it's much more convenient to hold a smaller square napkin rather than a large dinner-sized. xx

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    1. It is a funny thing that the napkins seemed to have bypassed Australia. People use the small square paper napkins for drinks parties now, but the cloth ones I've never seen in recent times, and certainly my Mother in Law hadn't seen them before from back when Marghab were producing and available in Australia.
      I can see you using them at your drinks parties Dani! Always so stylish x

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  2. How funny that you are only now beginning your dry period. I just heard the other day that last weekend (in the UK), alcohol sales were going to go through the roof as everyone chose January as their dry month and most give up on the last weekend of January and splurge.

    Although I've not heard of Marghab, per se, I believe i may just have a roll cover which I long ago used as a liner for a basket of scones. Now, where has it gone I wonder? Off to dig around for it.

    Would enjoy sharing a drink or two with you as you serve them up so stylishly.

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    1. Here in Australia there is a thing called "Febfast" and you stop drinking for the month (charity promotion). Our long Summer holidays are January, whereas the rest of the world is back at work, so to not drink from the 1st Jan would be very hard as it's all catching up with friends and family, and being on holiday somewhere. That's very funny about the splurge day for UK retailers though!
      I'm intrigued by your bread liner that may be Marghab... would love to see it. I suspect you have some lovely linens stashed away CD! xx

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  3. Lovely collection Heidi. I have embroidered and collected for most of my life and never tire of embroidered linen.
    Hand stitched anything will become obsolete in time as the art has been lost and those available are prohibitively expensive. Even in China, where until a decade ago, it was still plentiful is now machine produced. Young people prefer working in factories and the older cottage workers are in decline.

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    1. I think you're absolutely right. I remember when I was in Vietnam just 12 years ago there was hand embroidery everywhere, but the factories are replacing the cottage industry, and the skills aren't being passed down. I think also that a lot of people don't appreciate hand work in general - you can see that with furniture and the lack of craft of so many pieces churned out in factories... yet there are plenty of people who'd prefer to buy that than something made by hand (but probably older) and better made. x

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  4. I am generally too busy guzzling the cocktail in question to pay too much attention to the napkin, but maybe this is because the napery is boring. Maybe these beauties are a good ploy to get me drinking more mindfully....bottoms up!

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    1. The napery is always boring! Generally cocktail napkins at things are just plain white paper, but in a house, it's kind of nice to use the more interesting colourful ones I think. x

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  5. I'm partial to handkerchiefs myself so this was interesting reading. I'm not much of a drinker, nonetheless they're lovely little things.

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    1. I hadn't realised there were handkerchief collectors out there until I started eBay watching things! The handkerchiefs sell for quite a lot from Marghab, they are quite collectable I gather

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  6. These are so you, Heidi! In fact at first glance, until I read on, I thought you'd embroidered the first beautiful one yourself. They're so pretty. The quirkier ones must be great ice-breakers at parties!
    I love hand embroidered things too - my mother made lovely tablecloths, tray cloths, dressing table sets etc, including a truly wonderful apron. But it's so precious I never use it. I have some very pretty old guest towels, about 80-100 years old, all white, that were hand embroidered and edged with hand crocheted lace. There used to be a wonderful antique place in Berrima that sold them - but sadly it closed down some years ago. No cocktail napkins of that size, though I have some hand embroidered Spanish ones that came with small tablecloths I bought in different cities in Spain. But they're smaller even than your traditional English (?) ones.
    Those Margharb placemats and napkins are exquisite! Have occasionally in the past found lovely hand embroidered things in good condition at OpShops (not Margharb though) but these are becoming rare. Pammie

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    1. I haven't picked up a needle and thread for embroidery for a couple of years I'm afraid... work has taken over! How lovely you have your mother's things though P, they are definitely something to treasure. I can't imagine there are many embroidered things in op shops these days. You can still buy boxes of antique linens at the auctions, but I suspect that within 20 years this will cease as well. People now don't entertain or live in the same way, and no one is producing these sort of items to create new stock. x

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  7. These are just exquisite Heidi. I always put out cocktail napkins (I have a large-ish collection of embroidered linens from my parents' expat days in Hanoi) but I find that most of the time people don't use them. I think they just add to the whole occasion and really enjoy using them. How clever to source them on ebay! Can you share your tips on looking after them and getting stains out? I tend to put them all in a basin of cold water in the evening and deal with them the next day!). xx

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    1. The embroidery in Vietnam was absolutely beautiful Charlotte. My mother had a tablecloth made up for the dining table (very long, so needed a non-standard size) when they first travelled there about 25 years ago. I can't imagine that it would be so easy to find someone to do that now. I remember some very good homewares stores near the Opera House in Hanoi, all French owned companies who were having things still made in Vietnam, but as we didn't visit Hanoi when we were last there I have no idea if this is still the case.
      For stains, I just treat them like normal linens, so will soak with an oxygen based soaker if necessary, and wash on normal setting in cold water in my machine. If there is red wine or something else still on them I will put them out in the sun while wet, as the UV light will take out any residual stains. UV light may be trickier for you though in the UK to obtain! You can buy uv light globes if that doesn't work for you xx

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    2. Heidi, What a wonderful tip about putting wet red wine stained linen out in the sun for the UV to take out! Have never heard this before! Many thanks! Pammie x

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    3. Thanks so much Heidi... I did not know about UV light! Fantastic! Sadly you are right about the UK x

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  8. Love reading your posts...thank you.

    Linda C.

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  9. naturally I love these! Am with you on the not drinking altho last night I did find myself measuring 100ml of white wine into a glass because I felt like it!

    Stay sane x

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    1. Gosh that's precise!! I managed to make it through a cocktail party nursing a mineral water, so I'm still on the band wagon. But it's not a lot of fun I admit!!! xx

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    2. When we lived in Colombo there were diplomatic receptions or dinners nearly every week night except Friday. So I never drank alcohol at these (they were work functions for us, after all)- just soda water (no mineral water available there back in the day) and NO ICE. Because it was so hot and humid I knocked back gallons. The waiters quickly came to know my preference and often topped up my glass with more plain soda water. The first reception we went to, a military bigwig I'd been introduced to earlier in the evening joined me late in the party and commented on how much I'd been drinking. "How do you do it?" he asked - "I'd be under the table if I drank that many. I've counted around 7 glasses already!" He found it hard to believe that every single glass was just soda water. It also showed me how closely people observe you at these functions. Counting my drinks indeed!
      Good luck with sticking to the band wagon! Pammie

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  10. Oh they look like so much fun! I just had a quick squiz on ebay. There are some fun ones I wouldn't mind. Although I am highly doubtful I would ever use a cocktail napkin.
    I absolutely adore iris placemat! The shape is so modern! I just love it. It is sad to read in a lot of descriptions that they were probably unused. Glad to see you are pulling yours out and enjoying them.

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    1. I think you of all people would use them for afternoon tea or something with one of your beautiful cakes Laura!
      Agree with you about the unused factor. I see it all the time at the weekly estate auctions, where things still have their stickers on waiting for a "special" occasion that has never eventuated.

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  11. I love vintage linens so much! What a beautiful collection you have. You'll love the yellow and white embroidered linens I have for Easter. My collection is, however, dreadfully lacking in cocktail napkins...might need to fix that. It is always staggering to me to think how much used to go into run of the mill things and how now it's hard to find handcrafted and quality even when very expensive. I think I'm going to go dry for a few weeks too but I'm not making any promises. The Christmas table setting is so pretty!

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    1. Can't wait to see all your Easter prep Stephen!! Your table settings are always inspirational :)
      I so agree with you about the handwork that is in the older things, and if you think about how much you'd pay for the equivalent in a shop made today they'd be so prohibitively expensive only the very rich would be able to afford them. It's such a shame that hand crafts like this are a dying art.
      So far I'm one and a bit weeks into my dry spell. I think I'll do it for 4 weeks and see how I go. Or maybe 6...

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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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