Last year Ray and I hosted Thanksgiving dinner. And, guilty as charged, I have been known to go a little overboard with dinner parties. My goal as a hostess has always been to show each guest how special they are to me by the details I put into the preparation – whether it’s with a fun or unique theme, extravagant menu, or both.
Last year’s menu was very traditional. Ray and I planned the cooking schedule so that dishes needing the oven wouldn’t compete with the turkey. We had the food prep well covered. Ray always handles the turkey, and he helps as needed with the sides. He doesn’t think about the setting of the table – at least not to the extent I do for a holiday meal.
At the precise moment I declared I couldn’t possibly reuse the setting I had last used, I made a run for Hobby Lobby. I can’t say that I had anything particular in mind, but my goal was likely to find some sort of season-appropriate vessel in which to place an arrangement of artificial autumnal florals or branches, and I’m pretty sure I wanted to avoid cornucopias and pumpkins at all costs. After about an hour’s search, I honestly was about to leave the store totally discouraged and uninspired until…
I saw her…
She stood proudly atop one of the decorative displays with coordinating farmhouse fare, and I knew it in an instant that she would be our masterpiece centerpiece and she would stand tall on our table on Thanksgiving day as if snubbing the world, saying: “Tonight, you eat turkey.” Although I sensed this special hen was of French persuasion, therefore she would instead say: “Ce soir, vous mangez de la dinde.” I named her Rosaline.
Rosaline inspired the entire table setting. With her as my muse, I proceeded to obtain all other coordinating pieces and required supplies. Two cream-colored, glazed bowls (dessert size) that would be the smaller arrangements to flank her and provide symmetry. Green florist foam to secure the arrangements in the bowls. Deep red artificial mums (a couple of wired bunches), scarlet and black feathers (on wired stems), wired dark orange and scarlet red beads (berries?), Spanish moss, twine covered wire (because it looked cool), and ivory burlap ribbon. I always buy a coordinating spool of ribbon for bows, ties, or whatever. Always.
Assembly was easy; here’s what I did. [And before I go on, I will add that I am not a professional florist or DIY coach. This is just for fun, and you are responsible for using your own cutting tools, handling pokey wires and blazing hot dripping glue, and such.]
Filler: A florists foam ball goes into each bowl. I was lucky enough these fit perfectly! I used double-sided tape inside the bowl to secure the foam temporarily. (Just in case I want to change it for the next holiday.) If the foam is too big, carefully cut it with a serrated knife. The blade should be larger than the foam piece or you’ll have to saw into the foam from several angles until your cuts meet in the middle. You could also use a dollop of hot glue in the bottom and sides of the bowl, but it doesn’t hold as permanently on non-porous materials.
Spanish Moss: Using hot glue as an adhesive, cover the foam with Spanish moss. You can start with a generous handful and then pull away the excess. The goal is to hide the foam and not scald your fingers with the hot glue in the process.
Cut & Arrange Flowers: Cut off the mums with about 3-4 inches of wired stem remaining. This is punctured into the foam. Cut and arrange the remaining mums into the foam. If any stick out too far for your liking, pull them out and trim off a little more wire.
Add Accents: Cut the wired feathers and wired berries (or other sprigs of embellishment you are inspired to use) and arrange any creative way you feel!
Bows: Make 3” bows with burlap or other ribbon. A lot of ribbon comes “wired” these days. For small bows, especially if you’re using burlap, you don’t need the wire for holding shape. After I cut my pieces of ribbon, I pull out the wire from one end using needle-nose pliers. Cut the length approximately two times the final width you want plus add ½-1” on each end. Bring the ends together and overlap them, creating a circle of ribbon. Flatten it. Keep the overlapped ends in the center. Pinch the center to create the “bow” and wrap the center. You could use twine, embroidery floss, or yarn that is wrapped a few times and tied off in the back with a knot. I used leftover piece of narrower, matching satin ribbon and secured on the back with hot glue.
Greeting Cards: Cut small cards from any card stock. Mine were a little larger than business card size. Pencil a border for a old-fashioned look. I wrote a French word on each card, also using a different style of lettering: “famille,” “bonjour,” “mon amour”and so on. Use a color pencil for accent between lines, tracing lines or shadowing lines. I chose red, of course, to match Rosaline. Place a card and bow on each plate.
You can also involve family to help. I asked my lovely step-daughter, London, to be creative with the wired twine. She wound it around the centerpiece like a grapevine.
For me, the most fun was hunting for the other little coordinating pieces. With just one stop at a local antique mall, I found silver etched trivets and two pairs of hen and rooster salt and pepper shakers. You can ALWAYS find quirky pairs of S&P shakers for any theme at an antique mall!
I found a perfectly shaped vintage lace tablecloth at a very good price from Etsy. Of course, be careful ordering vintage textiles online. Watch for rips (especially in vintage lace) and stains. Be sure to ask the seller more about the item if he/she doesn’t fully disclose the item’s condition in the listing.
The final, very special touch: we dusted off the etched crystal stemware from my godmother. It coordinated perfectly fine with our everyday bone-white dinnerware.
My tips for a lovely DIY table decoration: Find a main element that is the star of the show and really speaks to you. Let that piece define the theme or mood. Pick one or two dominant colors and pick one or two dominant textures or motifs. To support my French Country Hen theme, I chose Rosaline’s ivory and deep red for colors and, texturally, I played off Rosaline’s feathers with feather sprigs in the floral arrangements and her carved motifs that repeat in the etched silver trivets, crystal stemware and vintage lace tablecloth. Other coordinating touches: burlap, twine, glazed bowls, hen and rooster S&P shakers, and personalized bow and card with familiar French words. Voilà!
As we sat down for dinner and said the blessing, Rosaline perhaps said her own blessing: “Mon Dieu, merci beaucoup. Ce soir, ils mangent de la dinde... Pas moi!"