Styling by Heather Tyree, photos by Steven TorresIn the days that lead up to Thanksgiving, you will likely be busy with last-minute shopping, cabinet inventories, brining the turkey, and baking pies. Table settings become an afterthought, cobbled together at the last minute -- a bouquet of generic flowers from the grocery store, a haphazard arrangement of seasonal pumpkins and gourds from a local green market, a dusty set of candelabra dug out of the drawer.
Instead of relying on old standbys, do something different this year. Many of the simple table setting ideas that follow can be put together in advance, using materials that you already have on hand, and with a little help from your kids. Search through your cabinets, raid your craft drawer, pick up a few extra supplies on your Thanksgiving grocery run, and get creative.
Fill glass vases with layers of colorful dried legumes (this would also work with dried fruits or nuts). Scavenge your pantry or visit a local supermarket to find more unusual varieties. Choose different shapes, sizes, and textures for an appealing arrangement. After you have poured in the first layers of beans, lentils, and peas, place a pillar candle in the middle of the vase so that the wick is at just about the same height as the rim. While this simple, modern take on yesteryear's overflowing cornucopias will last an entire season, the beans can also be recycled and put to use -- along with Thanksgiving leftovers -- in a hearty soup.
Why buy a costly candle centerpiece when you can make your own using common household items? A rubber band will hold cinnamon sticks in place around pillar candles and can be disguised with a length of twine or raffia. The best part: The candles smell amazing. Turn saucers and bowls upside down to make attractive bases -- search your china cupboard for unusual patterns and shapes to add height to candles and serving dishes.
Another option is to bore out the center of seasonal fruits and vegetables, like apples, pears, and miniature pumpkins, for use as candleholders. To create the perfect-size hole for a tea light or small votive, use a pumpkin carving tool, a sharp serrated paring knife, or a simple gadget like the Candle Carver. Scatter a series of the candles down the length of the table for a simple but sophisticated fall table setting.
You don't need a set of season-specific napkin rings for Thanksgiving. Tie sprigs of herbs to a folded napkin using twine, or wrap rings of real berries threaded on floral wire around the napkin (you can also use stalks of fake berries, fall blossoms, or inexpensive bracelets and bangles). For more ornate napkin-folding techniques, watch our technique videos here.
For a simple, beautiful way to display place cards, revisit your dining room cupboard and seek out small, clear glass bud vases, shot glasses, votive candleholders, or finger bowls -- an assortment of shapes and sizes will add visual appeal to the table. Fill the gathered vessels halfway with colorful dried legumes (consider matching these to your centerpiece). Small cuttings from a seasonal branch or blossom will add height and detail to these miniature arrangements -- a shaft of wheat, a small branch of dried berries, or a sprig of fake silk flowers in autumnal colors will do. Feel free to get creative; we cut out small birds from old pieces of cardboard and attached them to floral wire. Balance name plates within the branches, or place them up against the glassware.
Got any brown paper bags lying around? The kids can help cut them into pretty patterns for a sophisticated take on traditional luminaria. Turn the bags inside out and set kids loose with paper punches (both seasonal and geometric), special edging scissors and cutters, or old-fashioned scissors and their imaginations. When they've had their fun, measure the bags, cut them down to size, and wrap them around clear glass, straight-edge vases, using double-sided tape to hold them securely in place. A lit tea light or votive placed in each vase will bring a flickering glow to the table.
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