Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Popping in...for tea!

I've found an unexpected pocket of time to myself and thought I'd just pop in and share my tablescape from our church's Ladies' Christmas Tea. If I don't post the pics now I never will, what with Christmas upon us and all, and this tablescape cost me too much angst and too many tears to not share it.

I'm rather proud of myself. Can I say that? It's true.

This is the second year our church has held a Ladies' Tea just before Christmas.  And this is the second year I've hosted a table.  Last year, my friend called me and said, "We're having a tea at church.  You and I are so hosting a table together!"  And my response was, "Heck, yes, we are!"

That's me on the left, wearing the purple paper crown
So, we pooled our resources (mostly a mismatched hodgepodge of china on my part and a perfectly elegant set of dishes and the most stunning silver candelabra on hers) and co-hosted a table.  We're pretty nerdy about tea--truth be told we're tea snobs--so this was right up our alley.  And the Ladies' Committee did a whiz bang job with the sandwiches, scones, cookies and even Devonshire cream so we felt like little girls playing tea party with our fake British accents and extended pinkies!

And there's Mom on the right in her regal "golden" circlet
Sadly, this year, my friend could not share hostess duties with me as she had to go and have a baby (a most delicious one!) a few scant weeks ago.  Thus, my only option was to host a table all by myself.  The task was daunting, but I decided I could be a grown up and handle it all on my own.

Well, after weeks of planning and days of preparation (including several hours spent sobbing while flung across the foot of my bed after having burnt two batches of scones), it all came together!  I admit I was rather thrown when I heard we would be using black table cloths.  Black?  What on earth could I do with black?  The only set of dishes of which I had enough for 8 people was white on white (seen above).  I was very concerned that the white dishes against the black tablecloth was going to look very stark and cold.  And not at all Christmassy.

I decided that several silver pieces I had lying around would go nicely with the black and white (once I spent an entire afternoon and evening polishing them up whilst imagining myself a servant at Downton Abbey) but I still needed a pop of color and something else to tie it all together.  As you can see, I decided on green.  You see, the same friend who co-hosted with me last year once had a bathroom which was painted the most brilliant shade of green I have ever seen.  And all of the accessories were black and white: black and white tile floor, black and white toile shower curtain, black frames and mattes on black and white prints on the walls.  It was one of the most breathtaking rooms I had ever seen and I have been secretly obsessed with recreating the color scheme somehow, somewhere ever since.

Since I don't have a 3-tiered server, I decided to fake one.  I used a silver tray that hangs on my dining room wall most of the time as the bottom tier and set my cake plate (sans dome) on it.  I stuck a small footed plate on top of the cake plate and and then set a small silver plate that just happened to be the right size on top of the footed plate as the pattern of the plate didn't match the rest of the table and the silver plate did.

Daria unearthed a bag of potpourri at Marshall's that was a) just the right assortment of colors and shapes and b) just the right kind of intoxicatingly fragrant without being nauseating or cloying (I'm not kidding; I have a bag of it sitting on the desk next to me and I think I'm going to make sachets out of it, I can't get enough!) so I snapped it up and spread it all around the bottom and top tiers.  Don't worry, I didn't steal it from Daria.  She found it for me!  She hates potpourri!

I'm not sure where the idea to use fruit came from, except that I probably thought it would be relatively inexpensive and absolutely could not find anything else in the right color anywhere.  Apparently, pear green is not considered a very festive color this time of year.  So fruit it was and when I found that darling pear candle on the top tier there (yes, that's a candle) the deal was sealed.  The rest was relatively easy as I just used pieces I already had at home.  It was fun to be able to put them to use!  But I still needed something to tie everything together...NAPKINS!

I knew it would come down to the napkins to make everything gel.  Don't ask me how I knew this; I'm not usually this aware of these things.  And though I don't sew, I knew it would take Mom less than a single evening to whip up some cloth napkins.  So, next thing I knew, Mom and I were scouring Jo-Ann's for some cheap black and white fabric.  And what a miserable learning experience that was!

I had my heart set on green and white toile.  And when I couldn't find that, I decided to look for something green and white that wasn't palm trees.  And then I thought about maybe just solid green?  Stripes?  Black and green?  WHERE IS THE GREEN, PEOPLE?  We couldn't even find green trim or ribbon.  I guess green really is a grinchy color that gets packed away during Advent!

So...then we thought about black and white toile.  And, lo! we found one.  But, alas! the background was too creamy.  My dishes were white, after all, and we couldn't have white and cream co-existing on a tea table!  So we decided to go with a crisp floral black and white that could possibly be interpreted as somewhat poinsettia-esque with the right degree of squint.  We found trim (with sparkles!), tassels and small silver jingle bells and Mom set happily to work, making her usual stitch-craft magic.

Voila!  Lovely, no?  And just the right touch, if I say so myself.  I could just KICK myself for not getting a nice, good close-up of Mom's handiwork, but I do have an ironic rest of the story to tell you.  Are you ready?  When I got the napkins home and set one against one of the plates to revel in its glory what do you think I found?

That's right.  My dishes are actually CREAM-COLORED.  All the trouble we went through to get pure white and now I had the very problem we were hoping to avoid.  And I could have used the black toile in the first place!  But, what was done was done so I dyed the napkins in tea.  Twice.  There I was at 10:00 the night before the tea dunking napkins into a bowl of tea.  And they came out perfectly!

The final touches on the table were some silver snowflake confetti to add some sparkle and a box of silver and white Christmas crackers.  Those silly crackers were a huge hit, which, perhaps, you can tell from the photos of nearly everyone at my table wearing them willingly.  I bought a box of crackers for the kids a few Christmasses ago mostly because of their Harry Potter connection.  Well, they have now become somewhat of a tradition in our house since then and I decided to share it with the ladies at my table.

Each cracker, once it has been pulled apart with a loud bang, contains a tissue paper crown (which must be worn throughout dinner), a joke to be read in turns to the rest of the table and a little trinket of some sort.  I thought the ladies would be politely interested but I never expected them to get into it as much as they did!  Everyone took turns reading their jokes and they were actually quite funny!  The trinkets were the right mix of silly and cute (one lady got a rather adorable lipstick pen and another got a pack of cards) and everyone shocked me to my toes by putting their crowns on and leaving them there throughout the meal!  They all thought it was charming and by the end of the afternoon I had people coming up to me and asking what they were called and where they could get them.  It was great, great fun.

So, despite all of my fussing and fretting, the tea was a success and my table did not look like a bunch of rabid monkeys had set it.  Everyone had a lovely time and it was nice to sit and have tea with some sweet ladies from my church.  Even the clean up afterwards was enjoyable.  There was something fun about the sights and sounds of a room full of women clearing all those tables after a small feast.  The clink and clatter of china and silver, the crinkle of paper being carefully wrapped around precious dishes, the rush of water in the sink, the clicking of heels trotting to and from the kitchen, women's voices giggling, chatting and calling across the room to one another as they cleaned.  It felt so feminine and sisterly and I felt truly blessed to be a part of it.  I can't wait to do it again next year!

But I will definitely be taking my dishes with me to shop for fabric!

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