Napkin folding

"Top 100 step-by-step" Napkin Folds" by Denise Vivaldo book cover. (November 16, 2012)

You might not be able to pull together a Thanksgiving table decor à la Martha Stewart, but rest assured you can fold a napkin. And that's really all you need, says Los Angeles food writer and food stylist Denise Vivaldo, author of a new book, "Top 100 Napkin Folds."

Vivaldo says Thanksgiving Day hosts have enough to worry about without feeling the pressure of putting together a table-scape involving tiered floral arrangements, crafty centerpieces or ice sculptures capturing fall leaves in flight (Google it!).

A cloth napkin is perhaps the easiest, and thriftiest, way to dress up the Thanksgiving Day table, she says. "Cloth napkins add a touch of elegance to any table. It tells your guests, 'I care.'"

Her new book contains more than 1,000 step-by-step photos of napkins being folded in ways that run the gamut from playful to posh. The book divides napkin folds from the easy (like the simple "Buffet Roll") to the advanced. The elaborately pleated "Weave" requires 15 steps. Per napkin.

Be forewarned: This book will make you want to throw a New Year's Eve dinner party just so you can turn a pair of black-and-white napkins into "Tuxedo." Also party-inspiring: A napkin turned into a Hawaiian shirt for a luau, a fortune cookie for an Asian feast, a playful bikini bottom for a beach-side buffet.

Vivaldo stresses, however, that napkin folds don't need to be fussy or overly fancy. The napkins don't even need to match. In fact, sometimes it's better if they don't.

"I tell people to shop the bargain bins," Vivaldo said. "You don't want or need to spend a lot of money on these. You can buy an assortment of napkins in fall colors. Sometimes the mix-and-match look is best."

Her single favorite tip for those of you who are hosting Thanksgiving this year is this: Set the table the day before.

"I am all about 'do ahead,'" she said. "And I'm also about 'delegate.' And folding napkins and setting the table is something you can get the kids to do for you."

rene.lynch@latimes.com