Five Simple Ways to Dress-Up Your Thanksgiving Table

You can use anything as long as the styles and shapes complement each other

By Tia Osweilier | Updated July 5, 2022

Beauty is nature’s brag, and must be shown in courts, at feasts, and high solemnities, where most may wonder at the workmanship.”  John Milton

Have any modern-day poets so eloquently paid homage to the aesthetic aspects of celebration: the tablescape, the trimmings, the embellishments?


But nearly four hundred years after they were scripted, it is Milton’s words that remind us to make special occasions, like Thanksgiving, a sight to behold.  To feature the day’s feast in a visually appealing milieu that is sure to heighten anyone’s celebratory mood.

After all, celebration should be a revelry of the senses: touch, taste, sound, smell, sight.

This Thanksgiving, gently remind your guests there is more to “sight” than sitting in front of the flat screen, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade by morning and NFL games by afternoon. In fact, create a tablescape so lovely, people want nothing else but to linger over it long after the wine runs dry and the last roll is buttered.

Luckily, one needn’t be a domestic goddess (or god) to do so.  This time of year especially, nature gifts us with eye-ravishing fodder, both for consumption and for optical interest.

If, by chance, you need a nudge in the right direction, here are five simple, inexpensive ways to dress up your Thanksgiving table.

Make your own no-sew napkins

DYI napkins are easy to make and are much more interesting looking
DYI napkins are easy to make and are much more interesting looking

Store-bought cloth napkins can be expensive, and they are almost always cut from boring fabrics, which is why they should be homemade.  For some people—including yours truly—the sewing machine is a terrifying contraption with pokey ends and mystifying bobbins.  But no one needs to know that when you showcase your gorgeous DIY linens.

Purchase a few yards of fabric and cut out several 16 x 16 squares. Make sure you choose fabric that will fray easily such as an inexpensive linen or cotton blend. Unravel the edges by pulling the strings out, or wash and dry the napkins until the edges are frayed.  Iron and arrange them according to your heart’s desires.

Create festive DIY place cards

Personalized place cards really make the table standout
Personalized place cards really make the table standout

You could simply buy place cards and scrawl out your guests’ names; there is absolutely no shame in that.  (If I wasn’t writing this article, I might have resorted to this myself). But making personalized place cards for your guests is more fun.  And making them out of mini pumpkins which you’ve spray painted copper (or another shade of metal or even white) is even better.

Pick up a few sheets of specialty paper from a craft store (Hobby Lobby or Michael’s carry nice options) and cut out leaf shapes.  On each leaf, write or stencil a guest’s name, then create a hole near the base. Insert a tassel (also available at craft stores) into each hole, and hang the leaf on a pumpkin.  Repeat until all your guests have been honored and the pumpkins placed at each place setting.

Look outdoors for an inspirational, budget-friendly centerpiece

Floral arrangements are often masterpieces to behold—and for a pretty penny, one can grace your Thanksgiving table.  But there are many other items available for the coveted role of centerpiece that cost little to nothing and are just as lovely.

Look out the window into your backyard; chance are, you’ll see a miscellany of leaves, acorns, and branches.  When placed in a pretty glass jar or vase, these make lovely, seasonal centerpieces without costing a dime.  (Tip: for a hint of glamor, bust out the metallic spray paint again and spray away!) Or head to the farmer’s market and bring home pumpkins, gourds or flowering kale.  When grouped together, they transform any table into something that is both festive and organic.

Forget matching: embrace the beauty of contrast

Use touches of tradition, like Grandma’s old dishes
Use touches of tradition, like Grandma’s old dishes

Masculine with feminine.  Old with new.  Dark with light. Perhaps you have an old farmhouse table; you could serve your feast in wooden bowls and have everything look very nice and themed.  Or, you might serve your feast in ornate silver, delicate china, and sparkling goblets while the background of rugged wood offers the striking effect of contrast. White plates, set against black silk placemats.  Touches of traditional—Grandma’s old silver butter dish—co-existing nicely alongside a set of modern, white plates. The conflict of juxtaposition is both fascinating and beautiful.

Establish your table’s “good” bones

You can use anything as long as the styles and shapes complement each other
You can use anything as long as the styles and shapes complement each other

You have the menu planned, the centerpiece in place and basics such as plates and stemware.  But a festive gathering such as Thanksgiving is an opportune time for addressing any deficiencies in table must-haves.  If you lack a few things, rummage through your mother’s pantry, Grandma’s pantry or even the local thrift store until your table has all the right components: flatware, chargers, salad plates, goblets. None of it needs to match, as long as the styles and shapes complement each other.

Incorporate multiple pieces, such as two or three glasses per person and the whole gamut of flatware. While most of us probably don’t use more than one fork for our daily meals, it doesn’t hurt to have to recall which fork to use with the salad, the dessert, and the entrée. In fact, it reminds us that this feast, this occasion, is not like ordinary dinners with ordinary flatware and ordinary dishes.

It’s special; the day we remember to be grateful for the bounty.  For the completeness of nature and the harvest.  For the breath, we breathe and the love we give and receive. For the life we celebrate, yet another year, yet another autumn.

Make it a beautiful day. A beautiful memory.  A beautiful occasion.

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