I wanted to show you how I put together the place settings at my Kentucky Derby inspired graduation party. This is the same technique I use for almost every party, so once you’ve got this easy layering system down, you can tweak the style and use it for all your party place settings, too.

Step 1: Placemat

I usually start with a tablecloth simply to protect my table. For this party, since there would only be four kids, I skipped the tablecloth because I thought the deep brown of our table would complement the party. When it comes to placemat selection, I’m all about whatever is cute and cheap. That means I often skip woven or cloth placemats and turn to paper. Scrapbooking paper (12″ x 12″) can be a great solution. I also like these placemats from Amazon. You can get 50 for around $10, depending on the color. Speaking of which, if you invest in a white tablecloth (try LinenTablecloth.com or TableclothFactory.com) then paper placemats are a great way to add a pop of color to your table.

Step 2: Charger

I love a charger plate. (And I know you’re supposed to remove them for eating, but I never do because they are so cute!) For this party, since we were only serving dessert, I used a regular dinner plate as a charger. This plate is from a set of Johnson Brothers ironstone that I found in an antique store for $22. Sorry to humble brag, but I love that story. It’s my Antiques Roadshow moment. I use them all. the. time. at my parties because white goes with everything. I also keep gold, silver, and black plastic chargers — they seem to be the colors that are the most versatile. You can find them on sale for about $2 per plate. Check craft stores like Hobby Lobby or Michael’s before turning to Party City, where chargers seems to be pricier. The main thing is that (unless you’re going for a monochromatic or ombre look) you want the color of your charger to contrast with your placemat.

Step 3: Napkin

Sometimes I place my napkin to the left of my place setting and use a cute napkin ring or paper wrap. (That’s what I did at my Wizard of Oz party.) But at this party, I added the napkin on top of my charger to give me one more layer in my color story. You also can fold it longer, place it under the charger, and let the napkin drape off the edge of the table. (See the look at my Country Music Awards Party.) Either way, the napkin techniques work better with a fabric napkin than a paper napkin. A dozen polyester napkins are about $11 from LinenTablecloth.com or TableclothFactory.com. Of course, with fabric napkins, you can use them again and again.

Step 4: Plate

Now it’s time to add your smaller plate. If you used a traditional charger, the next plate could be dinner sized. Since my charger was a dinner plate, my next plate was lunch sized. I love using plates from Create UR Plate. You invest in their glass plates or plastic plates, and then purchase their plate clings to decorate the clear center of the plate. You can reuse the clings and the plates.Such a great way to get a truly custom look for your party table. Here’s a tutorial about using the clings. If you don’t use Create UR Plate, I’d still recommend choosing a melamine, glass, or china plate over a paper or plastic plate. Paper or plastic tend to be so lightweight that they are easily knocked out of place. Of course, there is an exception to every rule, and I have definitely used premium heavyweight plastic plates. You can see them in my Twins Top 10 Party.

Step 5: Utensils

Forks are fun! Who would have thought? There are several resources I like for forks. You can find open stock forks at World Market, which is a great option if you need something unusual, like 8 bamboo-look forks for your jungle party. I love the formal wood forks I used at this party. Here, I painted the ends gold, but I’ve dressed them up in a variety of ways for other parties …. with spiders at my Witch’s Tea Party … with glittered hearts at my Teddy Bear Valentine’s Day Party … with washi tape at my Home of the Brave Party … and with washi tape and paint at my Gardening Party. At my Junie B. Jones Party, I put the fork and (in this case, paper) napkin in a dollar store pencil case.

Straws also are great candidates for decoration. Washi tape makes an easy straw flag. Most printable sets also include straw flags, although trimming out the flags can be a little tedious. For this party, I cut horse heads using my Silhouette Cameo die cutting machine. Then I just attached the horse heads to the straws with a bit of glue. I often attach straws to my water or soda bottles with twine or ribbon or washi tape, but here, I liked using the straw to balance the fork.

Step 6: Drink and Extras

Once you have your place setting essentials, you can add your drink or cup and any extras. Here, I put an individual floral arrangement at each place. You might want to add a party favor like at my Letters to Santa Party or Gardening Party or Dress Up Party … menu or place card like at my Nancy Drew Mystery Party … or jelly beans in an ice cream dish at my Shabby Chic Easter Party.

The soda bottle was easy enough to style with Duck Tape and a party sticker that I designed using PicMonkey and Zazzle. But anything could stand in for the soda bottle: a tea cup like at my Vintage Tea Party … a mason jar on a record album coaster at my Country Music Awards Party … or a mug for cocoa topped with a Christmas tree Peep at my Christmas Crafting Party.

And here’s the finished party table.



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