Finger bowls are pretty additions to the dinner table and look particularly attractive with flowers floating on them. I remember in my grandmother's house they sometimes had a thin slice of lemon floating in the water in lieu of a flower. As a child, I was often reprimanded and reminded they were not for taking a bath.
The origins of the finger bowl go back to the time when people ate their meals largely with their fingers. In the past, a diner might dip his napkin into the finger-bowl and wipe his mouth and chin, or even rinse his mouth with the water from the finger-bowl and then spit into it. This was very definitely before my time! Today, a finger-bowl is used for fingertips only, which are then dried daintily with the napkin on one's lap.
Finger-bowls are particularly welcome if whole artichokes, shellfish or asparagus (in Europe they are picked up and eaten with your hands) is on the menu. At very formal dinners, they are brought in on the dessert plates (usually on top of a lace doily) with the dessert spoons and forks. When the finger bowl arrives, the guest should dip fingertips in the finger bowl, one hand at a time, wipe them on his or her napkin, and then remove the finger bowl and doily to the upper left side of the place setting. Then take the silver pieces and place them on either side of the plate -- fork on the left, spoon on the right. The large plate is now ready for dessert. Alternatively, if the finger bowl is just brought on top of a decorative or silver plate,with no utensils, and there is someone serving the table, usually a la russe, leave it in front of you after you finish dipping and drying your fingers. It will then be removed by the server and the dessert plate and utensils placed in front of you . This was the way it was done in my home, but nowadays, chances are the former is the way to go. Just watch the hostess, if in doubt.
Finger- bowls come in all manners:
in pretty colors
with lime slices
or rose petals
Doilies for Finger Bowls
Cotton Lace Crochet
Never, never, never use paper lace doilies!!!
As with everything nowadays, here's a video that will help you.
And here's an interesting article from the New York Times, published many moons ago!