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Tablecloths or Placemats?


nakji
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I'm living between my parents' and my in-laws' houses this summer, and dining at both. My parents have always had placemats on the table - a varying collection over the years. My earliest memory is of a collection of kelly green acrylic wool ones that my mum had crocheted, changing to a set of hard plastic and cork mats featuring scenes of country inns in the Lake District in the UK, souvenirs of a trip - those ones were around for a while, owing to their sturdy nature, and ability to entertain. I enjoyed the lottery-like nature of the way they were distributed, and always wanted "The Swan at Grasmere." They've been downgraded to trivets now, replaced with a random cloth set that I have my suspicions were sourced from a sale bin somewhere. My mother owns two tablecloths - I know they're there, because every time I try to take dish towels out of the linen drawer in the kitchen, they wad up and prevent it from closing. I've never actually seen my mum use one, however; and I know it's not because they were lovingly embroidered by my grandmother with scenes from a seal and a whale hunt; no - it's because she can't bear to iron them.

My in-laws, on the other hand, have only ever had tablecloths. I've never seen a hint of a placemat anywhere near their table, which is always spread with a perfectly ironed, tasteful taupe, blue or beige cloth to match the dining room. I once, while searching for the crystal pickle plate in the china cabinet, found a set of cork and plastic placemats featuring scenes from English country gardens - obviously received as a gift and stored unused, and never seriously considered as an option. Recently, my in-laws decided to throw a clear plastic sheet over the tablecloth, for the convenience, I guess, as the other day I found my Father-in-law rubbing the plastic between his fingers, murmuring, "I don't know why we didn't think of this sooner."

I have a motley collection of both - some silk and bamboo placemats from Vietnam, a dyed and embroidered tablecloth from China. I never use them, since I don't actually have a table, but if I had one, I think I'd favour the placemats. I like how they say, "This space is for you". They also don't seem to attract violent spots and stains like tablecloths do. And, of course, they don't need to be ironed.

What do you like to use?

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I like the bare wooden table. Placemats seem like clutter to me. I clean it regularly and occasionally rub it down with fine steel wool. The table is nothing special, and eventually we'll get a nicer one and will use our current table as a work table or maybe as extra counter space in the kitchen.

Edited by David A. Goldfarb (log)
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Table cloth or bare. No in between.

I have some lovely things to clothe my table in!

I also have some lovely cork placemat's that depict the "French Countryside" that are too good to eat from.

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When I was growing up, my Mom almost always used a tablecloth. Plastic lined or oilcloth during the week, with a nice linen one for company or Sunday dinner. I vaguely remember some placemats in there somewhere, but they can't have been too common.

I've rarely used either myself. For a while, I used a tablecloth in my old apartment, mostly because my table was ugly, the room needed brightening, and I got a great tablecloth on sale. Of course then I didn't want it to get dirty, so I used a placemat on top of it. Go figure.

Now I have a glass table. I still have both the tablecloth and the placemats and I use neither.

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I like the bare wooden table.  Placemats seem like clutter to me.  I clean it regularly and occasionally rub it down with fine steel wool. 

Same here. We put a tablecloth down if we're having people for something formal like a holiday dinner. Otherwise it's bare wood.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
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As a child we only used the tablecloth on the formal dining table for entertaining. Every day use was a bare table. As a hormonal teen I remember bursting out one day that we were embarassing pigs because we did not use placemats like the cool family across the street (I was horrible). That family always had coordinated placemats and napkin rings and cloth napkins. My mom caved and got some interesting placemats that we used for a while. As an adult I have favored the spare clean table myself. Recently I found a vintage family tablecloth from my grandmother and started using it, and then have acquired some vintage linen ones for different seasons. I was astounded that my use of the tablecloth inspired the teen boys to treat the table with more respect. When they started cooking their own "gourmet" meaty meals in the spring they added candles and somehow did not spot up the cloth.

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Daily - bare wood

Events - either.

Tablecloth especially if more diners than table is built to hold.

Sometimes tablecloth with contrasting placemats on top if going really formal because table itself is very casual in style.

If casual, placemats only.

Once in a rare while, table cloth with table runner down the center. Its like playing with dolls - how can we dress the table today?

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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Placemats, usually, for everyday meals. Tablecloth, sometimes, for a change of pace. Tablecloth for company, as I don't have enough placemats for a group.

Tablecloth "tourism": my grandmother had a well-laundered cotton cloth printed with maps & scenes of the German countryside, sent to her by a cousin in the military stationed at Landsruhe. I vividly recall eating her braised chicken while tracing the lines on the maps, wondering if little German children somewhere were eating chicken for Sunday dinner...what did their chicken taste like?

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Daily when I was growing up, placemats, on the breakfast bar. Holiday dinners were the only time we used the *dining room table* and then it was a tablecloth.

Same for me now, placemats on the bar when I'm alone, placemats on the bar when its casual entertaining, table with tablecloth for *occasions*.

Never bare surfaces, then or now.

--Roberta--

"Let's slip out of these wet clothes, and into a dry Martini" - Robert Benchley

Pierogi's eG Foodblog

My *outside* blog, "A Pound Of Yeast"

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Tablecloth "tourism": my grandmother had a well-laundered cotton cloth printed with maps & scenes of the German countryside, sent to her by a cousin in the military stationed at Landsruhe. I vividly recall eating her braised chicken while tracing the lines on the maps, wondering if little German children somewhere were eating chicken for Sunday dinner...what did their chicken taste like?

A tablecloth with a map on it would be most excellently diverting. It might sway me from my placemat preference.

That reminds me of those great paper placemats you sometimes get at Chinese restaurants - the ones with the Chinese zodiac on them? I used to love reading those while waiting for the food to come out.

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I like both. Our everyday table is the round one in the kitchen -- it's got a hard laminate top with a few chips and burns, so it usually has a cloth. I keep five or six in rotation, all two-sided and easily shaken outside. Our "fancy table" is a hundred and fifty years old and pretty rickety. It looks best with a few small placemats.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

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Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Were we the only ones who used a papertowel as a placemat( when we were kids of course)?

Now, its tablecloths for fancy dinners and placemats for everyday( our pine wood table leaves white rings if any water touches it).

Currently, we have wood placemats. They're kinda cool!!

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I favor table runners on bare wood. It's the best of both worlds.

I have kept my table nicely set for the past 3 months. We use it, then re-set it for the next night. I love it--for the creative outlet, for keeping the table from being a dumping ground, and for impromptu guests. It has been a small, pleasant source of enjoyment!

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Table cloths on the table in my dining room. I have a very old dining room table but very large....which is needed in that space. The wood is getting kind of soft so I want to protect it some. I like how I can change the look of the room by changing the cloths. We have not been eating there a lot these days, though, so I have my most common cloths on that plays well with my kitchen colors. Not able to afford to buy more....but have accrued a nice collection to be able to change things up a bit for holidays and special occasions.

I have a covered pavillion sort of struture in my backyard that has 3 very old and different tables set on it (some wood and some plastic). We eat and entertain more there in the good weather. I have good old thick white restaurant style table cloths to use out there, though they are not as pure white as when I bought them (after outside use and abuse). I like the uniform look they give to the space when they are used.

Edited to correct grammar

Edited by eldereno (log)

Donna

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Ugly table with lots of scratches, so tablecloth. Lots of choices- for a while that's what I looked for when antiquing. I can be pretty creative trying to cover up stains. Like to layer runners on top of tablecloths or two tablecloths together.

Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality. Clifton Fadiman

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I have a beautiful table, which you can see here. Because of the lazy susan, placemats (I have kids who are prone to spill, so absorbent place mats are the order of the day).

When I entertain for sitdown meals, it almost always involves card tables, and I pull out The Linens. Back when my mom got married, a common bridal shower gift was an embroidered or appliqued card table set -- cloth and four napkins.

One of the things I inherited from my great grandmother was a set of four (yes four) large rectangular damask tablecloths and a bazillion matching napkins. One of the things I'm working on is to take a couple of the tablecloths and make them into place mats for my round table. They will look so nice with the china and sterling, which I use regularly. Setting a nice table is important. Makes everyone feel more important (and inspires the kids to have better table manners).

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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I really like antique lace and embroidered tablecloths (along with some funky vintage tablecloths from the '40's and '50's) so in order to (mostly) avoid stains I use laminated placemats that have pictures of the Oregon Coast on them. Pretty darn tacky but I'm by far the drippiest, stain-making person I know. I don't use them when I have guests. Nope, they're just for me and my messy ways.

Shelley: Would you like some pie?

Gordon: MASSIVE, MASSIVE QUANTITIES AND A GLASS OF WATER, SWEETHEART. MY SOCKS ARE ON FIRE.

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No tablecloths, only placemats here. When I had a formal dining room I always used tablecloths becasue I used a table pad and they don't look nice with just placemats IMO.

My table now is more like a farm table and I love the way it looks with just mats - casual.

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Our table (given to us by a family who was moving out of the apartment) has a glass top on it. So no table cloth or placemats. When we entertain, I take out our only table cloth (made out of banana fiber and emboiredered around the edges and the middle) and put in on the table. That's when we use placemats.

Doddie aka Domestic Goddess

"Nobody loves pork more than a Filipino"

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