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All About My Tablecloth


Ellen Shapiro
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Is tablecloth one word or two?

Do people use tablecloths anymore, other than for special occasions?

What's the purpose of a tablecloth?

Why are they so expensive?

What are the cheaper alternatives? Bedsheets? Making your own? Making your own out of bedsheets?

How do you care for them, get stains out of them?

Any favorite old family heirloom tablecloths?

Any personal tablecloth issues or stories to share?

What kinds of table coverings can substitute for tablecloths?

Unusual tablecloth tale: We knew a family in Vermont--with nine kids I think it was--who always used a tablecloth. A plastic-coated paper tablecloth. And all plastic utensils and paper plates and disposable cups. And at the end of dinner, they'd just gather up the four corners of the tablecloth and form it into an ersatz trash bag--with all the utensils, plates, cups, and napkins still right in there--and throw it away.

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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Any personal tablecloth issues or stories to share?

My wife has a tablecloth fetish -- we probably have a dozen and only their expense keeps us from acquiring more. Most recently, she spent two hours at a market in Provence agonizing over a new one. Or two. They are glorious, though, the craftswoman incorporates traditional Provencal motifs into beautiful cotton fabrics. Very Provence, but nicely understated compared to most of the stuff at the markets there.

Once we had our car stolen after having picked up a wonderful Irish linen tablecloth and a dozen napkis from the drycleaner -- the same day I was having my boss and some friends to dinner. They recovered the car, but the tablecloth was never recovered. I think it was worth more than the care, at the time.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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My Italian mother-in law who has some pretty tableclothes, used to entertain very frequently. Whether it be family or friends, there was always someone at her table eating (usually some sort of pasta). No matter what the tablecloth, there was ALWAYS a heavy sheet of clear plastic on top. So heavy your dish and utensils would stick to it. (I think it was the same plastic that she had covering her couches and chairs). Always made me feel as if she thought we were so messy that we would spill or drop something on her lovely clothes. A few years ago, after she had stopped entertaining and relegated the family function to me, I had asked her about handing down to me some of the ones that she used at the family dinners. "Oh those", she said laughing, "I bought them at the flea market for a couple of bucks."

I didn't ask why she felt the need to protect them with the industrial strength plastic - but took them anyway. I use them now at our family holiday dinners - no covering! She always makes a remark when we sit down about everyone being careful not to spill anything on the cloth since I don't have anything covering it.

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No matter what the tablecloth, there was ALWAYS a heavy sheet of clear plastic on top.  So heavy your dish and utensils would stick to it.  (I think it was the same plastic that she had covering her couches and chairs).  Always made me feel as if she thought we were so messy that we would spill or drop something on her lovely clothes.

I'm a strong believer in small patterns (to hide splatters) red- and burgundy-dominated color schemes (to camoflauge the wine), Clorox II and low lighting.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I love linen tablecloths too, but not hand-ironing them. A big one can take literally hours Seems like I now have a pile of unironed cloths in my closet waiting for the next holiday event... . any suggestions (this is NYC) on speeding up the ironing process or even better, finding a commercial laundry that will take care of these items?

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A lot of dry cleaners will handle linen tablecloths, but it's expensive (my mind has blocked it out). Another tip, if you don't need creases, is to lay the cloth out a couple hours before, and mist water on it from a spritzer. Don't soak it, but do a heavy mist and let the wrinkles settle. Also, fold the thing while it's still a little damp after you launder it.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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My family and I run a linen rental business (me here in Seattle, they are in Boston). I think I have a few humble answers to some of your questions...

1) Is tablecloth one word or two?

According to Websters, it's one.

2) Do people use tablecloths anymore, other than for special occasions?

I know that I use them all of the time; linen napkins too - I cannot stand paper napkins. But then again, I have easy access to a supply. Most of our friends only use linens for special occasions.

From a rental perspective - it's all about special occasions.

3) What's the purpose of a tablecloth?

I think its main purpose is to add decoration. Though it could be to hide an ugly or damaged table.

4) Why are they so expensive?

a) The fabric can be expensive, even at a wholesale price. For instance, a tablecloth that will go to the floor on a 72" round table requires 10 yards of fabric of a standard 54" width. If the fabric is $10 a yard, cost is $100 plus labor to cut, sew, package and ship....

b) Retail tablecloth prices/mark-ups kind of remind me of wine mark-ups. If we sell a cloth, we usually double our cost. I am sure that's what the retail outlets do as well.

5) What are the cheaper alternatives? Bedsheets? Making your own? Making your own out of bedsheets?

Making your own can be really cost effective if you can actually sew (I cannot). If you can't, see if you have friends who can sew (beg for favors) or ask your local tailor or dry cleaner for recommendations. You could also use fabric glue to "hem" a piece of fabric. Also, look for remnants when purchasing fabric - there are some really good deals out there.

Check out places like Bed, Bath & Beyond - look at the curtains and drapes. Sometimes these will work for a rectangular table - especially if you can catch a good sale or closeout.

Finally, a little shameless promotion for the industry, consider renting them. Often, this is much less expensive (our prices are $10-30 each depending on size and fabric) and you can have a different look for every party. Check out your local party rental stores - most will have a variety of colors in a standard cotton/poly blend. There are a number of companies (like ours) that also carry specialty fabrics such as silks, damasks, velvets, sheers, etc. If you do not have a company near you, many national companies will ship linens to you (we do!).

6) How do you care for them, get stains out of them?

It really depends on the fabric. If it is NOT a dry clean only, most can be washed with a little effort at home. For stains, I highly recommend Spray and Wash. Just make sure that you spray it on as soon as the party is over and let it sit for at least 15-30 minutes. If it dries out before you wash, just spray it again. I have also used Resolve Carpet cleaner on more durable fabrics. Always, always test first!!

To get wax off (before you wash!), first use an ice cube to chill and harden the wax. Gently pick/peel off as much of the wax you can. Then apply a clean dry rag and iron both together. The wax will migrate to the rag. Move to a clean spot on the rag and repeat. Keep repeating until wax is gone.

When purchasing tablecloths or fabrics, be sure to find out what the fabric care is before you buy. Many of the newer microfiber type fabrics will be more stain resistant and may not even require ironing.

If the cloth does require ironing, take it out of the dryer when it's still slightly damp and iron it right away. Trust me, it will be a lot easier now than when it's dry and it's three months later. For storage, fold it and hang it on a pants hanger and cover with a leftover dry cleaning bag. It will keep better this way vs. putting it on a shelf.

7) Any favorite old family heirloom tablecloths?

My mom has a number of antique Irish linen tablecloths that she inherited from her mother. These are really hard to clean and best left to a dry cleaner. It's funny, we used to use them all of the time prior to getting into this business and now we never do. I hope to be the next in line for these some day.

8) Any personal tablecloth issues or stories to share?

Only a comment to any brides out there - LILAC IS DONE. PICK ANOTHER COLOR. I would be happy to make clever suggestions.

9) What kinds of table coverings can substitute for tablecloths?

Burlap or old coffee sacks.

Large sheets of lighting gels - available in a ton of colors and textures.

Elegant placemats. Fun placemats. Elmo placemats. (I love Elmo)

For a party of cooking fiends, use new cutting boards as placemats/favors.

Bamboo beach mats.

Mexican style blankets.

Get a canvas dropcloth from Home Depot and paint it.

Shower curtain, sheets, duvet cover.

Use your imagination! Feel free to pm me with any questions or if you want help brainstorming!

"Unleash the sheep!" mamster

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As soon as I got engaged the linen tablecloths started coming in as gifts. My mother, my aunts, great-aunts, etc. The problem is none of them fit my table, so I have them sitting in my linen closet taking up space.

My mom has a thing about tablecloths. She has dozens - some for everyday and others for special occassions. She had a special occassion one sitting in the drawer for 40 + years that had never been used -- it was finally used when my in-laws came over for the first time. It hasn't been used since (8 1/2 years ago). I have a feeling that I'll be inheriting the collection.

We use a tablecloth every sabbath. I personally like colored ones which complement my dishes. We'll go through 2 this week as we're having one dairy meal and one meat. My husband is responsible for laundering them. He's a big fan of pre-treating with Shout.

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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2) Do people use tablecloths anymore, other than for special occasions?

I know that I use them all of the time; linen napkins too - I cannot stand paper napkins.  But then again, I have easy access to a supply.  Most of our friends only use linens for special occasions.

We always use them. Linen or lace only on special occasions.

3) What's the purpose of a tablecloth?

I think its main purpose is to add decoration.  Though it could be to hide an ugly or damaged table.

Actually, I think the real reason is to protect the table. Secondary reason might be to dress up an otherwise not very nice table top.

4) Why are they so expensive?

a)  The fabric can be expensive, even at a wholesale price.  (snip).

Expensive? We have got most of ours for <$30 according to the one who is in charge of these things in the slkinsey household.

5) What are the cheaper alternatives? Bedsheets? Making your own? Making your own out of bedsheets?

Making your own can be really cost effective if you can actually sew...

95% of the tablecloths my parents use, many of which continue to be in fine shape after 30+ years of use, were homemade. Almost always out of some kind of un-natural fiber.

--

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9) What kinds of table coverings can substitute for tablecloths?

Burlap or old coffee sacks.

Large sheets of lighting gels - available in a ton of colors and textures.

Elegant placemats.  Fun placemats.  Elmo placemats.  (I love Elmo)

For a party of cooking fiends, use new cutting boards as placemats/favors.

Bamboo beach mats.

Mexican style blankets.

Get a canvas dropcloth from Home Depot and paint it.

Shower curtain, sheets, duvet cover.

Use your imagination!  Feel free to pm me with any questions or if you want help brainstorming!

It's a shame I never use my Irish linen tablecloth. Such beauty reserved for the dreary linen closet. :sad:

Ideas? I've once borrowed an idea from some book I already forgot -- large sheets of bubble wrap. The really big bubble size. Was great fun and everyone behaved themselves from impishly popping the bubbles, at least until the end of the night!

I threw a champagne party on NYE (of course) and we had glass bistro topped tables all over the place covered with these just as it would be with a fabric tablecloth. Somehow my clever roommate got flashlights rigged up underneath the table and a oversized bubble shapped bowl (from the craft stores) with floral glass rocks and a few fantail type gold fish swimming around as centerpieces.

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Our dinner party table is approximately 68" square. It was hammered together out of six one by twelve pine boards. It was meant to be a temporary table to be used while I designed the perfect table, but it grew on us and over time there seemed to be no reason to improve on it. Naturally we talked about a table cloth for years, but nobody makes an eight foot square table cloth. Besides we had recently returned from a trip to Japan and were enamored of natural surfaces. Once again there seemed to be no reason to improve on what we had. Unfinished soft wood is very porous. Although we scrub it down every now and then and rub mineral oil on it, it has developed a nice patina and you can hardly see individual stains.

Our family table is a 30" square wrought iron patio table with a glass top. Glass is a noisy surface on which to eat. We have a bunch of square table cloths for that. We gave up on polyester years ago and will only buy cotton.

On a daily basis we use cheap cotton napkins from a supply house. One batch was particularly out of square, but still useable. In Biarritz, we actually found good linen napkins that pleased our sensibilities and bought eight or ten of them which we use for company when we remember. They are large, heavy linen in a natural color with some deep red striping.

I also have a rather elegant French antique chest of drawers that we use to store my mother's collection of tablecloths as well as the collection of unused tablecloths my mother-in-law emroidered for us, in her taste. Our daughter has a normal sized and proportioned table, but won't take any of the cloths. We should have a garage sale. We could really used the drawer space.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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My table has a cloth but I never use either.

My mother has an immense stack of them on the bottom shelves of the kitchen armoire, next to the serving platters. Some for the dining table and some for the smaller table in the breakfast nook. There are patterns for summer and patterns for winter and, for the dining room table only, a couple special ones for Christmas (separate meal traditions on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day call for separate cloths). Most of them are cotton and machine washable. I know she bought very fancy handmade lace ones both when we went to Italy (Burano) and when we went to Ireland (Galway) because it took at least an hour each time to pick out the exact right one and agonize over whether it was worth the cost. But frankly, what with living in a different state, I have no idea whether she's ever used them. With the amount of red wine they drink, probably not. It is otherwise a very casual household so it's actually quite odd to think about. I bet it comes from the Nova Scotia part of the family.

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We have a tablecloth on our table at all times. Since we have a antique table (Heywood-Wakefield), newer tablecloths don't fit. We told my mother about about this problem and she ordered through Ebay about 16 vintage tablecloths that fit our table. Many of them had stains, and she worked her ass off to get the stains outs. If our tableclothes get a stain, we just give them to her and she'll clean them for us :wub: .

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Finally, a little shameless promotion for the industry, consider renting them.  Often, this is much less expensive (our prices are $10-30 each depending on size and fabric) and you can have a different look for every party.  Check out your local party rental stores - most will have a variety of colors in a standard cotton/poly blend.  There are a number of companies (like ours) that also carry specialty fabrics such as silks, damasks, velvets, sheers, etc.  If you do not have a company near you, many national companies will ship linens to you (we do!).

6) How do you care for them, get stains out of them?

It really depends on the fabric.  If it is NOT a dry clean only, most can be washed with a little effort at home.  For stains, I highly recommend Spray and Wash.  Just make sure that you spray it on as soon as the party is over and let it sit for at least 15-30 minutes.  If it dries out before you wash, just spray it again.  I have also used Resolve Carpet cleaner on more durable fabrics.  Always, always test first!!

How do rental agencies expect the tablecloths to be returned? Cleaned or dirty? Stain treated?

Also, I find Shout Gel works better than regular Shout or Spray & Wash.

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I live in a Craftsman-style house and have an old, 8 ft. long / 3 ft. wide tiger oak trestle table in my dining room. The top is a few inches thick-this table weighs a ton. It has a SF City and County property tag on it; I'm guessing it was once in the library or something. They don't make tablecloths in that shape. For years, I used placemats only, but every time I gave a dinner party I watched nervously as people spilled wine or water on the table, or put down a hot serving dish right onto the wood instead of back on the trivet.

My solution-table runners. Under them, a nice flannel-wrapped piece of plastic that I cut to size. I made an assortment: for several I used fabric from the fabric store; for several more I cut 144-inch Royal Velvet tablecloths to size. They make one tablecloth that has little tone-on-tone check patterns, comes in great colors, and is stain and wrinkle resistant. They are machine washable, and only need a little ironing to look decent. Once the table is all set, IMO there's not enough tablecloth left showing to read "polyester," especially since you still see a few inches of the wood. I detest polyester napkins, so instead I use coordinating linen or cotton ones. (I really like Crate and Barrel's napkins.)

My plan was to keep a tablecloth on the table all the time, but I have four indoor/outdoor cats who thought it made the table a much better surface to sleep on, so I just bring them out for dinner parties.

Edited by marie-louise (log)
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Finally, a little shameless promotion for the industry, consider renting them.  Often, this is much less expensive (our prices are $10-30 each depending on size and fabric) and you can have a different look for every party.  Check out your local party rental stores - most will have a variety of colors in a standard cotton/poly blend.  There are a number of companies (like ours) that also carry specialty fabrics such as silks, damasks, velvets, sheers, etc.  If you do not have a company near you, many national companies will ship linens to you (we do!).

6) How do you care for them, get stains out of them?

It really depends on the fabric.  If it is NOT a dry clean only, most can be washed with a little effort at home.  For stains, I highly recommend Spray and Wash.  Just make sure that you spray it on as soon as the party is over and let it sit for at least 15-30 minutes.  If it dries out before you wash, just spray it again.  I have also used Resolve Carpet cleaner on more durable fabrics.  Always, always test first!!

How do rental agencies expect the tablecloths to be returned? Cleaned or dirty? Stain treated?

Also, I find Shout Gel works better than regular Shout or Spray & Wash.

Most rental companies do their own cleaning. Even when you rent dishes they are supposed to be scrapped not cleaned (plus even if you clean them they have to redo it to sanitize the equipment - which makes sense)

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My mother crocheted. So in addition to a beautiful crochet bedspread, I've got a beautiful crochet tablecloth. The only problem with it is that she made it for our first 3' X 5' table. So when we moved into a larger place and got a bigger table, she took it back and added on extra squares around the edge, which unfortunately are a different shade of ecru. But I still use it for company, if it's only at most 8 people (with a plain white cloth underneath, so the crumbs are easier to clean up). On the plus side, I can throw it in the washing machine and dryer.

When I have a huge crowd and have to piece together a giant table, it's bedsheets. Although then I will put crochet runners and dresser scarves and antimaccassars on top, to make it appropriately festive.

I keep a cloth on my 36"-round kitchen table all the time, because after 30+ years of use, the finish is gone and I'm too lazy to refinish it. But for the cloths I use old kitchen curtains made from bedsheets. Reduce, re-use, recycle! :biggrin:

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My plan was to keep a tablecloth on the table all the time, but I have four indoor/outdoor cats who thought it made the table a much better surface to sleep on, so I just bring them out for dinner parties.

Mine too! They thought I placed it there just for them. :angry:

Any easy solutions for lipstick smears on napkins? I hate using goo gone. For stain removal, I've also used lemon juice, salt and sunshine, but always test first!

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My birch breakfast table I never cover with a tablecloth, as it has a durable water-resistant finish and I could not care less . . . . but my 60" round wood table in the dining room has a custom-finished surface that I take infinite care to preserve: first a flannel-lined, cut-to-size vinyl liner, then a 70" x 90" taupe tone-on-tone damask hem-stitched linen tablecloth, over which I might also drape one, two, or three 12" x 70" runners in the same fabric (depending on how many people are to be seated) or set placemats that I also have in the same fabric.

I adore this tone-on-tone taupe linen for its stain-hiding abilities -- all stains seem to wash out to a taupe in the end, fading invisibly into the fabric. No bleaching ever needed. I used to be of the spanking-white-linen school, which necessitated a lot of bleaching. But then I decided that bleaching was too much wear and tear on the linens and on me.

Now, if only I could only go one step further in lassitude and resolve never to press these table linens, I might live the easy life . . . . maybe just washing and tumbling dry for the shabby, easy look? Has anyone been brave enough give up the iron and live with nonchalant wrinkles?

Edited by browniebaker (log)
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Has anyone been brave enough give up the iron and live with nonchalant wrinkles?

That would be me. I haven't used an iron once in this still young century.

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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