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How To Shop For A Tablecloth

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How To Shop For A Tablecloth

Your tablecloth should help set the decorating theme of your room, protect your table and suit the occasion. Though most of us only use a tablecloth and other table linens for a special celebration, you can also use a tablecloth to transform an old or unattractive table into something stylish and contemporary, or just for a little something special at an everyday meal.

What Size And Shape Tablecloth Do You Need?

Standard tablecloths come in four different shapes and many different sizes to fit most dining tables. The most common tablecloths you will find in stores are:

  • Square : 52 inches x 52 inches
  • Rectangular:  52 inches x 70 inches, 60 inches x 84 inches
  • Oval : 60 inches x 102 inches, 60 inches x 120”, 60 inches x 144 inches
  • Round: 70 inches, 90 inches

Your tablecloth obviously needs to cover the entire surface of the table with extra fabric draping on each side. Measure your table and then decide how much extra fabric you will want draping over the table’s edge. Add the two numbers, and you’ll know what size tablecloth to buy.   

  • Casual: An extra 5 to 8 inches of draped fabric looks casual.
  • Formal: 10 to 12 inches brings the fabric down to lap level for a more formal look.
  • Floor Length: If you are covering a buffet or display table, and want the cloth to drape all the way to the floor, plan on an extra 29 to 30 inches of fabric. 

You don’t necessarily have to match the shape of the cloth to the shape of your table, though it is best to do so. You can use a round cloth on a square table or an oval cloth on a rectangular table, as long as you measure carefully and allow for drape.

What Fabric Should You Choose?

Tablecloths are available in a wide range of materials, from very formal to very casual.

  • Linen: Elegant and beautiful, but also difficult to keep unstained and unwrinkled; linen is best avoided for your table.
  • Lace: Often handed down as family heirlooms, lace tablecloths are beautiful, old-fashioned and very formal, but also easily stained or torn. Moreover, they are difficult to clean. You can get the look without the fragility by buying a lace-look polyester cloth.
  • Cotton: It’s soft and machine washable, but cotton stains and wrinkles easily.
  • Cotton/Poly Blends: Little ironing needed, fairly wrinkle and stain resistant, cotton/poly blends are a great choice for any occasion.
  • Polyester: No wrinkling, no shedding, easy to wash and stain resistant, it’s no wonder polyester is one of the fabrics used by most restaurants for their tablecloths.
  • Vinyl: Suitable only for an everyday look or the most casual potluck or barbecue, vinyl wipes clean with no need for the washing machine.
  • Disposable: Made of paper or thin plastic, disposable tablecloths are good for the most casual event, potluck or birthday party.

What's The Occasion?

If you are buying a tablecloth for a special occasion, use that to determine your style.

  • Formal Dinner: Plain, white tablecloths are the standard for formal events, but you can certainly choose another solid color if you prefer or want to match a color scheme.
  • Less Formal Occasions: If you are throwing a party that involves food, but is not a formal event, your tablecloth should add a special touch to the table without being overwhelming. Solid colors or low-key patterns add glamour without looking busy.
  • Holidays: If you are throwing the family Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter or Hanukkah bash, you can have some fun with your table by using a holiday-themed tablecloth. Home goods stores usually offer many designs around the holiday’s season.
  • Casual: If it’s a potluck, casual birthday party or fun get-together, look for a tablecloth that reflects your party’s theme or colors. Disposable table covers come in bright and crazy patterns or use a vinyl cloth with an interesting design.
  • Everyday: If you like to keep a cloth on your table all the time, choose the fabric and color that fits your lifestyle and home. Vinyl is good if you have children, or pick a country, tropical, floral or traditional pattern that suits your dining room.

What Other Table Linens Do You Need?

Tablecloths aren’t the only linens for the table. You might also want a table runner, placemats or cloth napkins.

  • Table Runner: These long, thin and decorative accents add a lot of interest to your table and help ground a centerpiece or holiday arrangement. Your runner should be long enough to hang at 6 to 12 inches over both sides of the table. Runners are often used for holiday decorating, but you can also use one for formal dinner parties. Luxurious fabrics, embroidery, bead accents and intricate designs are common.
  • Placemats: Placemats look casual when used without a tablecloth and are good for everyday use. Easy-clean vinyl mats are great if you have kids, or go a little more elegant with fabric placemats to add color and contrast to the table. Add design, contrast or color by layering placemats over a tablecloth, and choosing mats with a pattern that adds to the occasion.
  • Napkins: Cloth napkins keep paper waste out of the landfill and are usually very economical over the long run. Most people don’t want to add considerably to their weekly laundry burden, however, so cloth napkins are usually used only for formal entertaining. White cloth is elegant, but shows every stain and smudge. Darker colors that match the tableware, tablecloth or room décor are easier to maintain.

You’ve invited the guests. You’ve planned the menu. You’ve decorated the dining room. Now all that’s left is to find the tablecloth that’s perfect for your table. Whether it’s a holiday, family celebration, or casual potluck, any event that involves food puts your table on display, so choose a tablecloth that shows off your decorating style to best advantage.

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