For centuries, when one was in the market for a fine tablecloth, the material that immediately came to mind was linen. Woven from the flax plant, linen dates to ancient Egypt—mummies were wrapped in the stuff, while the living wore linen clothing. Today, linen is used to describe a specific type of fabric as well as a generic term referring to everything from sheets and pillowcases to napkins and tablecloths.

Damasks, which can be made from linen, silk, wool, or even cotton, represent the height of formal tablecloth art. Originating in Damascus, Syria, damasks utilize special weaving techniques to produce patterns that appear to shimmer above their background cloth, even if patterns and their background are the same color (eg: white on white). Irish linens, including damask tablecloths, have been an important part of Ireland’s economy since the 17th and 18th centuries.

Just as venerable as damask linen is lace, be it of the needlepoint or bobbin varieties. Sometimes a piece of lace would be inserted into a linen tablecloth. In other cases, cutwork and drawnwork would be employed to create voids that produced lace-like patterns—the edges of the voids would often be sewn with buttonhole stitches to keep the background fabric from unraveling and to define the voids.

During the Victorian Era, embroidered tablecloths, sometimes fringed, grew in popularity. Embroidery is most frequently seen in decorative florals used as accents in the corners or center of a tablecloth, or along the borders. Geometric patterns were also embraced, but so were tapestry-like tablecloths with intricate borders. Woven on jacquard looms like damasks, these multi-colored coverings were often made of silk and wool.

By the end of the 19th century, crochet techniques arrived in the United States with the waves of immigrants from Europe. One type of crochet, the filet, imposed the handwork of crochet on an underlying, manufactured grid. Simultaneously, applique tablecloths with floral motifs that took their inspiration from Art Nouveau were becoming fashionable.

Woven, lace, and crocheted tablecloths continued to be produced and used throughout the 20th century, but by the 1930s, inexpensive printed cotton tablecloths, often featuring cheerful or even amusing patterns and designs, seemed a tonic to the austerity of the Depression. Art Deco pastel patterns went nicely with dinnerware such as Fiesta, while cotton feedsacks with existing designs and imagery were recycled into tablecloths.

One of the most popular types of printed cotton tablecloths from the middle of the 20th century were those bearing cartoony renditions of U.S. states. These souvenir tablecloths ...

During World War II, patriotic tablecloths promoting everything from victory gardens to reverence for the Statue of Liberty found their way into many kitchens and dining rooms. And before and after the war, decorative Wilendur tablecloths brightened rooms with their Pennsylvania Dutch or Mexico motifs, as well as blocks and arrays of flowers or fruit.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

LACMA Luxury Textiles

LACMA Luxury Textiles

Textile collectors shouldn't miss this microsite from the LA County Museum of Art, a great reference on European an… [read review or visit site]

Feeding America

Feeding America

This archive of 76 influential American cookbooks from the late 1700s to early 1900s, assembled by the Michigan St… [read review or visit site]

Tupper Diva

Tupper Diva

Kristian McManus’ fresh, airtight collection of Tupperware catalogs and related ephemera from the 1950s and 6… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Christmas Tablecloth Aqua Trees Gifts Santa Shiny Brites Retro 50'sBeautiful Vintage Wilendur Lobster Tablecloth 54x68French Boudoir Antique Hand Crocheted Huge King Size Bedspread/throw/tablecloth!Vintage Retro Christmas 50s Tablecloth 3 Pc Lot Poinsettia Scene Santa RedVintage Christmas Tablecloth Beautiful Vintage Christmas Hand Embroidered Tablecloth Applique Crochet 110x65"Vintage Christmas Tablecloth-hand Embroidered-robins & HollyVintage Tablecloth-red/blue/white Strawberries-eucVintage Irish Linen Hand Embroidered Tablecloth - Daffodils & LilacsThirty One TableclothDivine Vintage French The Ritz Hotel Paris Linen Tablecloth With Crest & CrownVtgchic Hand Heavy Thin Crochet Lace Pineapple Tablecloth Peacock Veil 56"roundLarge Vintage Christmas Cotton Printed Tablecloth Tartan+roses By Past Times VgcVintage Victorian/edwardian Lace Tablecloth - Ivory/bronze - VgcVintage Lot 7 Christmas Tablecloth Cutters Or Use Shiny Brite, Poinsettie EtcVintage Mid Century Retro Christmas Tablecloth Fuscia Chartreuse Teal Odd ColorsDivine Vintage French The Ritz Hotel Paris Linen Tablecloth With Crest & CrownVtgchichand Embroidery Crossstitch Linen Point Crochet Lace Tablecloth Rose100" Vintage Christmas Tablecloth From The 1950's W/ Fireplace, Santa & Reindeer Fiesta 4-pc Tablecloth Weight Set - Retired ItemRussel Wright Tablecloth Nos Original Label Simtex Green Yellow Grey Mid CenturyVintage Hand Embroidered Linen Tablecloth=lovely Embroidery With Lace TrimAntqvtg Venise Needle Point Mix Lace Cutwork Embro Linen Tablecloth Figural 90" Vintage Tablecloth-hand Embroidered With Flowers & Bees-beautifulMid Century Modern Pine Cones Silver Fir Vintage Tablecloth Christmas BranchesPretty Vintage Hand Embroidered Tablecloth Poppies, Roses, Lilac Linen 42" SqVintage Hand Embroidered Linen Tablecloth=exquisite Raised Embroidery Vtgchic Hand Crochet Lace Embroidered Open Work Linen Tablecloth Rose100"oval LgGorgeous Vintage Madeira Linen & Organdy Appliqued Embroidered Large TableclothVintage Hand Embroidered Linen Tablecloth-stunning Delicate EmbroideryVtg Christmas Cotton Print Tablecloth Candy Cane 1940s-50s Midcentury Fabric Vtg 50's Christmas Holiday Tablecloth Santa Sleigh Reindeer Holly CandlesVintage Irish Linen Tablecloth With Hand Embroidery - Violets & Lily Of ValleyGorgeous Vintage Christmas Tablecloth Toy Soldiers Holly & Animals 62 X 851950s Vintage Santa Claus Bells Candle Tree Print Christmas Rectangle TableclothScentsy Purple Tablecloth - Consultant SuppliesVintage Lace Tablecloth, Ivory Colored 64"x112"Darling Vintage Bright Red States Linen Tablecloth Nv,ca,ut,az,or,co,nm,id,wyStunning Vintage White Linen Tablecloth With Deep Crochet Peacock Lace EdgingVintage Large Hand Embroidered Tablecloth 215 X 120 Cm With 8 NapkinsVintage 50s 60s Holiday Print Christmas Cotton Tablecloth Retro Santa 66 X 48Vintage Screen Printed Tablecloth With Christmas Design Sleigh Presents GoodExquisite Estate Antique Figural Cantu Bobbin Lace Tablecloth Putti Cherub DeerScarf Wrap Shawl Stole Piano Throw Tablecloth Taj Mahal Silk Silky Long Tassels Vintage Tablecloth 14 Pc Lot Flowers Plaid Strawberries Mexican & Europe Themed+Charming Vintage Quaker Cotton Floral Lace Oval Tablecloth RosesVintage Linen Pink Lupins Tablecloth Daisy Hand Embroidered Beautifully LayeredExquisite Vintage Embroidered With Roses Drawn Thread Work Large TableclothVintage Large Oval Cream Lace Tablecloth 95" X 63" ApproxVintage Irish Linen Tablecloth With Hand Embroidery - Red Hot Poker & CarnationsVintage Linen Floral Tablecloth Garden Hand Embroidered Beautifully LayeredVintage Tablecloth Christmas Wreaths Trees Shiny Brites Village Jadeite GreenVery Large Vintage White Cotton Damask Tablecloth~ivy Pattern~132 X 66inAntique French Cashmere Wool Victorian Paisley Huge Panel, Tablecloth 132" X 65"Vintage 50s Lobster Crab Fish Tablecloth Reto Fun Novelty Kitsch Seafood CottonVintage Christmas Tablecloth Santa Sled Reindeer Gifts Novelty Holiday 66x50Rare Lilly Pulitzer In The Slim TableclothVintage Red Songbirds Printed Kitchen Tablecloth Nwt 52 X 52 Gorgeous!Chicvtg Italy Handmade Lace Inlet Linen Decor Tablecloth Rose 50"roundUnusual Vintage Atomic Mid Century Modern Lime Green Christmas Trees Tablecloth