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    

Beautiful Vintage Hand Embroidered 48" X 48" Linen Tablecloth Deep Floral CircleStunning Antique Hand Embroidered Linen Tablecloth - Floral Bouquet - 53" X 50"Vintage Hand Embroidered Linen Tablecloth & 5 Napkins Miniature Flora 40" X 41"Vintage Hand Embroidered Linen Tablecloth Cottage Garden Gates- 31" X 31"Vintage Hand Embroidered Linen Tablecloth Crewel Work Floral Design 39" X 39"Vintage Beautifully Hand Embroidered Birds & Flora 20" Tablecloth & 12 Doilies Vintage Wilendur Tablecloth...strawberries...bright Colors..with Tag..50" X 55"Vintage Hand Embroidered Linen Tablecloth Eight Crinolines & Flora 40" X 42"Vintage Hand Embroidered Linen Tablecloth Miniature Parakeets - 33.5" X 34" Vintage Beautifully Hand Embroidered Linen Tablecloth Anenomes & Bows 33" X 33"54" X 50" Vintage White Pansy Spring Cotton Tablecloth Aqua Pink MagentaVintage Hand Embroidered Linen Tablecloth Eidelweiss 50" X 56"Vintage Hand Embroidered Linen Tablecloth Primrose Hollyhock Gardens - 40" X 40"Vintage Hand Embroidered Tablecloth Abundant Plump Floral Posies 38.5" X 40.5"Vintage Hand Embroidered Linen Tablecloth Raised Blue & Mauve Flora - 38" X 42" Vintage Hand Embroidered Linen Tablecloth Pansies & Sweet Peas 45" X 46"Vintage Hand Embroidered Tablecloth Bluebell & Snowdrop Circle & Lace 38" X 41"Vintage Irish Linen Tablecloth - Hand Worked Embroidery - DaffodilsVintage Embroidered Linen Tablecloth St Patricks Day Irish Shamrocks 41" X 41"Vintage Hand Embroidered Linen Tablecloth - Bright Yellow Flora 40"x40"Lot Of 6 Nice Vintage Colorful Tablecloths Cutters Or Use Wilendur Tablecloth Vintage Tablecloth Lot Six Mid Century Floral Wilendure Luther Travis Simtex Vintage Cherry Pink Hearts & Vines Valentine's Tablecloth Wedding AnniversaryBeautiful Ivory Antique Tambour Lace TableclothVintage 50's Eames Era Space Age Modern Pink Fish Tale Tablecloth Fabric Nos Nr!Vintage Hand Embroidered 51" X 51" Linen Tablecloth - Shakespeare's Cottages Vtgchic Hand Thin Crochet Lace Pineapple Decor Tablecloth Peacock Tail 56"round Vtg Wilendur Printed Tablecloth & Napkins Blue & Pink Flowers, Approx 68"x 53"Vintage Irish Linen Tablecloth - Red Poppy Embroidery DesignVintage Ivory Cotton Blend Quaker Lace Tablecloth TagVintage Printed Cotton Tablecloth Cherries WilendurVilleroy And Boch Vieux Luxembourg Tablecloth And NapkinsVtgchic Italian Hand Embroidery Cut Work Lace Linen Tablecloth Silver Garden 84"Vintage Js&s Fox Hunt Tablecloth & Napkins Horses Hounds Hand Printed Usa NosLovely 46" Round Ivory Hand Crocheted Lace Pineapple Doily Tablecloth VgcVintage Indian Mission White Cotton Tablecloth Embroidered White Work AppliquVtg Chic Madeira Cutwork Hand Embroidered Lace Floral Garden Linen TableclothVintage Small White Hand Embroidered Tablecloth-spring Ducks, Chicks, RabbitsVintage Valentines Day Romantic Red Pink Roses Tablecloth 1950s 45 X 52 OriginalVintage Tablecloth Red Pink Bachelor Button Flower Bouquets Bows 45" X 49"Le Jacquard Francais Tablecloth Manege 69"x 126" Leather Vintage Madeira Cutwork Embroidered Linen Tablecloth & Napkins, Never Used 70x90Antqvtg Hand Heavy Embroidery Linen Lace Decor Tablecloth Velvet Roses 48"round Vintage Cotton Tablecloth 50" X 68" Japanese Lanterns & Flowers Vintage Irish Linen Tablecloth - Hand Worked Embroidery - Floral BouquetsVintage Simtex 50 By 51 1/2 Tablecloth Country Scene Farm Apple Tree CornVintage Wilendur Tablecloth Duchess Rose White Pink Red 85" X 63"valentines Day!Vintage Tablecloth State Of Florida Collectible 34 1/2" X 31"Vintage Tablecloth Tammis Keefe Barbeque Picnic Pigs Vintage Quaker Lace Floral Tablecloth Vintage Wilendur Trillium Red Floral Tablecloth Rare Vintage Cuba Souvenir Cotton Tablecloth 45 X 50 Holiday Isle Of The TropicsTablecloth H.embroidered Tiny Cross Stitch+hand Crochet-66"x 82".Vintage Tablecloth Cross Stitch And Crochet 165 Cm X 205 CmVintage Madeira Organdy & Linen Pastel Hand Embroidery Tablecloth & NapkinsMadeira Organdy & Linen Embroidery Cutwork Monogram Oval Tablecloth 112"Victorian Art Nouveau Irish Linen Tablecloth - Crochet Lace & Whitework EmbroidGirl Scout Tablecloth NwotVintage Mid-century Pink & Gray Atomic Printed Tablecloth Flowers Fruit - EstateWilliam Sonoma Pumpkin Gourd Botanical Tablecloth 70x108 Nwt