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    

Daisies Vintage Print TableclothBeautiful Vintage Linen Hand Embroidered Tablecloth ~ Wonderful Embroidery 52x51Vintage Embroidered Linen Tablecloth=exquisite Raised Floral EmbroideryVintage Hand Embroidered Linen Tablecloth=beautiful Floral BouquetsVintage White Pretty Tablecloth With Whitework Hand Embroidery And DrawnthreadTiger Lilies, Roses & Filigree Vintage Print TableclothVintage Tablecloth Red Strawberries Simtex Vintage Hand Embroidered Tablecloth/ Stunnning Embroidered Crinoline LadiesAntique White Filet Net Lace Bedspread Or Tablecloth - Flower & Foliage DesignPretty Little Vintage Hand Embroidered Tablecloth ~ Florals~ 34" X 29"Beautiful Vintage Linen Hand Embroidered Tablecloth ~ Gorgeous Wide Lace TrimRoyal Irish Linen Damask Tablecloth And 12 NapkinsExquisite Vintage Linen Hand Embroidered TableclothBeautiful Vintage Linen Hand Embroidered TableclothVintage Hand Embroidered Linen Tablecloth- Lovely Crinoline LadiesVintage Cotton Print TableclothVintage Hand Embroidered Linen Tablecloth=beautiful Raised Floral EmbroideryVintage California Hand Prints Tablecloth Dogwood Flowers Birds Pink/white/grayGood Antique Victorian White Irish Linen Tablecloth Whitework Hand EmbroideryBeautiful Vintage Linen Hand Embroidered Tablecloth ~ Lovely Raised FloralsVintage Mid Century Cotton Floral Print Tablecloth Pink Red Yellow 43 X 52Vintage Tablecloth-mimosa Flowers- Hand Embroidered Irish LinenVintage Blue & White Cottage Garden Lilac Floral Tablecloth Beautiful Cutter?Vintage Tablecloth Red Pussywillow Plumes FloralVintage Hand Embroidered 48" X 48" Spring Hyacinths Linen TableclothBeautiful, Heavily & Vividly Hand Embroidered Irish Linen Tea TableclothVintage Usa Map Cotton TableclothVintage Hand Embroidered 32" X 32" Lilac Trees & Daffodils Linen TableclothAntique Vintage Victorian / Edwardian Style Lace Bedspread Tablecloth CurtainVintage Cotton Red Rose Blue Yellow Green Floral Flower Tablecloth 49"x54"Vintage Tablecloth FruitVintage Beautifully Embroidered Oval Tablecloth With Applique And CrochetBeautiful Vintage Linen Hand Embroidered Tablecloth ~ Raised FloralsVintage Tablecloth Red Mum Peony FloralVintage Tablecloth Lot-springmaid/wilendur-mexican-all Excellent-5 Cloths-nrStunning Beige Linen Hand Embroidered Tablecloth 38" X 38"Vintage Cotton Tablecloth With Red And Blue Berries 68 X 53Vintage Hand Embroidered 48" X 48" Floral Arbor / Gazebo Linen TableclothVtg All Embroidered Linen Crochet Hem Alpine Flowers Round Swiss Tablecloth 50"Beautiful Antique Point De Venise Lace Tablecloth Ecru 126" X 56"Vintage 1950's Mcm Geometric Design TableclothVintage Hand Embroidered Linen Tablecloth- Charming Crinoline LadiesVintage Hand Embroidered Fairystych 33" X 32.5" Plump Flora Linen TableclothGenuine Wilendure Cotton Print Tablecloth VintageVintage Tablecloth Red Strawberries BasketsWhite Lace Embroidery Handmade Tablecloth 100 % Cotton - 60" RoundVintage Tablecloth Wilendur Red Poppy FloralVintage White W' Red/pink Geraniums Floral Textured Cotton Tablecloth 50" X 50"Beautiful Vintage Linen Hand Embroidered Tablecloth~ Florals.Vintage Florida State TableclothVintage Hand Embroidered Tablecloth/ Stunnning Embroidered Crinoline LadiesVintage Printed Linen Tablecloth 48" X 48" - Bird And Flower Motif - NosVintage Tablecloth Hand Embroidered AppliquÉ Lot 3 Square Floral Basket FlowersGorgeous Vintage Hand Embroidered Tablecloth ~ Beautiful Lilac Florals 48x46"Rare Vintage Wilendure Pink Geranium Tablecloth W/tag 52"x68" See Description Stunning Very Good Quality Vintage Linen Hand Embroidered TableclothVintage Tablecloth Hand Embroidered With Flowers- LinenVintage 1950's Thick Cotton Blend Kitchen Tablecloth 45" X 51"Vintage Hand Embroidered 98" X 78" Chrysanthemum Moths Silk Tablecloth Bed CoverVintage Beige Lace Tablecloth Exquisite 56x88