Table Linen Styles and Uses

Tablecloths were a standard in wealthy households during the Medieval and Renaissance periods. People used the edges of the tablecloth to wipe their face and hands, with smaller napkins becoming stylish because they were easier to handle. The use of table linens spread to the working class during the 15th century and they often used plain white or off white linen fabric to cover the tables in their homes.

Today table linens, called service linens in restaurants and catering companies, are used for formal occasions such as family dinners, holidays, weddings, birthdays and tea parties. In fact, most modern homes are void of good table linens. Everyday use has gone by the wayside and placemats are now the norm in most households. If cloth napkins and tablecloths are needed, local linen services can supply any size, color or shape of tablecloth and napkins for a nominal fee.


Table linens are usually made of cotton or linen fabric. Cotton has long fibers that make smooth and durable cloth. Linen also has long fibers that are fine and strong. Both fabrics are absorbent, resist stains and are machine washable. Other table linens may be made of silk, organza, polyester mixes or satin. Table linens come in many colors or prints and provide variety with different types of weaves. Damask is a popular weave that creates a simple pattern within the fabric.


A properly arranged tablecloth for a formal event should hang at least 10 to 12 inches evenly around the table. It can go to the floor, but cannot touch the floor. Casual arrangements are suitable at a 6 to 8 inch drop around the edge of the table. The shape of the table should match the shape of the cloth so a round table should have a round shaped cloth. The main crease in the cloth should run down the center of the table. Layering is a popular practice accomplished by laying a longer colored cloth on the table with a shorter one of different color on top. Top a dark cloth with a white lace or shear cloth of the same size. Table skirts that gather and attach at the edge of the table falling to the floor, are suitable for formal events like banquets or weddings. Skirts are easily rented from local linen services. Matching or contrasting napkins can be placed folded to the left of each plate, on the plate or folded in interesting shapes and placed on the table setting or in a glass.

Color and Pattern

Plain table linens are best for formal events such as weddings, large anniversary parties, banquets, formal graduation parties and such. Colors to match the bridesmaid’s dresses or school colors are also suitable. Use printed floral tablecloths for formal tea parties or small events and use matching plain colored napkins at each setting.

Cotton and linen wrinkles when washed and makes it necessary for table linens to be starched and ironed. Renting linens from linen services eliminate all the trouble of cleaning, ironing and storage. Most services have a multitude of service linens in a multitude of colors, patterns and fabrics from which to choose.

Source by James A Crown

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