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How to Pick a Tablecloth

Tablecloths contribute to the overall look of the dining room or kitchen and help to define your tablescape. As a result, you want to ensure that you choose the perfect one to top off your table. Read on for tips on how to narrow down the options and to properly care for your new table linen.

Types of Tablecloths

When starting your search for the ideal tablecloth, begin by focusing on the type that you prefer. There are three main types of tablecloths to consider:

  • Traditional Tablecloths. These table linens are what you most often picture when someone says the word "tablecloth." Designed to completely cover the table, tablecloths hide the entire tabletop from sight and provide a classic look. You can find tablecloths in square, rectangular, round and oval shapes to suit all types of kitchen, dining and accent tables.
  • Table Throws. Unlike tablecloths, table throws do not completely conceal the tabletop. Instead, these square linens are usually positioned so that two of their corners hang over the long sides of a rectangular or oval table and the other two corners reach toward the ends. Depending on the design, a throw can provide a more casual or contemporary look. They can be a perfect choice if you want to keep certain elements like a carved table apron or capitals on table legs visible.
  • Table Runners. Table runners are similar to table throws in that they do not completely cover a tabletop; however, they are typically rectangular rather than square in shape. Runners are centered on rectangular and oval tables with their ends hanging over the short sides of the tabletop. These table linens are great for tables that have decorative tops or for achieving more of a minimalist effect with your tablescape.

Keep in mind that you're not limited to just one table linen. Layering a table throw or table runner over a tablecloth can give your tablescape dimension. For foolproof layering, try combining solids in two different hues or one solid and one patterned linen. You can even combine two patterns. Just be certain to choose ones in coordinating colors with varying scales to avoid clashing.

Characteristics to Consider

Once you have decided upon a particular type of tablecloth, you're ready to compare characteristics to further refine your options.

  • Size. Ideally, a traditional tablecloth should have a 10- to 12-inch drop for casual dining and a 15-inch drop for more formal dining.
  • Material. With their crisp fabric and elegant drape, linen tablecloths made from flax fibers can lend a formal vibe to a tablescape. Cotton tablecloths offer an appealing natural feel but are generally easier to care for and less costly than linen. To minimize the need for ironing, polyester tablecloths are an excellent choice. The synthetic fabric is also fade resistant, making it ideal for tablecloths that will be kept on display every day in a dining room that receives a lot of sunlight.
  • Color. Look for tablecloths in a color that coordinates with one of the accent colors in your room's decorating theme. Keep the colors and patterns of the dinnerware that you'll be using in mind, as well. If your dishes are a simple solid color, choose a bolder tablecloth or, pair an understated patterned or solid tablecloth with more dramatic or ornate china.
  • Aesthetic. Think about what type of mood you want to set when selecting prints and colors. Do you want the room to feel romantic, rustic, modern, cheerful or festive? Patterns, colors and trims all contribute to the aesthetic of table linens.

How to Clean a Tablecloth

Once you have found the perfect tabletop, you want to be able to enjoy it for years to come. Caring for your new table linen as the manufacturer recommends is the best way to ensure longevity. Your new tablecloth will have a care label sewn onto it. Follow those instructions for best results. There are typically four types of care instructions:

  • Machine wash. Machine-washable table linens are typically laundered in lukewarm or cold water with non-bleach detergent. Many fabrics require the gentle cycle to avoid damage.
  • Hand wash. To hand wash a tablecloth, fill the sink with cold or tepid water and add one teaspoon of gentle liquid detergent. Soak the tablecloth for at least 5 minutes and then move it gently back and forth in the water. Drain the sink and rinse out the soap thoroughly. Do not wring out the fabric as this could cause damage.
  • Spot clean. Spot clean only tablecloths should not be submerged fully in water. Instead, deal with any stains by brushing on mild dish soap with a soft-bristled toothbrush and then gently scrub the stain.
  • Dry clean. Fine fabrics like lace often require professional dry cleaning. Don't be tempted to skip the trip to the cleaners; hand or machine washing could destroy the tablecloth.

Ultimately, the best tablecloth is one that appeals to you and fits your table well. Don't be afraid to break from convention and take your own approach to styling your tablescape.