All about tablecloths

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Traditional Romanian tablecloth made in Maramureş

Cover for Square Table, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period, 1736–1795, China. Cut and voided silk velvet

Detail of crochet table-cloth

A tablecloth is a cloth used to cover a table. Some are mainly ornamental coverings, which may also help protect the table from scratches and stains. Other tablecloths are designed to be spread on a dining table before laying out tableware and food.

Ornamental tablecloths can be made of almost any material, including delicate fabrics like embroidered silk. Dining cloths are typically made of cotton, a poly-cotton blend, or a PVC-coated material that can be wiped clean, but they can range from functional coverings to fine textiles, as long as they can be laundered. Some cloths are designed as part of an overall table setting, with coordinating napkins, placemats, or other decorative pieces. Special kinds of tablecloth include runners which overhang the table at two ends only and table protectors to provide a padded layer under a normal cloth.


In many European cultures a white, or mainly white, tablecloth used to be the standard covering for a dinner table. In the later medieval period spreading a high quality white linen or cotton cloth was an important part of preparing for a feast in a wealthy household. Over time the custom of arranging tableware on a cloth became common for most social classes except the very poorest. As eating habits changed in the 20th century, a much greater range of table-setting styles developed. Some formal dinners still use white tablecloths, often with a damask weave, but other colours and patterns are possible.


Perugia tablecloths and napkins have been made since medieval times. White with characteristic woven blue stripes and patterns, the style is also associated with church linen.

Victorian interiors were full of thick, fringed draperies in deep colours, including tablecloths reaching to the floor on any kind of table.

A popular "magic trick" involved pulling a loaded tablecloth away from a table but leaving the plates behind. This trick relies on inertia.

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