Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Setting the Table -- The Covering

For ultra-formal meals, a table covering is not used. Most of us will never serve a meal in our home that is at that level of formality.

So, for most of us, here are the things to consider regarding table coverings:

1) The purpose of a table cloth is to protect the table, to protect dishes, to keep down the noise of clattering utensils, and to make the table look pretty. If you can afford it, try to have one beautiful white or ecru cloth for a more "formal" or traditional meal, a washable colored damask or some other type of cloth that can be used for a variety of occasions, and a very casual and no-iron cloth for every day family meals. When acquiring linens, take into consideration the following: Do I have both a dining room table and a kitchen table? Do I have a picnic table or do we take frequent picnics away from home? What shape are my tables? Do I like dainty or solid looking dishes and glasses? If the cloth is a print, will it look too busy when I set it with my dishes? (White and solid color dishes can take more distinctive tablecloths; patterned dishes need something of the equivalent level of dressiness as the dishes, but that won't compete with the dshes, themselves.) What shape are my tables?
2) There are two situations (other than the highly formal meal above) in which you may want to let more of the wood of the table show through: 1) Your table has an unsually beautiful wood surface and 2) your table is a rustic looking table with an interesting wood or other surface. Or, you may not particularly want to show off the wood of your table, but you may simply not like the bother of keeping up with cloths. (If you think that tablecloths are harder to deal with than place mats, you may be surprised to find that this is not always the case. A set of must-iron place mats take more work than one of today's little or no ironing required tablecloths.) If you really don't want to use tablecloths, will find that place mats are suitable for most meals. Still, you will want to have one pretty cloth that can be used when you want to set your prettiest table.
3) There are many lovely table cloths today that require little or no ironing. There's nothing like a freshly ironed cloth, but in today's busy world, these no-iron cloths can be handy. If you have an everyday one, you can throw it in the washer and dryer and then put it right back on the table again.
4) A properly folded tablecloth should have only one crease that runs directly down the center. When you are either ironing a cloth or folding it to be put away, take this into consideration. If you have no other choice but to fold it so that it leaves more than one crease, aim for a crisp checkerboard look. Or, you can take out the extra creases with an iron. See #3 and use a wash and dry -- no iron -- tablecloth for every day.
5) If your tablecloth is a bit "wrinkly", run it through the fluff cycle of your dryer along with a damp cloth.
6) In general, white damask cloths are the most formal and traditional and are reserved for dinner.
7) Colored damasks are less formal and can be used for lunch or dinner.
8) Lace or cutwork tablecloths are generally reserved for dinner, a tea, or a nice luncheon.
9) Print cloths, plain white or colored cloths, and cloths from homey type materials suit most meals.
10) To truly protect your table, you may find that you must use padding underneath your tablecloths. This is particularly true of a dining room type table. Most kitchen type tables do fine as long as you place some sort of trivet underneath any hot or sweating food dishes. You can buy commercial table pads that have a foam back and a vinyl top. You can also find specially treated and padded vinyl cloth that is made to be cut to the shape of your table and used underneath a cloth. A layer of felt is another way to protect a table's surface. Or, you may find some other creative way to pad your table underneath your cloth. Whatever you do, don't leave the padding on the table overnight or longer. Moisture can get underneath the padding and damage the finish on your table -- which is the very thing that the padding is there to prevent. Table padding is meant to stay on your table only a short time.
11) What size should your tablecloth be? Preferably, a cloth will extend six to eight inches past the edge of the table for breakfast and lunch. The dinner cloth should extend eight to twelve inches past the edge. At more formal dinners, the cloth hangs twelve to eighteen inches. If you inherit a beautiful cloth that doesn't quite fit your table, use your judgment. If it looks ok, I wouldn't worry about it being exactly according to this rule of thumb.
12) You may be surprised at the lovely table linens you can find at garage sales. Keep your eyes open for something that can help you fill in the gaps with regard to the linens you need for your family and guests. On the other hand, too many cloths can be burdensome to the home keeper. No matter how sentimental you are about the twenty tablecloths that Aunt Bertha willed to you, if they are crowding your drawers and closets, you will probably want to give away a few.



abrianna said...

If any of you have an oval table as I do, you may find it difficult to find tablecloths in that shape.

Not to worry-just find the oblong shape and use that. Now it will not be perfect all the way around (sorry Elizabeth) but if you have a nice drop at the front and back of the table, it still looks nice. And if you can find them inexpensively, chair covers also go a long way to really dress up the table.

Elizabeth said...

That's a lovely tip, Abrianna. I have seen some lovely oval tablecloths, but I can imagine that they can be difficult to find. So, if the oblong works, use it!

abrianna said...

I have seen some oval ones too, but in the years I have had my table, it's only been a handful of times. And some of them were the more expensive ones to boot!