The History of Tablecloths: A Little Tablecloth Trivia!

History of tablecloths? I know.  I can hear it now. Well, for everything that is in existence today, even something as mundane as Q-tips has a back story, and tablecloths are no exception. Besides, if you learn something new every day, then it is a good day, and the information in this blog post just might come in handy to create new dialogue at the dinner table the next time your family gathers.

history of tablecloths

The tablecloth actually has quite an impressive historic resume and has been a popular and extremely valued household item for nearly 2,000 years. So, no…. these table coverings were not just your grandma’s idea!

While not all history of tablecloths is 100% accurate, there is evidence to suggest that tablecloths were in existence back before 103 AD. (No, that is not a typo; people appreciated a nicely-covered table even back then!)  The poet Martial mentioned them in his writings, suggesting tablecloths were used in Europe in the first century AD.

But then you bring in those high-ranking Roman households with their exquisitely carved wooden tables that were more like works of art than just tables, so therefore they opted to NOT cover them with tablecloths because they didn’t want the beauty of the tables covered. However, someone was smart enough to know that even the best of the Romans could create a mess on occasion, so the first cloths may have appeared in a very plain and simple fashion back then simply to catch messes and wipe up spills.  (“When in Rome….”)

Legend asserts that the Roman Emperor Charlemagne, way back in the 8th century, used a tablecloth made of…wait for it…asbestos! Rumor has it his guests would dine with him and then after the meal, the table was cleared and the tablecloth was thrown into the fire where it would become quite the parlor trick, refusing to burn! Apparently, Charlemagne relied on this fancy act to convince some of his rather barbarian guests of his supreme powers and ruling prowess.

Over the ensuing centuries, tablecloths and table coverings became increasingly popular, especially among the upper crust in European society.  By the 15th century, however, most households, except for the very poor, used a tablecloth of some sort, even if it was just a hessian sack. The wealthier one was, the more impressive the tablecloth was.

By the Medieval period, it was assumed that if you were a high class individual that you would then use only the finest linen tablecloths, and it had to be as white as possible. In fact, the higher your ranking was, the whiter the tablecloth was. Why? Well, because this was back in a time where washing machines and certain chemicals did not exist, so in order to keep those tablecloths and table coverings looking pristine, you had to have good help to keep them looking that way. Evidently, the more hired hands you had, the better your tablecloths looked.  Tablecloths, then, were somewhat of a status symbol. And because ironing was not part of daily life until after the Middle Ages, the smoother the tablecloth, the more well-run the household was.

Over time, tablecloths gained more velocity in terms of use and popularity, soon becoming decorated with borders, fringes and stripes.  History of tablecloths has shown, thattThe wealthier household had them made to fit specific tables and even the grandest of homes began to compete against one another to see who had the richest looking table settings for their various feasts. Some households even employed servants whose primary job was to cover and uncover the table. (Do you suppose they were paid under the table?)

The tablecloths of today probably don’t speak to your social status as much as they did in the past, but when you select the right colors, the right sizes and shapes and the right materials that suit your event or occasion, then your table will most notably be a stand out on its own. Thanks to, you can embrace your own form of European nobility without making a huge dent in your budget. In fact, you can feel like royalty when you order any of our custom-sized tablecloths or vinyl tablecloths. Consider us as your hired hands and we’ll do the work for you so every table you cover with a custom table cloth or custom vinyl tablecloth continues the tradition of style and fashion, and that is something about which to feel quite noble! You can add to the history of tablecloths right from your own table.



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