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Table Linen

Table cloth and table settingHaving a beautifully laid table is something which many of us may see as a luxury reserved for Christmas Day and other special occasions. Using simple linen on the table can be something which can become part of the everyday eating experience. It doesn't have to be formal, it can be fun and functional all at the same time.

When it comes to table linen there are very few rules – in fact using your imagination can lead to some amazing results with very little effort. The table linen can look great, but will also protect your table from spills and keep your guests clothes free from embarrassing stains.

There are a few key pieces which every home should have – it is up to you how many styles and colours you choose to keep in reserve.


A tablecloth is usually made from one large piece of fabric which stretches over the entire table. For a formal setting you need at least 15 inches of overhang and for a casual setting 12 inches will do.

White linen is the classic choice and can be a great base for both formal and casual dining. For those who are a bit more adventurous, coloured or patterned tablecloths in a more casual fabric such as cotton or polyester are great. Take your colour inspiration from the room and the crockery. Don't be afraid to mix up the colours and fabrics. Stripes are great for this season and even bold geometric patterns with plain plates will add the all important wow factor.


These are usually rectangular shaped pieces of fabric, glass, matting or even cork which are used to rest the plates on. They define the eaters dining area and protect the table from hot plates. Although they can be important in some circumstances, they are not really considered to be necessary if there is already a tablecloth in place.


Small square or rectangular pieces of fabric which usually match or coordinate with the tablecloth. Usually in linen or cotton they are designed to be spread across the lap to catch spills. Restaurants are usually very good at folding these to look like attractive table ornaments. In real life this never looks the same. The best idea is to fold them lengthwise in half and then in half again – iron if necessary and place in the centre of the place-setting.

Always keep spare napkins handy as they may need replacing during the meal if they are used to mop up spills.

Table runners

This is a long rectangular strip of fabric which runs down the centre of the table and over the edge. It demarcates the eating area for the guests and double protects the tablecloth when food is served directly to the table. It also functions as a way of adding extra colour and depth to the table. The runner can be in any fabric from lace to brocade. It is meant to be fancy and eye-catching.

An creative idea is to place several runners both down the table and across it to create spaces for the diners. Creating an interesting table should always be the first priority.

Looking after your table linen

Linen should always be washed as soon after use as possible. Take care to find any obvious stains and treat them separately. Red wine and gravy are the usually culprits when it comes to stains. Also look for any dripped candle wax. This will need to be removed before washing by placing absorbent paper over the wax and ironing over it carefully. This should lift the wax right off.

Wash separately in a good hot wash depending on the fabric and iron while still slightly damp. Cotton and linen may shrink if washed too hot ,so take care to read care labels.

It isn't necessary to spend a fortune on table linen, but a small investment can last a lifetime. Crisp white never goes out of fashion and colour can be added with runners and napkins. Never be afraid to experiment with colour, texture and shapes.

Just hope that your cooking will match the effort you have made on the table!