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Antique Tablecloths - How to Buy the Right Sized Antique Lace & Linen for your Holiday table.

Updated on October 30, 2011
Unused Figural Souvenir Vintage Irish Linen Tablecloth
Unused Figural Souvenir Vintage Irish Linen Tablecloth | Source
Cheery Antique Turkey Red Damask Tablecloth with Fringe
Cheery Antique Turkey Red Damask Tablecloth with Fringe | Source

Why Buy Antique Linens for your Table?

Buying antique linens gives higher quality often for a fraction of the price of modern linens. How else can you find such a wide selection of affordable & Unique hand sewn tablecloths & napkins? Often the vintage or antique Irish Damask you can find are unused wedding gifts and just need someone time finally use them after 40-80 years in storage.

This article will help you confidently choose the right size table linens, remove uncertainly from shopping for antique linens online, reduce returns and mistakes. Your options increase when you know which linens meet your needs. Our 9 years of offering the Finest Antique Linens on Ebay (Mill Pond Cottage Antique Linens) gave us a unique perspective and this is a reply to the most commonly asked qustions asked when buying old table linens.

Freshly Pressed Antique French Damask Dinner Napkins
Freshly Pressed Antique French Damask Dinner Napkins | Source

Questions to get Started

The correct size is simple to calculate, with a few questions to answer first.

  • What shape & size is your dining table?
  • How formal do you want the table to look?
  • How long of a drop would you like at the edge of the table?

The look is totally up to you! Fashions change, and minimum drops have varied over the years.

According to Pamela Glassell (Collectors Guide to Vintage Tablecloths) during the Art Nouveau period (c 1900), etiquette dictated a tablecloth hung down a quarter of a yard (approx 9"), usually they were 72" wide. By the 1930s tablecloths became narrower at 53" or 58" wide, giving only a couple of inches drop. The most formal dinners require a drop of 15” or more.

Much shorter than 6”, with the spring of the linen, the edges of the cloth stick up, catching sleeves and looking odd. Some Edwardian Irish damask linen advertisements show a 30” drop to puddle linen on the floor for a luxurious look.

Much longer than 15” and the tablecloth wrinkles in guests laps, causing a nuisance and requiring extra cleaning! It is entirely up to you!

For an everyday meal, the 9" rule may apply. For lighter lacier linens placed on the table between meals, they can be longer for a luxurious look.

If you plan on using your table extensions, factor in the most likely length at the dinner occasion you want the tablecloth for.

Using the Recommended Tablecloth Sizes Table

Choose a size that gives you the most even balance. Modern linens are standard sizes, but antique linens vary more. If in doubt, measure one of your best fitting tablecloths & use those numbers. Keep the dimensions on a sticky note close to your computer for online shopping.

If you only have a tablecloth that doesn't look right, place it on your table and “extend” it with the measuring tape, until it looks in proportion, to see how long it should be. Visualize what you want, measure the difference between that and the existing tablecloth. Where it is short or long, add or subtract the amount you measured, from the existing tablecloth dimensions. If visualizing is tricky, pin paper along the edge to extend it, then you can step back. It won’t be pretty, but will give you the right idea!

Recommended Tablecloth Sizes


Other things to look for when buying antique tablecloths that fit online….

  • If the piece you are considering has a central “framed” area, it will look nicer if the dimensions (with an even border) match your table size. Ask the seller for the dimensions of the central area
  • Banquet cloths are usually over 90” long, some people classify them as banquet sized only when they top 100”
  • You may find more affordable pieces if wear and repairs are acceptable below the drop
  • Fancy smaller tablecloths can be laid diagonally over larger more simple ones to create an attractive layered presentation.
  • Check shipping costs carefully as some of the larger damask linens can be surprisingly heavy
  • Often “mistakes” or damaged table cloths are delightful as draperies and curtains. In the folds and drape, appearance of imperfections is minimal

These are just a guideline to help you in your online shopping. I hope this has helped you to shop for the right sized antique tablecloths more confidently! If you have any questions I am happy to help.

If you need help choosing the correct antique bed linen sizes for your guest bed this holidays, maybe that article can help!

The First Linen Reference Books I got - Great books!

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