Introduction to Table Linens

The term table linens refers to all the cloth items that are used to decorate and set a table for a meal. Table linens may be elegant, everyday, and themed with seasonal or holiday prints. Here is an explanation of what the different table linens are.


This is the large cloth that usually covers the whole of a table and conforms to the shape of the table. The amount that hangs down from the edge of the table is called the drop. Sometimes a lace tablecloth is placed over a solid- colored tablecloth for effect.

The four basic shapes for tablecloths are square, oblong (rectangular), oval, and round. The size of a tablecloth is figured by computing from the length and width of the table plus the length of the desired drop on each side.

Table runner

home institute 1 Table runners are long, thin strips of fabric, generally with a bound edge, and sometimes with tassels. They may match other table linens in style and fabric or provide a contrast.

Table runners may either be short and centered on the table, or extend off the edge a small or larger amount, depending on the effect desired. They can serve several functions, including holding a centerpiece and/or serving dishes, candles, and condiments or—if one or several are arrayed across the width of a long table—they may serve as a replacement for a tablecloth or placemats at each place.


Used with or without a tablecloth, placemats can be casual or formal, depending on design and material. Wipe-clean placemats with branded characters and educational games are available for children, while elegant lace placemats can mark each guest’s setting in a formal dining situation. Extra placemats can be used for a table centerpiece or to tie in the arrangement of dishes on the buffet. Placemats may be in keeping with the style of the other table linens, or provide a contrasting note.


Cloth napkins both add style to a table and save trees. White napkins can serve almost any occasion, but with young children, you may want to choose a darker color so you don’t have to work so hard on the ketchup stains.

Whether cloth or paper, napkins come in three primary sizes: cocktail napkins, served with a drink, are about 5 inches square (12.7 sq cm). Luncheon napkins are between 10 and 13 square inches (25.4 sq cm to 33 sq cm). Dinner napkins are largest: usually 22 to 24 inches square (56 sq cm to 61 sq cm).

Table Skirt

A table skirt covers an entire table, dropping to the floor on all sides. It can be used as an elegant tablecloth for a special occasion, or used on occasional tables to dress them up and/or to conceal items stacked beneath them.

Written by Mary Elizabeth

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