A snatched microwave meal sat in front of the TV requires minimal preparation. The pace of modern lives sometimes demands this. But there are still times when sitting to table with a clean tablecloth is preferred and many homes still follow this time honoured tradition.
The tablecloth is not a modern idea with records showing that tablecloths were used in 1st century Rome. As today, the primary function of the early tablecloth was to catch spills and food and thus reduce the need to clean the underlying table. But unlike today the table they protected were rough unvarnished base wood or stone and not highly polished furniture.
By the 15th century the use of tablecloths had spread across Europe. For the common folk these were basic off-white cloths, of poor quality weave, often made of hemp. But for the nobility it was fine linen which made a statement on their status in society. The linen was hand crafted and had to be bleached to make it as white as possible at great expense. Maintaining this sparkling colour also required an in house laundry, outside of the reach of the masses. Decoration was kept to a minimum relying on edgings as the smooth white cloth said the most about the household that displayed it.
As time progressed lace table runners were added. These were entirely ostentatious, having no formal use other than to draw the eye to the intricate work. These were often mirrored on shelves and other display furniture.
By the Victorian era the tablecloth has entered popular culture. The prudish Victorians were said to use the tablecloth to “cover the table legs”, as the legs were deemed to be too provocative for the male mind to cope with. Sadly this was an unfounded joke that became so popular, as to have been deemed true. But status was just as important to the Victorians and home crocheted tablecloths could adorn the tables of the working class emulating their richer counterparts.
Increasing mechanisation brought better quality tablecloths to the masses during the latter half of the 19th century. But by the first half of the 20th century economic depression reduced disposable income and luxuries such as tablecloths became of secondary importance. Coupled with the changing fashions of the 1920’s highly decorated and brightly decorated tablecloths took over from the customary white. Patterns were widely available for both knitted and crocheted tablecloths. After the Second World War, where rationing had restricted fabrics for more important uses, the oil cloth tablecloth emerged. Having an impervious and easy wipe surface these soon became commonplace in cafes and other fast food outlets.
By the 60’s the anti-establishment mindset meant that formal dining and tablecloths fell out of favour, especially amongst the young and knitting/crochet patterns for large formal tablecloths became less common. But still there is a place in many homes for a traditional tablecloth today, sometimes old treasured tablecloths are even used to adorn smaller occasional tables rather than the formal dining table. Most households have a special tablecloth used at family gatherings like Christmas. So no matter what period your dolls house is set in there is a tablecloth to suit. Patterns for 1:12th scale and 1:24th scale tablecloths may be found here.