When I grew up at home we had a table with sort of a Formica top. Most of the time Grandma did not bother to cover it. When company came she put on one of her table cloths. The table cloths were made of a thick cotton material. When they got dirty they had to be washed and ironed.
After the company left we used a table cloth until it was dirty. After each meal we had to take everything off the table and shake out the crumbs.
I loved Grandma's table cloths. They were so colorful that they made the kitchen cheery. When the house was sold after both of my grandparents were gone I got several of the table cloths. Most of them were square so I could only use them if my kitchen table was closed to its smallest size. The same was true for the dining room table. Mostly I used them for decoration.
I need to say here that I am now on my third kitchen table and my second dining room set. I realized as I read through this that it was rather confusing.
My mother-in-law crocheted an oblong table cloth for us as a wedding gift. I used that all the time on my feudal oak dining room set. When we traded the old set for a new oak set, I put that table cloth away because it did not fit very well on the new table. That made me sort of sad because I knew my mother-in-law put a lot of work into her gift.
The table we used in the trailer first was small. It was really made for two. We received it as a gift from my grandparents for our wedding. It was a perfect size for a trailer kitchen. It was sturdy and served many purposes. It was my painting surface, my sewing surface, and my baking surface. There are some home movies of the children climbing up on the chairs to "help" me make cookies. Mostly they liked to lick the bowl when I had all the ingredients added in.
Once the children were able to sit at the table I had to find a bigger one. I found an old set at a second-hand shop. It was all wood with four chairs. That was perfect for our family at that time. The top was not water proof, so I bought some oil cloth to cover it. Do you remember when the stores had rolls of oil cloth? Now, it is very hard to find. Once in a while I see it in Amish country.
When I put "oil cloth fabric" into the search engine I found a number of sources. I also found out it is still sold by the yard and you can actually order tablecloths. As usual, it does not have to be available locally to still be available. The Internet is a convenient market place.
I found fruit patterns, checkered patterns, camouflage, chalk friendly, stripes, polka dots and even animal prints. One source told me their fabric was imported from Mexico. The Vermont Country Store had quite an assortment of fabrics and table cloths.
The other thing I remember making with oil cloth was a "sit-upon." We made those in Girl Scouts and filled them with crinkled up paper. As long as you sewed the seams well they did not leak so they worked well at camp.
That wooden table I mentioned earlier moved to Hickory Heights with us. We used it until my grandfather had my present table refinished. When I put an ad for the table into the newspaper I got an offer from a restaurant that was revamping its dining room. They wanted only the table. That was alright with me since the chairs went well with my new table. The table that I use now used to be my great-grandparents' table from my grandfather's side of the family. It has a history, but that is another story.
Now, I seldom use a table cloth - except for the holidays. I have made several of them to fit my new dining room set. The kitchen table now has a polyurethane finish so I no longer have to cover it. I do use place mats to set a festive table. I have received several sets as gifts.
Today everything is convenience. It is easier than ever to wash clothes in our automatic washers and dryers, yet we use as little extra as we possibly can. We would never think of hauling out the old table linens that used to be the norm. Even at church we have gone to the plastic lace table cloths. I must say I was happy yesterday after brunch to just be able to wash the thing off and not have to carry it home to wash and iron.
When my son and his wife married we used lacy plastic cloths on the tables so we had quite a collection of them. The store where I used to find them is long gone, so I am not sure where you can get them at this point. That is the way life goes. You get used to using something, then, it is no longer available.
Maybe it is time to re-think things. If I can get my hands on some oil cloth I just might order a couple of cloths. It would give my kitchen the country flavor and brighten up my table.
Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa. Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.