Table linens are an important part of an event, because they transform the entire room by adding texture and color. Whether a dinner at home, a work conference, or a wedding, all types of events can utilize table linens to create a desired vibe for the guest. The linens we introduce into our events tell the story of how we want our guests to feel. Linens are available in many shapes, fabrics, and colors. The key to transforming your space with your desired vibe is picking the perfect linens. Let’s uncover some general tips on how to choose your colors and fabrics, the right-sized tablecloth for any occasion, and decorative accents you can add to finish off the look.
There are several factors to consider when choosing the linen colors for your event:
Season: Each season brings along its own color palette. Fall and winter months bring warmer tones while spring and summer months the colors are light and bright.
Venue: If you are having a garden affair, you may want to go with light pastels or floral colors. If you are having a beach event, you may gravitate towards shades of blues. If you were having an indoor nighttime event, you may pick darker tones. For ballrooms or halls, consider the existing color palette of the venue. What colors are the walls, carpets, and chairs? Best not to clash with your venue’s existing color scheme.
Theme: Are you creating a color board or picking a theme for your event? It’s not just about the bridesmaid’s dresses and flowers when you think of color. Pops of color or patterns on the linen create a dramatic look and change the entire atmosphere of the room.
- Have your wedding planner request fabric swatches so you can see and touch the fabric. You can bring those swatches to other appointments to ensure outfits, décor, and even the venue color scheme is coordinating.
- Create a color board with one or two primary colors and two to three accent colors. Then when you have any decision involving color, you just pull a color off of the coordinated board.
- Always pick one metallic color as an accent: gold, rose gold, silver, or copper.
- If you need inspiration, peruse through a search engine such as Pinterest to get inspired.
Some of the most popular fabrics are linen, cotton, polyester, and silk. I’m also throwing damask into this list because often people don’t know what it is.
Linen: A natural fiber with a more relaxed, soft feel.
Cotton: Just like with cotton clothing, cotton linens are machine washable but may wrinkle and need ironing. You can purchase a cotton blended linen to avoid wrinkles.
Polyester: A bit shinier and silkier than cotton. It is the most durable and easy fabric to care for and is less likely to fade even after washing. It is also affordable.
Silk: Appropriate for formal events because it is a super luxe look. This material is delicate and should be washed with care.
Damask: Damask is a pattern that is woven into the fabric of the cloth versus printed on the fabric. Damask patterns can be woven into any fabric. It looks nicer than patterns that are printed on, and it is a great alternative if you want a pattern or something intricate but want it lower maintenance than beading, embroidery, or embellishments.
Table Linen: The “drop” on a table linen is the distance from the edge of the table to the bottom of the linen. For everyday dining, we suggest a mid-length drop. For a formal event, table linens should drop to floor length. To elevate the floor length look to be more dramatic, order your tablecloth a size larger and puddle the fabric at the floor and tuck excess under itself. Rectangle tables and ovals come in two standard widths – 36” and 40” wide.
- When in doubt, get a larger size tablecloth. You can always puddle the fabric, roll it under, or have a seamstress alter it to fit better.
- Do not puddle fabric on any table that will move during the night, such as a cake table. The wheels will snag on the fabric, and it would be catastrophic if the cake went flying!
- If you are doing an irregular shape such as a really long rectangle, serpentine, or semi-circle, you can order custom tablecloths to achieve a seamless look.
- If you are interested in a serpentine zig-zag look but don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for custom serpentine linens, you can fit a 120” or 132” round on a 30” x 60” table. You will have to nip and tuck it a bit, but it will work.
- Most table heights are 30” for standard height or 42” for a tall cocktail table (high boy). 36” high tables also exist but they are not nearly as common. Make sure to ask your venue the size and height of the tables. You need all three dimensions of length, width, and height for a rectangle, or diameter and height for a round.
Overlays: Overlays are a second layer of linen that lay on top of the liner and tablecloth. Typically, this is a thin layer and you can see the tablecloth color through the overlay. This layer is purely for design over function. The overlays can be presented in a smaller size on top of the full-size linen, or for a dramatic look they can also be floor length. For the table below, I input the smaller size measurements.
- Round tables can have round or square overlays on top of them.
- For round tables with a square on top, pay attention to the point-to-point measurement, because that dictates the drop. You wouldn’t want the points of the square touching or dragging on the floor as an overlay.
- For a rectangular table, you can use a square overlay in two different directions: You can achieve a diamond shape or a cap-style. For cap-style, the square lays parallel to the edge of the tablecloth.
Table Runners: A table runner is a strip of fabric that runs longways down the middle of your table. A runner is designed to add color or texture, showcase your centerpiece and food (if served family style), as well protect the middle of the table. Runners can be wide or narrow depending on preference.
- Be sure to account for width of the table, runner, place setting, décor, and food plates being presented in the center of the table.
- Your table runner should hang over six inches at each end of the table. For a dramatic look, if you are pairing a runner with a puddles linen, order an extra-long runner and puddle the runner too.
- Table runners don’t only have to be linen; they can be stretches of fresh greenery or long chains of flowers.
Table Liner: Any venue providing tables should also at minimum be providing table liners. Table liners are a sturdier fabric (usually white) that cover the bare face of the table and lay underneath your linen of choice. They are a barrier to protect the table from normal wear and tear, heat, and scratches, and they also reduce noise. The liner should not be seen under your linen, so the liner size should be larger than the table but smaller than your selected linen.
Charger: Typically seen in more formal dining, a charger is a decorative under-plate to provide an elegant place setting. Chargers come in many colors to transform the look of your table. Each course’s new plate is presented on top of the charger to create visual interest and presentation, but also for practical reasons such as protecting the table from hot plates and spilled food. Silverware and napkins are presented on the outside of the charger plate.
- If you are adding end cap seats to a rectangular table, make sure to measure out placement for the charger, silverware, and glassware. Since chargers take up a few extra inches, it may leave you a little snug.
- Most dinner plates range in size from 8.75 inches to 10.5 inches. Make sure your dinner plate and charger are a good fit for each other.
Placemat: Typically seen in more casual dining, a placemat is a rectangular, square, or round mat upon which you put the place setting. A placemat can be made of an array of materials (linen, wood, plastic). If rectangular, there is room for silverware and napkins on either side of the plate. If round, it looks more similar to a charger, in that the silverware and napkin are on their own. Placemats serve the purpose for aesthetic and visual interest as well as the same practical functions as the charger does in that they protect the table.
- Set the placemat about an inch from the edge of the table and allow four inches between each placemat for elbow room.
Napkin: Cloth napkins are easily laundered, eco-friendly, and come in an assortment of fabrics and colors. Larger sizes are standard for dinners and formal events and allow for intricate folds.
- A fun napkin fold is a great way to add dimension to the table. Most venues will accommodate a napkin fold request. However, if yours does not, you can either do it yourself, pay your planner to do it, or hire out your rental company to send you pre-folded napkins.
Napkin Ring: Napkin rings are the perfect way to finish off the polished look of your table and elevate the place setting to be more formal. There are many options to chose from, but this is a great way to add a little sparkle or bling.
- If your napkins are double lined, they may not fit into a standard napkin ring. Test it out before event day.
Cocktail Table Sashes: On a tall cocktail table (high boy), there are two different ways to add a table sash that will add form and function to the table: You can do a martini wrap or a bow-tie. Both looks achieve the same function of not allowing the tablecloth to blow in the wind. They both also look beautiful when completed.
- When adding a sash to a cocktail table, choose a linen one size larger to ensure the legs of the table will still be covered once the sash is tied.
Chair Covers: Chair covers are like a fitted pillowcase for your chair. If you happen to like the look, then go for it! The issue for me with chair covers is that they try to be one size fits all and tend to tie in the back and look frumpy.
- No matter how hideous your venue’s chairs may be, I don’t typically recommend that my clients rent chair covers. If the chairs are that bad, let’s not pay to cover them up, let’s just pay to rent better looking chairs! For a little bit more investment, you can have a whole different look that’s way more modern than chair covers.
Chair Ties: Typically, people use chair ties on top of a chair cover—eek! However, you can make these pretty bows on regular chairs too.
Chair Bands: A chair band is a bandeau that slips over the back of the chair. It also happens to be another embellishment for placing over a chair cover. This one is more functional, because the elastic nature of the band really holds the chair cover in place.
Chair Pad Covers: Ever sit on a chair without padding for a five hour event? Chair pads are not fun but are necessary for firm chairs. Chiavari chair cushions can be covered in any color fabric. You can have it covered in your primary color or accent color. It’s a great way to continue the theme.
Chair Backs and Jackets: A chair back or chair jacket is a cover that only goes over the full back of the chair leaving the seat part open.
Finally, after you have the linens, the last thing you need to know about is linen care:
- Most linens can be washed at home. Read the tags to ensure that is the case for your selection. Some fabrics with embellishments and beading may have alternate directions for dry cleaning or hand washing (taffeta, silk, and lace are usually dry clean only).
- Always wash with like colors, as new linens will bleed color during the first wash on anything else that is in the machine.
- Avoid bleach, and use a stain remover as soon as possible after the stain occurs.
- Most linens can be dried in your dryer (tumble dry low); however, for best results, remove from dryer when still mildly damp to reduce wrinkles.
- Linens should be ironed. If your fabric has embellishments, you can iron on the reverse side. As table linens can be very large for an ironing board, you may want to invest in a steamer. You can place the linen directly on the table and then steam it. Be sure if you are doing this at a venue that there are nearby power outlets available. Otherwise, for a small fee, you can always bring in your linens to the dry cleaner to have them pressed. Some rental companies send the linens to you already pressed and ready to go.
- If you own the linens and are planning to store them away, make sure they are clean and dry, folded neatly, and kept in a cool, dry space. Do not store linens in plastic bags, attics, basements, or garages.
Remember to have fun, mix and match, and request swatches through your event planner.
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