Tablecloths are more than protective coverings for a table. Just as window dressings are used to complement the décor of a room, tablecloths can be used to accentuate the style of your dining area or add a decorative element to a party or event. The quality and texture of the cloth, color and how it is placed on the table contribute to the style, whether casual, themed, elegant or formal. The drop, or length the tablecloth hangs down from the edge of the table, contributes to the look.
There are several drop lengths that give different looks. For a standard drop, the tablecloth should end above the laps of the people seated. Standard chair seat height is 18 inches. There should be 12 inches between the chair seat and the table so that there is enough lap and leg room for guests. Usually chair arms sit about 7 inches below the table. Depending on the drop you choose, the tablecloth may rest on, or fall below, the arms of chairs.
Types of Drop
A standard drop for a casual table setting is between 6 and 8 inches. A drop should be long enough to keep the cloth from shifting around but short enough to rest above the laps of the guests. Drops for formal settings are longer, usually between 8 and 12 inches. This sets a tone and dresses the table.
Some people prefer an even longer drop of 15 inches, or a half-drop. As the name implies, a half-drop extends below the tabletop to about half way to the floor. This is a common length for a banquet table.
For a formal look, let the tablecloth fall to the floor. If your table is 30 inches high, the drop will be 30 inches. To add a touch of elegance, add a few more inches to let the tablecloth "puddle" on the floor. The aesthetics of the drop are defined by your taste and the look you are trying to create.
Below, we discuss how to measure tables of all shapes and add the desired drop length to determine what size of tablecloth you need.
How to Measure
Tablecloths are available in standard lengths and widths that fit most tables. Dining tables come in several shapes. Rectangular tables are the most common. However, round, oval and square tables are also popular. Although the sizes and shapes of dining tables may vary, the height of dining tables is fairly standard, between 28 and 30 inches.
The way to measure to determine the proper size tablecloth is the same for rectangular, oblong and square tables. First, measure the width and length of the tabletop. Next, add in the amount of drop you prefer and multiply this figure by two for both the length and width.
The formula for tablecloth size:
Tablecloth length = length of table + (2 x desired drop)
Tablecloth width = width of table + (2 x desired drop)
For example, if your tabletop measures 36 by 60 inches and you would like an 8-inch drop, add 16 inches (2*8) to the length and 16 inches to the width. Thus, the tablecloth should measure 52 by 76 inches. For a 15-inch drop, add 30 inches, and for a 30-inch drop, add 60 inches to each dimension.
If you would like the tablecloth for a rectangular or square table to fall to the floor, look for a cloth with rounded corners. Because corners hang lower than the sides, rounding minimizes the amount of fabric resting on the floor at the corners without affecting the overall look.
Oval tables are measured the same way as rectangular tables, taking the length and the width and adding twice the drop to each dimension. However, when a rectangular tablecloth is placed on an oval table, it will form soft pleats at the sides. This is normal and adds to the elegance of the drop.
Round tables are measured slightly differently. Measure the diameter of the table, and add two times the amount of drop. If your table in 36 inches in diameter and you would like an 8-inch drop, add 16 inches to the diameter. A round tablecloth should measure 52 inches in diameter. Square tablecloths can be used on round tables. However, the corners will form triangular points that hang lower than the rest of the cloth. This spire adds to the look.
If standard tablecloth sizes do not match the measurements of your table exactly, go to the next largest size. If you have an unusually shaped or sized table, you may need to custom-order a tablecloth to get a perfect fit. Be sure to provide a drawing of your table with exact measurements. An alternative is to use table runners or other linens to dress the table. If your table is extra wide, consider using two cloths with a runner down the center or overlays of contrasting colors.
Mixing textures, pattern and color with other decorative elements helps dress the table. Your table dressing can enliven your dining area and define your decorative style.