Collecting: Vintage Tablecloths

With the weather around here as beautiful as it is today, the look of Summer with the breeze of Spring, I think of fresh linens on the line. Which reminds me of my vintage floral and fruit table cloth collection. You know how collections start, never as collections, but as one fantastic find followed by another and then the obsession to accumulate. Well, that’s how it is with me anyway. I don’t think I’ve ever spent over $12 for any one of my dozens of vintage table cloths. But being thrifty, also means being patient, it takes time to get a good stack of vintage tablecloths.

In the past, we have had summer barn parties, my favorite place to bring them out! And had I been a blogger back then, I certainly would have taken better photos! I started with cheap dollar white plastic table cloths to cover each long table and then place one vintage table cloth at an angle in the center.
For centerpieces, one year I simply covered flower pots in burlap.The next year I used old coffee cans to hold the flowers. And of course, every barn party needs wood shavings all over the ground.The table cloths were on the buffet and I even used them hanging as a backdrops.Being thrifty and obsessed with vintage tablecloths, I’ve had to settle for mostly stained pieces marked at a very low price at flea markets and online. Early in collecting I learned a wonderful way to get those stains out and it has worked on nearly every single one with awesome results, (though not the greenest or least toxic of solutions.)

It’s Tilex. For mold and mildew. You know, the ultimate spray bleach or whatever it is.
Now, before you go ruining grandma’s sweet old luncheon linens, please take caution to spot test in a non-conspicuous place. However, if you found yourself a vintage tablecloth for only $3 because of the stains, it’s worth the gamble. I spray the entire piece in the sink or on the line. Be very careful of overspray in the wind as it will bleach what you’re wearing and could get in your eyes, so use great caution. When I soak mine with spray in the sink I use rubber gloves and keep windows open to ventilate. I think you get the idea. Anyway, I’ve never lost a bit of color in the graphics on any piece I’ve sprayed, and I’ve sprayed most every one. Once the tablecloth stains have gone, simply throw into the washing machine and run through a regular soapy cycle with only other whites, no colors. Dry on the line or in the dryer. If by chance you are still left with a slight stain here and there or even small holes from use, believe me, they are so easy to cover with centerpieces and utensils.
Display vintage tablecloths stacked with graphics strategically placed on the fold side in an open cupboard. I’ll be bringing mine out from the under-the-bed storage for a stacked summer display soon.

TIP: When looking online for inexpensive and stained vintage tablecloths, search using the word cutter as many sellers consider stained tablecloths unusable and only good for crafts.

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57 Responses to Collecting: Vintage Tablecloths

  1. #1 - patty says:

    Great pictures and what a fun collection. I like the Tilex tip but I really like the dog laying by the cooler.

  2. #2 - Charlene says:

    Grat info!!!!! Thanks! Also, loved the post with the toy trucks. Clever use & soooooooooo cute. Charlene

  3. #3 - EmandaJ says:

    Hi Cathe,

    I love old linens too, but don't collect them.

    I remember when I was about 7 or 8 years old, my mom (thrifty and crafty like you) found a small square table cloth with fruits and flowers. She cut a hole in the center and stitched it into a triangular poncho-type top for me to wear as a swimsuit coverup. Mind you, it was back in the 60's and that sort of thing was popular.

    Emanda

  4. #4 - Cathe Holden says:

    Oh EmandaJ, that is the cutest story!!

  5. #5 - gretchen says:

    I love vintage tablecloths, too. What a great tip on getting out the mystery stains! Dawn dishwashing liquid works good for grease stains, but it's those forever ago stains that are hard to deal with. I will have to give this tip of yours a try, thanks!

  6. #6 - TheSmithHotel says:

    Cute idea for using all those lovely tablecloths! I didn't know about Tilex so I might just give it a try!

    Thanks for sharing,
    Jody

  7. #7 - Alicia says:

    Love this! If there is one thing that I think I'd like to start collecting, this is it! Thanks for the Tilex tip for whenever I do find that first vintage tablecloth!

  8. #8 - bridget {bake at 350} says:

    I love them too! The colors and the prints are so fun and cheerful!

    Love your ideas for actually USING them! 😉

  9. #9 - abbyartnphoto says:

    Those are so fun! And I love the picture of the sleeping dog 🙂

  10. #10 - Tiffany says:

    i luv the burlap on the flower pots. cute.

  11. #11 - Ann says:

    great tip..thanks. I ,too, am a lover and collector of vintage tablecloths and I just love the ones you have shown.

  12. #12 - Linda says:

    Lovin the dog!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. #13 - Deb says:

    That's great info for cleaning the tablecloths. I have several from my grandmother and I'll have to give it a try. I use it in my showers, so will definitely have to try it out.

  14. #14 - Valley Art Project says:

    Thank you so much for the tip about Tilex!! I bought a vintage cloth years ago but never really used it because of a small stain. I am so going to try that.

  15. #15 - Cheryl says:

    I've used Oxyclean with boiling hot water to remove stains successfully from everything I've tried it on. I've even used the "Oxy" stuff from the dollar store with complete success :-)Just boil the water, pour over your stained piece add a scoop of the stuff and then the let it sit until the water gets cold. Easy-peasy.
    ~Cheryl

  16. #16 - Createology says:

    Lovely collection you have. Thank you for the wonderful stain treating tip. You are brilliant. Happy collecting…

  17. #17 - marysworkshop says:

    Using Tilex to remove stains sounds like a great idea that I've never heard of before. Thanks for the tip!
    Cathe, your dog photos always steal the show and make me smile.

  18. #18 - mary beth says:

    What a great tip! My friend who owns a shop with lots of vintage linens says that Biz works really well, but the Tilex is something I will always have around anyway! Aren't the vintage pieces so cheerful? I love the way they feel too…so soft and comforting! thanks for sharing your collection with us!

  19. #19 - sue says:

    I also have had very good luck with Oxiclean…I had a doily with a nasty, brown, dark as coffee stain and it got almost all of it out…I just got tired of fooling with it.

  20. #20 - Tales From My Empty Nest says:

    Great post. Thanks for the tips on the Tilex. I will sure check it out. Love & blessings from NC!

  21. #21 - Dawn says:

    I use oxyclean on my vintage linens too and it works like a charm. I've never had anything it didn't get clean if I soaked it long enough!

  22. #22 - colleen says:

    I'm totally going to try Tilex. I've used OxyClean on a few tablecloths, and it actually thinned them out and put holes in them!!! I will never use that again.

  23. #23 - Lelainia N. Lloyd says:

    My grandmother's stain removal secret: PINESOL!!

    Rub some into the stin as you throw it into the washer. Add soap as per usual.

    It will take the stain out and I'v eeven used it on good blouses with no problem. The fabric will not smell like pine when it's washed, so no worries. Works like a charm and is especially good with grease and cherry stains.

  24. #24 - Stephanie says:

    Perfectly timed post – I've been struggling with a stained tablecloth for the past week. O.k. not really the whole week… I gave up a couple days ago! I never in a million would have thought to intentionally put Tilex on fabric! Go figure!

  25. #25 - stephl says:

    I love how you use those vintage tablecloths… I inherited about a half dozen from my grandmother's house, and use them for picnics and around the house.

    I love the tip for getting stains out…my mom had a fit when I told her I was washing, drying, and de-staining all of my tablecloths, didn't want me to "ruin" them… but, my feeling is wash them and stain treat them the best you can… if they fall apart, then they were in just too bad shape to begin with!!

    None of mine have fallen apart, and many stains have come out. I use sodium percarbonate to soak mine…it is the cheap version of oxy-clean…and, it works wonders.

  26. #26 - MoonRox says:

    Oh so cute! And what a great Tilex tip! This will increase my thrifting options a great deal!

  27. #27 - Whitney @ Whisker Graphics says:

    Ok, such a great post in so many ways.
    1-Love the dog playing dead in photo #2.
    2-Great tip #1- Tilex! Who knew??
    3-Great tip #2 – search by "cutter". thank you.
    Makes me want to buy some vintage tablecloths.:)

  28. #28 - Angela says:

    What a wonderful way to decorate for your barn parties!! There is just something so cheerful about vintage tablecloths. I have always just bleached the heck out of my vintage linens and potholders. You can't do that with newer things, but the vintage stuff is colorfast.

  29. #29 - gail says:

    Hi Cathe, just saw you tonight at Holly's Sono-MA get together. Did you notice the little cocktail napkins? Looked like she cut up and surged an old damask table cloth. I thought I'd try that with some of my old table cloths until I read your post. I will definetly try your stain removal before cutting up any table cloths. I do love cloth napkins too though.
    Gail….www.smilingtreegail.com

  30. #30 - SmitoniusAndSonata says:

    A fabulous collection ! Lovely colours and the odd sign of wear never matters with such treasures . Thankyou for sharing .

  31. #31 - Alyssabeth's says:

    One of my favorite things to collect!! I have about 30 of them so far….
    Love the bright colors and patterns, and they remind me of summers at the lake with my Grandmother.

  32. #32 - Carol says:

    I was just getting ready to cut up a cloth with a big ol' stain in middle, will try saving it first. I might just spay it in the shower, double duty!

  33. #33 - Linda in New Mexico says:

    Love the vintage tablecloth collection and your great ideas for using them.
    I also am stopping by to let you know that I have included you in a new page, isn't blogger great, on my blog entitled, My Inspirations. I'd like to invite you to stop by and take a peek at what I said about you. Thanks so much. http://lindaomasoldebaggsnstuftshirts.blogspot.com/ Thanks

  34. #34 - Country Dreaming says:

    Love those vintage linens. They have sooo many uses.
    Thanks for the cleaning tip.

    Enjoy your weekend.

    Melinda

  35. #35 - bianta says:

    Thanks for saving mine from the give-away pile! Amy

  36. #36 - GiddyGardener says:

    You staged the sleeping dog, right? He makes this shot perfect.

  37. #37 - Beth Hawks says:

    Wonderful post! Everytime I pass a vintage tablecloth I feel the urge to buy and often pass them up due to stains – I never would have guessed Tilex does the trick! Super good tip 🙂

  38. #38 - Suzanne says:

    I have looked at the vintage tablecloths, but didn't feel that I knew how to take care of them. I'm looking forward to hunting some out now!

    I haven't had the time to do crafts and now I do. My printer died and Iwanted to ask you if you have one you like that you can print photos and use for crafts – I don't know what yet, but was thinking of specialty papers. you are so creative I thought you might have one that works well for you. I appreciate any tips!

  39. #39 - Ann says:

    A lovely post Cathe and full of useful tips! Our Oxfam shop has linen sales sometimes and I try to get there early!

  40. #40 - Tiff says:

    I would have never thought of using Tilex! Great tip! How long did you soak your table clothes before you washed them?

  41. #41 - Stephanie says:

    Thanks so much for the Tylex tip! I just scored a beauty of a vintage tablecloth only to find a big stain on it when I got home. I'm definitely trying your trick. Love your blog, by the way… Thanks!

  42. #42 - Mermaids of the Lake says:

    Cathe, thank you for sharing this great idea. I have a large collection and like you, I don't pay big bucks for mine. I also use mine and lovingly launder and iron every one. I love using them on my large wrap around porch in the warm weather, both on the picnic table and the small ones on small side tables. Funny thing, they get pretty dirty with… of all things, spider poop! I usually use Simple Green to get that out. Tilex, as nasty as it is, is a great solution and I am happy to have learne about it! Thank you!

    P.S. Just realized you have a FB fanpage and The Mermaids of the Lake girls are suggesting it to all of our friends! Have a super weekend!

    Mermaid Debbie

  43. #43 - Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the tip. I am going to try it. I buy and sell them and can never get the stains out. Hoping it works. Have it on hand in my house cause I use it in the bathroom all the time. Loved reading your site! Missy

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  45. #44 - Diane says:

    Your Tilex tip is great, thank you. I Collect vintage linens and have found that Hydrogen Peroxide works pretty well. The downside is that it works better and faster if the item can sit in the sun to air dry after treatment. I then wash the item in a white fabric wash using hot water. Hydrogen Perixide removes blood stains as well.

  46. #45 - Lisa says:

    You won’t believe this, but I stumbled upon some fantastic vintage tablecloths at a yard sale today for only $1.00 each! After reading your blog post, I now wish I had bought more than the five I got. They are stained, but I was confident that I could get the stains out somehow. Thanks so much for your tip. Looks like I’ll be going after some Tilex tomorrow. I had no idea what kind of value vintage cloths had. I’m thinking about going back tomorrow to see if she still has them.

  47. #46 - Cristina says:

    Oh my! How this tilex works like magic!!! I just did it now and every single stain came out !!!!

  48. #48 - JOAN KAAIHUE says:

    A product called LINEN WASH is so much better for antique cloth of any kind. It’s highly recommended by antique dealers of old linen for preserving your old linens for years to come. It is expensive but only a capful of liquid is used so it will last forever. You can find if at http://www.opulenceofsouthernpines.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=14_100&gclid=CKeAwdKlmLkCFYl_Qgodm2QAtg and at other links. The best thing about this product is that it hasn’t any detrimental bleach or other ingredients to destroy your fabric. Don’t let the price scare you. It will last forever. I wouldn’t use anything else on my fine linens. It removes all kinds of stains too.

  49. #49 - linda gould says:

    i have found that soaking overnight in a strong solution of BIZ works well and is not as hard on the linens. You can also boil them in a little dishwasher liquid.I have bought and sold linens for 40 years! I have finally stopped and am selling the last of them,”you can’t keep everything!”

  50. #50 - Terry says:

    Cathe, thank you so much!!! Just took my mother in laws dinning room tablecloth I enherited out of the dryer and it is beautiful!!!! That was so easy! I have been collecting old linens and have been putting off cleaning them because all the methods I have read required days of soaking. Your way is so much easier!!! Thanks again!!!

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  52. #51 - marge Saia says:

    Been looking for vintage tableclothes for bridal shower with no luck. Where do you go?

  53. #52 - Jody says:

    Cathe – I just tried the Tilex on a couple of old linens. WOW!!! It is truly amazing what the difference is with the Tilex treatment. Thank you for sharing this tip. You helped me restore my beloved linen collection.

    THANK YOU ~ THANK YOU ~ THANK YOU

  54. #53 - Amy Huber says:

    This is such a great tip–thank you!! I adore my vintage cloths and have cleaned them all up this way thanks to your post. Just scored 7 at a yard sale for a mere $18 because they were stained. No worries now!

  55. #54 - Marty Freeman says:

    WOW, so glad I found this tip. I had a dishtowel that was VERY yellowed overall from storage. It now is perfect, took no longer than 5-10 minutes with a generic brand of Tilex. So happy!

  56. #55 - Rose says:

    I used the Tilex Mold and Mildew remover – left in the sunfor 7 hours. When I checked, my tablecloth now has yellow stains instead of light tan stains. This is after washing. Did I do something wrong?