I am hard on my space and the things in it. I live and work here, and work often involves physical actions that can hurt surfaces. It’s not a problem with my zinc island top and slate work table but a serious one with the mid-century wood table that I pulled out recently for both dining and work. Its pristine wood finish instantly took a hit from water spilled on the tablecloth at a dinner party. Until I figure out just whether I want to leave it to the elements or seal it somehow, I cast about for a protective solution.

Sally Schneider

Sally Schneider

That got me thinking about the oilcloth tablecloths I remembered from my childhood summer house, and farms I used to visit in West Virginia. And I knew that Julia Child used to work and eat at a Provencal oilcloth-covered kitchen table.

From In Julia’s Kitchen: Practical and Convivial Kitchen Design Inspired by Julia Child by Pamela Heyne and Jim Scherer

Those oilcloths didn’t feel plasticky though for sure they weren’t made like the early 20th century oilcloths of heavy cotton saturated in boiled linseed oil.  So I went on the hunt.  Searching “oilcloth tablecloths”,  I found mostly super shiny PVC vinyl-coated ones. I learned that the closest thing to old-fashioned linseed oil-saturated clothes are made of cotton covered with a thin acrylic coating, retaining the sense of cloth. Most of those were from England and Europe where they love them. Ebay and Etsy both had selections of Scandinavian-style oilcloths that echo the ones in this English shop devoted to “wipe easy tablecoths“.   Some come matte rather than shiny.  Occitan Imports sells Provencal-style oilcloths.

I figured if the pattern was great enough and it wasn’t too shiny, one of these oilcloths could be a pleasing solution.

bargaininteriors2012 / Ebay

At Nordic Nest, I stumbled on a lovely Sill oilcloth from the Swedish Company Almedahls with a classic mid-century fish design and ordered it, hoping for the best.

Nordic Nest

Shipped from overseas, it came folded and its creases did not simply smooth out after a couple of days. So I tried ironing it on the uncoated side. I carefully tested small patches along the edges at the lowest settings and worked my way hotter until I  found the balance between hot enough to remove the crease but not enough to burn it. That was at about 6 on my iron — “wool” — just below cotton. I ironed the oilcloth on a thick cloth, moving the iron firmly, evenly and slowly up the creases.

Sally Schneider

Somehow, ironing the cloth not only removed much of the creasing, but made the cloth look softer and more like a starched linen cloth.  (I put a white cloth under the oil cloth so that the slight cast of the dark wood wouldn’t show through.)

It’s a surprisingly great solution. The table is protected with no plastic vibe, I can work on it and wipe it clean, it looks good, and can serve as an protective moisture barrier for a linen cloth.  It is surprisingly cool.


Note: You cannot iron PVC vinyl tablecloths, but I have read you can put them in a low dryer with a couple of wet towels until the creases drop out. I haven’t tried this with the Sill oilcloth.


Related articles:

Linen Room Divider, Napkin, Tablecloth, Pillow DIY Without Sewing

Rubber Stamped Placemats + Tablecloths To DIY Or Buy

The Joys Of Unorthodox Tablecloths

‘The Furniture Doctor’ And Other Hot Tips For Second-Hand

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4 replies on “Oilcloth (Not PVC) Makes a Surprisingly Cool, Wipe-Clean Tablecloth that Protects Your Wood Table

  1. I loved learning about the oil cloth tablecloth….. but I’m also super interested in learning about the bold, colorful piece of art on the wall! Who is the artist?
    Thank you
    Holly Harrison
    [email protected]

  2. Hi Holly, Thank you for reminding me about that painting which I’ve enjoyed daily since the day it arrived here. And one of my considerations was a pattern that would let the painting be.

    It’s by Holton Rower, a truly inspiring artist. You can see more of his Pour Paintings here.

  3. Just to say, I love oilcloth table cloths, especially when there’s a big group and there are kids. Mine are white with yellow polka dots. I have had them for at least 5 years, wipe them clean when we are done eating, roll them up and stand them in the back of the closet. I really can’t say that I have had much problem with creasing. They have many, many options and best of all, you can order by length.


  4. I too have a mid century Danish dining table that I discovered isn’t sealed. Instead of having it sealed I lay down a heavy French Provençal oil cloth that I top with a tablecloth of my choice. problem solved!

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