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.
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.
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.
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.
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.