10 Ways to Decorate with Vintage Printed Tablecloths

Colorful Vintage Tablecloths from the 1940s through 1960s

vintage patterned tablecloths at flea market
Vintage patterned tablecloths at a flea market. Photo © Leah French

The colorful, printed tablecloths from the 1940s through 1960s make charming additions to kitschy, cottage, and shabby chic-style interiors. The spring-like colors are crisp and cheery -- pinks, reds, greens, aquas, blues, and yellows on white backgrounds -- and you can still find them for a song at flea markets and antique malls. Floral and fruit motifs are the most common, but you'll occasionally spot holiday-specific tablecloths or figural designs featuring people or animals.

Whether you find pristine examples or pay pennies for versions that are stained or torn, here are 10 ways to decorate with vintage printed tablecloths:

Top a Table

If you find a vintage printed tablecloth in mint condition, or even one with light staining in a discreet location, you can use it as intended to top a table. The bright colors and casual motifs make vintage tablecloths ideal for a kitchen or breakfast room table. Or, dress up an outdoor table and host an afternoon tea in your garden -- even if you're the only guest.

If you're concerned about spills and stains, top a leggy end table -- round, square, or rectangular -- with your vintage tablecloth and place it in your sunroom or beside a bed. The tablecloth doesn't have to be a perfect fit, and it's fine if a bit of the legs show.

Slipcover a Chair Back

Even the most badly damaged tablecloths usually have some good parts, and it doesn't take much fabric to make a sweet slipcover for the back of a wooden chair.

If the tablecloth is large enough, you may even be able to slipcover your entire set of kitchen or breakfast room chairs. Construct the slipcover like a pillowcase, with a hem that hangs one-third to halfway down the chair's back. For the best look, make it so the tablecloth's border forms the bottom edge of the slipcover.

Curtain a Window

Vintage printed tablecloths are lightweight enough to hang well as casual sill-length curtains, but the fabric is thick enough to provide a reasonable amount of privacy when the curtains are closed. For street-side windows in a personal space, such as a bedroom or bath, combine the curtains with inexpensive roller shades. In a kitchen, consider turning your tablecloth in half-length cafe curtains, which hang from a rod installed halfway up the window. Stitch a casing onto the wrong side to create a rod pocket, or install sew-on or clip-on rings along the curtain headings; opt for rings with cafe curtains so they're easy to open and close. 

You can also use a vintage tablecloth to make a valance, board-mounted or one that hangs from a rod. Depending on the size of the window and the tablecloth, you may even be able to get a valance-like effect just by draping the tablecloth over a rod. 

Whichever window treatment type you choose, construct it so the border of the tablecloth ends up along the hem. If you make a pair of curtains, try to align the border with the outside edge of each panel as well. That way, when you close the curtains, the border will run along the hem and up both sides of the finished treatment.

Stitch an Apron

Though an apron isn't technically decor, it becomes a decorative element if you hang it on a hook in your kitchen when it's not in use. When you wear it, you'll become a decorative element too. Make yours from a damaged tablecloth so the good portions of the fabric don't go to waste.

Skirt a Vanity Table or Wall-Mounted Sink

Turn a vintage printed tablecloth into a vanity skirt by cutting it to the proper size and affixing it with hook-and-loop tape. Both gathered and pleated styles look charming. If you cut the tablecloth so the border forms the hem, you may not even have to do any sewing; just use iron-on fusing tape to secure a folded hem along the skirt's top. You can skirt a vintage kidney-shaped vanity with your tablecloth, or convert a sofa table or petite writing desk.

If your vintage tablecloth is too small to skirt your vanity table, you can use the same method to add a skirt to the wall-mounted sink in your laundry room, mudroom, or bath.

Sew a Duvet Cover

Turn a pristine rectangular tablecloth into a duvet cover for a twin, full, or queen-sized bed. Add a mitered border of complementary fabric to the tablecloth to reach the proper size, or just center and topstitch the tablecloth to a flat sheet. Then, with wrong sides together, sew the bottom of your duvet cover to the decorative top along the foot and both sides. Make a closure for your duvet cover by adding fabric-covered buttons, hook-and-loop tape, or colorful ribbon ties.

Make a Bed Skirt

If your tablecloth is too small or too damaged to make a duvet cover, turn it into a bed skirt instead. Measure from the top edge of your box spring to the floor, and then cut the tablecloth into strips of the proper size. Let the tablecloth's border serve as the bottom of the bed skirt. For the sides of the bed skirt, you may have to piece two or more strips together. Align the pattern where you sew the strips together so the seam isn't noticeable, or position the seam so you can hide it with a reverse box pleat. Sew your bed skirt to lining material or a flat sheet to form a deck that fits on your box spring, or affix the skirt to the bed with hook-and-loop tape.

Cover a Pillow

If your tablecloth has extensive damage, use the good parts to cover pillows. You can make pillow shams for your bed, or make throw pillows for your bed, your sofa, or the white wicker settee that provides seating for your sunroom or covered porch. Make multiple pillow covers from the same tablecloth for a perfectly coordinated look. Or, opt for vibrant mix of pillow colors and motifs by making them from two or more. Cut the tablecloth so the motifs and designs are centered on the pillow covers. 

Create a Shower Curtain

For cheery charm in your bathroom, use a mint-condition tablecloth of the proper size as a shower curtain.

Hang it from your shower rod using sew-on or clip-on rings. Or, buy thick grosgrain ribbons in one of the colors from the tablecloth, and then stitch them to the top to make a tie-top shower curtain.

Display a Collection

If you have a collection of vintage printed tablecloths you use for dining, don't hide them in the linen closet when they're not in use. Display them instead. You can lean an old ladder against the wall and hang your favorites from the rungs. Or, fold and stack them in the seat of an antique chair or on the shelves of a glass-fronted cupboard.

For some charming examples of vintage printed tablecloths: