Use a twin sized sheet unless your table is extra large, or simply cut and hem it to the correct size. Sheets come in a variety of patterns, colors and textures, and most are highly washable–excellent where the possibility of food stains is almost guaranteed at some point. Accent with colorful coordinating fabric scraps cut with pinking sheers and layered on top of sheets.
Purchase white linen or cotton broadcloth (or a white sheet) and cut and hem to fit your table. Use purchased or homemade stencils to create a pretty pattern on corners or border with fabric paints. Use iron on transfers as an alternative to stencil patterns, and fill outlines using a brush and fabric paints.
Give your table country charm with an old-fashioned quilt as a cover. You need a light weight quilt or quilt top only (ironed flat) to avoid lumps that may cause instability of objects placed on top of the table. If you have fabric scraps available and enjoy sewing, you can custom make the quilt to fit your table and incorporate a pattern to compliment the shape of the table. For example, add a rosette, sundial or flower for a round shape; or sew a ribbon border to the size of a square or rectangular top.
For an informal or child’s table, cut a large piece of cardboard, (foam board or poster board work well too, but may need to be taped together to be large enough). Let the kids glue colorful images, stickers or random bits of paper on top. Finish with non-toxic decoupage glue and let dry. The final covering will be semi-washable and durable for several uses. Check out Kid’s Birthday Party Decorations for more kid-proof table topper ideas.
Buy an inexpensive paper table covering and top with a clear piece of plastic, such as those used by painters to protect furniture. The pattern will show through and the plastic will protect your table’s finish. This is another idea that works well for kids, or use it at your next picnic. When the meal is over, roll the whole thing up and toss in the trash.
Buy a clear vinyl shower curtain. Trim it to the size and shape of your table (allowing for overhang). Put a couple of inches of hot water in the bathtub; push the curtain into the water for several minutes to soften the vinyl and remove fold marks. The clear vinyl lets you see the wood of your tabletop (or expensive cloth table covering beneath) while simultaneously protecting it from spills.