Types of Tablecloths and Drops
Before buying a tablecloth, you have to decide on the look and size you want. A typical tablecloth has an 8- to 12-inch drop -- the amount of cloth that hangs over the edge of the table -- on all sides. A shorter drop is common for breakfast, lunch and casual or informal tablecloths, while a longer drop of 12 inches to 15 inches is typical for more formal occasions and dinner. For a very formal, or very dramatic or romantic look, use a floor-length cloth with a drop of 30 inches or longer**. Some antique tables may not fit today's standard size cloths. You can either buy vintage cloths or purchase a slightly larger modern tablecloth and have it cut and hemmed to the correct size. Another option is to layer multiple tablecloths with toppers or runners to create a distinctive look.
Sizing for a Round Table
Use either a round or square cloth with a round table. To determine the appropriate size, start by measuring the diameter of your table. Use a measuring tape and go directly across the widest part of your table; the resulting number is the diameter. Decide how long you want the drop and multiply that by 2; then add it to the diameter. Example: For a 72-inch round table with a 30-inch drop: 30 x 2 = 60 and 72 + 30 = 102. So, purchase a 102-inch tablecloth. The formula is the same whether using a round or a square cloth. When using a square cloth on a round table, the drop refers to the center of the table, and the points of the square cloth will hang down longer.
Sizing for a Rectangle or Banquet Table
Rectangular dining tables and banquet tables require an additional step. To determine the correct size cloth, first decide on the length of the drop and double it. Then, measure the length of your tabletop and add the drop. Next, measure the width of your tabletop and add the drop. The resulting numbers are the length and width of tablecloth you need. Most tablecloths are clearly labeled with their size in inches. Example: For a 6-foot banquet table with a 15-inch drop: 15 x 2 = 30; 72 + 30 = 102 and 30 + 30 = 60. Purchase a tablecloth that measures 102 inches long by 60 inches wide. If you can't find the exact size you need, it's acceptable to have the end drops at the head and the foot of the table slightly longer than the side drops.
Sizing for a Square Table
Like a round table, a square table is fairly straightforward and requires one table measurement. Measure across the center of the table and add the doubled drop measurement to receive the correct size tablecloth. On a standard card table that will seat four, the table measures 34 inches square. Example: For a square table with an 8-inch drop: 8 x 2 = 16; 34 + 16 = 50. You need to purchase a 50-inch square tablecloth. If your table does not fit a standard-size tablecloth, simply go up or down in drop length and get the closest appropriate size.
Unusual Sizes and Shapes
Not all tables are round, rectangular or square. For an oval table, follow the instructions for sizing a rectangular table, using the widest point and the longest point for reference. You can purchase an oval- or rectangular-shaped tablecloth of the appropriate size. Octagonal tables can pose a challenge. You can purchase a custom-made octagonal cloth, or make your own, or you can measure the widest points and purchase a round, square or rectangular cloth of the correct size. Just follow the formula for whatever shape of tablecloth you decide to purchase and measure your table on a flat edge at the widest and longest points.
Toppers and Runners
Putting a topper or a runner over a tablecloth adds an additional layer of style, and it can help disguise a tablecloth that is not the perfect size. One look for a round table is a floor-length tablecloth topped with a square topper with an 8- to 12-inch drop. For runners, measure the tabletop they will cover, either length, width or diameter, at the center; then add the drop on either side. You want the runner to match or be slightly shorter than the tablecloth's drop.