Once in a while customers ask us if we have “real French oilcloth” tablecloths. The short answer is no. The long answer is much more complicated, but hopefully more interesting as well…
Oilcloth (toile cirée in French) is a fabric that was common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was made from heavy cotton canvas or linen fabric that was repeatedly saturated with boiled linseed oil and dried. The resulting fabric was more waterproof and stain resistant than normal untreated cotton, and so it was a very popular material for tablecloths intended for everyday use.
In the 1950s the original oilcloth tablecloths were replaced by synthetic versions made of “vinyl” (plasticized polyvinyl chloride, also known as PVC). These PVC based tablecloths are still referred to as “oilcloth tablecloths,” and if you Google the phrase “oilcloth tablecloths” the vast majority of the tablecloths you’ll find will be made of PVC. Many of these tablecloths are marketed as “real” or “genuine” oilcloth tablecloths, but of course they’re not really made of oilcloth (certainly not in the original sense of the word).
The closest thing we have to “oilcloth” tablecloths are what we call our “coated” tablecloths.* These tablecloths are made from cotton that is covered with a thin, non-toxic acrylic coating that makes them just as impervious to stains as a PVC tablecloth but gives them a much more natural, less “plasticky” look and feel. They also do not present the same health or environmental risks as PVC based vinyl products.
Our coated tablecloths are incredibly practical for everyday use – they are resistant to stains and easily wipeable. They come in a wide variety of bright, beautiful designs and are great for kitchen and patio tables.
So, no, we do not have “real oilcloth” tablecloths. But we do have something better (and safer) – coated cotton tablecloths!