Food and dining play a very important role in French culture and in the everyday lives of the French people. In French culinary culture the emphasis is on quality, in the grand sense of the word: the quality of the ingredients, the quality of the cooking, the quality of the entire experience. The table setting, including the table linens, the cutlery, and the glassware, are important elements of the overall experience.
When people talk about "French tablecloths" they are normally referring to Provençal tablecloths, meaning tablecloths designed in accordance with the traditions of a geographic area in southeastern France known as Provence - an area that extends from the border of Italy (on the east) to the Rhône river (on the west) and owes its name to the fact that it was the first province of the Roman Empire outside the Italian peninsula.
The reason Provençal tablecloths are "a thing" is because, in about 1650, the Armenian immigrants in Marseille began importing colorful printed fabrics from India and Persia through the port of Marseille. These fabrics quickly became so popular that at one point they were outlawed in France because they posed a threat to the traditional French fabric industry. Very soon the workers in Marseille had learned to manufacture these beautiful cotton fabrics themselves and began to create their own adaptations using traditional Provençal colors and motifs. These fabrics are the ancestors of the printed and woven fabrics that we use to make our French tablecloths today.
There are essentially two kinds of French tablecloths:
In a Jacquard French tablecloth the design is woven directly into the fabric (rather than printed onto it). Modern Jacquard tablecloths are treated with a Teflon based product that permeates the fibers of the cotton and gives them some resistance to spills while allowing them to keep the soft, supple feel of natural cotton and to drape elegantly over any table. Jacquard tablecloths are typically used on dining room tables (as opposed to kitchen tables).
In a printed French tablecloth the design is printed onto the fabric, which allows for bright, beautiful, highly detailed designs. Most printed tablecloths are available in either coated or uncoated cotton.
A coated tablecloth is coated with a non-toxic, acrylic based coating that makes it resistant to spills and stains and easy to wipe clean, but gives it a much more natural, less "plasticky" feel than a vinyl tablecloth. These tablecloths are great for everyday use because they can be wiped clean with a cloth or sponge and virtually never need to be machine-washed. They're perfect for kitchen tables as well as for decks, patios and balconies.
We can make a number of our tablecloths in custom sizes. The price for a rectangular custom tablecloth is normally just the price of the "next size up" plus a modest charge for the adjustment. If you need a custom size, just contact us and tell us what you need.
All of our Teflon treated and uncoated cotton tablecloths can be machine-washed and machine-dried, although we recommend hang-drying if possible. The acrylic coated models can be wiped clean, so should only need to be machine-washed rarely if ever. If you do machine-wash them you should hang-dry them (they should not be machine-dried). See our care and feeding page for detailed care instructions.
There's lots of useful information about the various kinds of French tablecloths right here on this page. But if you want to know everything there is to know about the subject, check out our French Tablecloths 101 blog post - it's really the definitive guide to French tablecloths.