Dressed for Dining is a small exhibition of tablecloths from the mid-20th century, on view until October 5 in FIT’s library. We asked the show’s curator, Patrice George, Textile Development and Marketing faculty and a student in FIT’s MA program in Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, Museum Practice, to write a blog post about the show.
As a weaver/textile designer, I love table covers because they are one of the few items that are pure textile (no buttons, zippers, or trimmings). They also make great souvenirs, because you can always fit a tablecloth into a packed suitcase, and not worry about them breaking.
Above: At the turn of the 20th century, a proper dining table still required spotless white linen table covers. Maintaining delicate white linen textiles, embellished with embroidery and lace inserts, required hours of labor to clean, bleach, press, and repair. After World War I, the emergence of timesaving washing machines made family laundry easier, but the mechanical washers could damage delicate fabrics. Heirloom household linens appeared only for special occasions after that. This particular tablecloth, embellished with satin stitch portraits of Victorian ladies, represents an heirloom quality table cover from the late 19th or early 20th century.
Above: In the mid-20th century, American weaving mills added color and texture to classic checked and plaid tablecloths. Simtex, a division of Simmons Mattress Company, produced many novelty damask checks in high-quality cotton. Examples of Simtex checks on display include themes of the Gay Nineties, lobsters, and sailboats.
Only after I started to plan the exhibition did I realize that I had collected nearly 100 tablecloths from flea markets, garage sales, and gifts from friends and family. Actually, all of the tablecloths, except for one on loan from my fellow TDM faculty member Ann Denton, are from my own collection.
Above: On my third birthday the table was set with a Nottingham lace tablecloth, and cake from a Betty Crocker recipe! But, I just wanted to know if the cloth came from Philadelphia, Scranton, or Wilkes-barre! PA was the largest producer of lace curtains and tablecloths in the USA in the mid-century. Ads for Quaker Lace, Scranton Lace, and Wilbarry Lace appeared in most home design magazines.
Check out the Dressed for Dining page on Facebook.