Visuals for Dressing Your Table

 It appears my article on Dressing Your Table in the most recent Citizen’s Companion has sparked a few questions about how to dress specific tables. This is great because it means people are thinking about their tables. I am starting a follow up article that will look at dressing tables for various situations. In the meantime, I hope these images are helpful. Don’t just take them as a rule book – look, think and evaluate.

Recreated Examples:

Livingston-Backus House  at the Genesee Country Village and Museum. (c 1850s) (have to point out this person also took a picture of Grandma) Same house done for Yuletide. I really think this needs a cloth.

I think this is Jones Farm done for the Yuletide program at GCVM. It is a working class farming family’s home normally interpreted 1850s.

McKay Kitchen dressed for Yuletide. Another working class family that is a little better off. Usually interpreted 1840s.

Dining room in the Hyde House also known as the Octagon House at the Genesee Country Village and Museum. (c 1870s) Another

Kitchen of the Hyde House (I don’t think this choice would be acceptable for the 1850s)

Dining room in Hamilton House (c 1880s, GCVM) another and another

Family Dining room at Hosmer’s Inn (c1818 interpreted 1830s) Public Dining Room

Examples from Paintings:

White Clothes

Family Life on the Frontier by George Caleb Bingham (c1845) where it drapes a large table.

Another drapes a table in home with more means in The Contest for the Bouquet by Seymour Joseph Guy (c1866).

Most still lifes I have saved also show a white cloth (or now cloth). Each of these show tables set with food. A few examples: several by John F. Francis, Fruit Still Life with Champagne Bottle by Severin Roesen (c1848)

Colored Coverings

 Francis William Edmonds’ Barking Up the Wrong Tree (c. 1850-55) a red cloth covers a small table. This cloth has either a yellow or golden double stripe border. This is a modest working class or  lower middle class home.

Parlor table

Lady in an Elegant Interior by David  de Noter (c. 1852). This round table in what appears to be a parlor is draped in a red patterned cloth which has colors that remind me of paisley shawls (though I doubt this is a shawl.) The cloth is rather tossed or roughly draped.

A small table in Christmas Time by Eastman Johnson (c1864) has another red patterned tablecloth. This one is neatly draping the table.

A dark green cloth with a decorative border drapes a parlor table in Lilly Martin Spencer’s Patty Cake. Another lovely green cloth is draped over a round parlor table in Reverend Atwood and His Family (page 5). This cloth has what appears to be a woven in border type design. This is a similar cloth as well.

One table I am not sure about is in the painting The Song of the Shirt by John Thomas Peele (c1847). The woman is working on her sewing. I don’t know if the yellow fabric with holes draped across the table is a table cloth or simply a piece of cloth.

Kitchen Tables

Kitchen tables, used for work, are shown without clothes. Examples would be The Speculator by Francis William Edmonds (c 1852), The Young Wife: First Stew by Lilly Martin Spencer (c1854), Kitchen Interior by Thomas Hicks (c1865)

This is an example of a painting and a recreation at an exhibit at the Wehle Gallery at GCVM. Notice how the cloth has been removed from the table while she works. I think the cloth in the painting would have just reached over the edges of the kitchen table like those described in advice books. This would have been a utilitarian cloth not a damask.

Cloth Free

Long cloth-less table in the 1821 painting The Dinner Party by Henry Sargent. That cloth free table goes against everything I’ve read about setting a table for dining. There are a few tables from Shaker communities here in Stereovies without clothes.


1859 Fifth Ave. Hotel NY

1864 Soldier’s Depot Dining


This is Tea not a dinner  a colored table cloth.

1870 hotel dining room, 1885 hotel dining room

Orphans home labled 1870, possibly earlier looking at her dress

Other images:

This link shows the same dining room in different centuries. This is England but still interesting to see.

It is to bad these images don’t go back further in time…. White House Family Dining Room and State Dining Room

This is a virtual tour of a later dining room from much further up the socio-economic scale. (I have trouble with the lace cloth for the dining room in the mid-century. I don’t know about later in the century. Directions for making lace cloths seem to me to be meant for parlor or sitting-room use not for eating on.)  


I do have to say, while putting together images for this I’ve developed the distinct opinion that not enough table cloths are used when a table is set. Cloths protected tables from more than just people’s spills. Advice books often start thier directions for setting a table with heating a room and removing the table cover.

Published in: on March 26, 2010 at 1:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: