That’s my tablecloth in the photo, and it is not very valuable. It was given to me in 1977 by my future mother-in-law, for me to use on my wedding cake table. It dates from the mid 1940s, because she bought it for her own wedding table. I imagine there are millions of these floating around, as people tend to save things associated with weddings.
I’ve noticed that more and more of these are ending up at my favorite vintage shopping spot, the Goodwill Clearance Center. I’ve also noticed that very few of them are being purchased. In fact, that clearance center is a great place if you need a cheap source of lacy things: tablecloths, curtains, and even lengths of fabric. There seems to be little or no competition for it.
So why the sudden interest in lace tablecloths? Well, it’s because it came to my attention last week that there’s money to be made in them. A quick ebay search yielded over a dozen dresses and wraps and poncho-like garments, all made from vintage tablecloths, all being sold as vintage clothing, and some going as high as $400.
Before I get any further into this, let me say that it is entirely possible that at least some of these garments are vintage – that they were constructed in the 1960s or 1970s. In 1967 designer Linda Gravenites made a tunic and pants ensemble from old tablecloths for Janis Joplin that is featured in a famous photo by Baron Wolman. And Diana Funaro’s book, The Yestermorrow Clothes Book – a 1976 bible for remodeling old clothes – had a short section of reusing lace tableclothes.
That said, it is also entirely possible that some of these garments are newly made using old tablecloths. I have absolutely no objection to this practice as I can see how many of these tablecloths are ending up in the trash. A cute lace dress beats a rotting vintage textile in the dump any day.
What bothers me is that there is absolutely no indication by the sellers that the items are newly made. They are listed in the vintage clothing category, and most have a date of 1970s in the title.
I realize that many of today’s vintage buyers just do not care that their “vintage” finds were made yesterday. They care about the “look” of an item. Nothing wrong with that, but this is just a little too Emperor’s New Clothes to suit me. I mean, are the wearer’s friends not going to tell her she just blew $400 on an old tablecloth?
So, how does one keep from being taken? First, take a very good look at the seller’s other listings. Do you notice a pattern of things looking shorter than they should? Could be this seller is being creative in more ways than just with tablecloths. Those too-short minis with the boho vive might just have started out life as maxi dresses. This is an indication that the seller is a touch scissors-happy.
Be honest with yourself. Is it the garment you are in love with or is it the image portrayed by the seller’s model? Yes, even vintage clothing sellers are “branded” with an image that they use to sell. Beware of it.
Finally, educate yourself. Learn to know an old tablecloth when you see one.
Now, if you just must have your own tablecloth coat or dress, you are in luck. I’ve made up a pattern for both, just so you can see how easy it is. All you need is a tablecloth, a pair of scissors and a needle and thread.
The first pattern is for a coat. You will need a rectangular lace tablecloth. Fold as shown, cut the hole for your neck, and cut a long slit straight up the middle to the hole (on one side only!) Then refold and stitch along the stitching lines to form the angel sleeves. You are done!
This dress requires a circular tablecloth. Fold in the middle, and following the pattern, cut the neck (make sure it is big enough to slip over your head!) and then cut out those big triangles to form the angel sleeves and the body. Then stitch along the stitching lines. And that is it!
Make one of these and save yourself around $399. Sorry, but I have no idea how to explain to your friends why you are wearing a tablecloth.