You know those things that you don’t necessarily think will be useful, and find yourself using nearly every day? Inexpensive tablecloths from a rental shop have become that completely indispensable thing in my life, and they could well save you time, money, clean-up effort, and stress.
I promise, one of the most useful sub-$20 purchases you’ll ever make…
Finding Magical Tablecloths
When planning for our low-budget, aluminum-funded wedding (which succeeded in large part to Offbeat Bride!), my now-husband and I bought “damaged” tablecloths from a local rental store. When a rental tablecloth comes back somehow damaged, they can’t be rented out again, but they are often still in decent shape.
If you call and ask, rental shops are usually more than happy to make money off of what they can no longer rent out. The damage ranges from wax stains to rips, paint stains to mold or mildew spots, and the pricing at our local place ranged from $5 for the smallest, most damaged cloths to $20 for the largest, least damaged ones. Color and size selection are pretty random, but that’s part of the fun.
Despite the damage, these tablecloths are incredibly durable, can be machine washed, and are anywhere from six feet round to 8 x 12 feet long. So what to do with these?
Even before we moved to our mini-farm, food harvesting and processing was a yearly tradition. Without a tall enough ladder, we discovered that shaking a tree often brought down ripe plums, apples, nectarines, and pears. Spread these tablecloths out under the trees, and harvesting goes from an hours-long effort to pick individual fruit off the tree or off the ground, to laying out tablecloths, shaking the tree, and gathering up the cloth to easily funnel into a container.
After getting the harvest in, these cloths prove very useful for setting up processing space — they keep everything from straw and chaff to cherry seeds and apple peels from hitting the carpet or floor, and can be machine washed, unlike the carpet. Spread the cloth out under the processing area, and cleanup takes less than a quarter of the time.
This same principle applies to spreading these cloths out under art and craft projects, to piling up laundry in the absence of baskets, to protecting the floor while deep-cleaning a room.
Shade, shelter and blanket forts
Hanging these tablecloths up on our back porch proved an easy fill-in way to create shade on very sunny summer days. Or, if you don’t have a back porch, then hanging one between two trees or even a couple of well-placed big sticks helps shade and shelter. Indoors, these make great blanket fort fodder, because they’re light enough that a few chairs or well-stacked couch cushions can hold them up, with the bonus of leaving blankets available for camping out in the fort!
A few of my steampunk friends actually found this use: as large chunks of solid-color fabric with minimal hemming and few seams, these tablecloths make great raw material for sewing projects. The large round tablecloths, especially, make for easy circle skirts: just cut a central hole and add elastic, then hem to the right length.
In most houses, finding a nice, solid-color wall without any distractions with which to get a good photo can be tough, at best. For selling products on Etsy, for getting a photo of a friend, or for any other picture-taking, these tablecloths (well-ironed) are easy to hang up with a couple of $2 clamps from the hardware store, and the large ones provide enough height and width to be an easy backdrop. The wide variety of colors provide lots of creative options, and the fact they can be laundered and can be folded extend their life far beyond the $120 rolls of flat photo backdrop paper. They’re not 100% professional quality, but they do a very passable job.
And lest I forget, these tablecloths do also serve their original function: tablecloths. For outdoors or indoors, on the ground or on an actual table, they do their job. One of our favorite tricks was to throw a cloth over our chest freezer and use it as a buffet table. If you’re going for a fancier look, use the caterer’s trick of placing several boxes, bowls, or stable items of varying heights on a table, then throwing a tablecloth over them all, and placing your buffet items on those pedestals. It creates a great professional look, you can hide the damage to the cloth easily, and it is a lot less expensive than the “buffet stands” you can buy or rent.
The long and short of it is this: these “damaged goods” tablecloths are inexpensive enough that they can be abused, are flexible enough to serve as tarps-with-color-and-class, and you’ll always find another use for them.
Have YOU found surprising alternatives for your tablecloths? Let us in on the ways you use yours.