Afternoon Tea calls for an attractive tablecloth for the tea table and cloth napkins. Lace tablecloths in white or cream add a traditional touch of elegance. If you have an old lace, damask or linen tablecloth, perhaps an heirloom, take it out of your closet and use it. Most old lace or damask tablecloths are damaged in some way, either by stains or tears. These slight imperfections only add to their historic charm, but it is still important to keep all of your linens clean, even if you may not succeed in removing all the stains.
Take good care of your old linens by soaking them overnight in Oxyclean, a chlorine free cleaning agent. The next day, gently rub the stains with a mixture of salt and lemon juice and wash the linens carefully in hot water and a mild soap such as Fels Naptha. Then rinse them thoroughly and allow them to dry on a clothesline in fresh air if possible. This process works well for small pieces such as napkins, placemats, table runners and doilies, which can be washed and rinsed by hand before ironing. A larger tablecloth will need to be laundered in the washing machine after the overnight soaking process and dried at very low heat in the dryer. Again, use a mild soap and no bleach. If you plan to use old linens for your Afternoon Tea party, complete the washing and ironing process at least a week in advance, as you will need to turn your attention to many other tasks such as grocery shopping, cooking and flower arranging in the days before the gathering.
Newer tablecloths and napkins are also appropriate for Afternoon Tea, and some of these are made of wrinkle-free fabrics. The secret to working with wrinkle-free fabrics is to use the permanent press cycle of the clothes dryer and pull each piece out individually before the dryer turns off, folding each item immediately before removing another one from the dryer. Newer tablecloths and napkins come in a variety of colors and seasonal patterns and can add to the mood and theme of the party. It’s always good to start with a basic white, cream or beige tablecloth and matching napkins, but you can add seasonal napkins and table runners to your collection. It would be nice to have a set of tasteful Christmas themed and Thanksgiving themed cloth napkins in your linen closet. Keep in mind that your tea table will not be as large as a dining table, so you might want to use a small oblong tablecloth intended for the dining table and fold it in two. Modern linens do not need to match, so you can combine colors and textures for a pleasing effect. For example, for a St. Patrick’s Day Irish Tea, you could use a contemporary green tablecloth, perhaps even a plaid one, combined with white lace-edged napkins either new or antique.
We beg you not to use paper or plastic napkins and tablecloths, as they detract from the authenticity of the occasion. Even for less formal events, such as the American Family Reunion Tea, which is served as a buffet, you can still use cloth napkins and a real tablecloth rather than a disposable paper or plastic cloth. Remember that you honor and respect your guests by offering them your very best.