Life Cycle of a Damask Tablecloth

Life Lesson #31: When you reach a point of no return, accept it.


Sometimes in life, there really is a Point of No Return.  It’s true for vintage linens, too, but it takes a really long time to get there! I’ll show you what I mean…



The Life Cycle of a Damask Tablecloth

I began life as a large, dinner-size tablecloth; pristine white. My owners love to host dinner parties, so for many years I was fortunate to sit quietly at the table, listening to all sorts of interesting and lively conversations. Eventually, I became a bit worn from forearms rubbing me against the table edge, and the lady of the house asked that I serve at luncheons instead.  Of course, I was happy to do so…even though it did require a sacrifice.


My corners were cut off diagonally into four triangles. I’ll admit: That was a traumatic time in my life! But the seamstress said I could trust her, and so I relaxed as my four triangles were joined together with a “cross” of beautiful Cluny lace–and matching lace used to finish my rough edges. I was quite lovely, but I still felt like a part of me was missing…


That feeling of loss soon disappeared when my original center section was turned into matching napkins, and I was pressed and ready to attend my very first luncheon. I overheard the lady of the house say how pleased she was with how I looked–and that she was so happy she had selected me–with my small fabric pattern–all those years ago. Apparently she knew that one day my service would change…and a small damask pattern is easier to reinvent than a large one.


The whole ordeal really wasn’t as big of a surprise for me as you might think. I had an older sister whose center became worn before her edges (except for the corners where she had a bad day with some clothespins). Her borders were removed and turned into a runner and placemats and, although she wasn’t able to attend special luncheons like me, she did serve at family dinners for many years. It’s a good thing she was a large cloth to begin with or else she’d have been turned into carving-cloths and have had to spend the next years of her life underneath a platter–keeping the spills off of the pretty new tablecloth that replaced her.


For now I’m happy serving at luncheons, but I know someday my service will change. Those who have gone before me have oft times been put into service as covers for breakfast trays–or trays for invalids. Theirs was still a noble service as trays are “much neater in appearance covered with a fitted cloth rather than a folded napkin, or still worse, a napkin with corners hanging over the edge.” Still others I know were turned into 3″-wide bands and affixed with little linen buttons and sweet little buttonholed loops…and used as napkin holders. Of course, they received initials for various members of the family. I hope that is in my future. I absolutely adore the beautiful, swirly monograms used in my household, and I would consider it an honor to end my days like that.  But time will tell…


It’s possible, of course, that my future service will be required somewhere besides the dining room.  If I get kitchen duty, my then-smaller pieces may be used to dry meat or fish or potato slices before deep-frying…or to wrap lettuce to keep it crisp. I sincerely hope I do not have to clean the house because, if I do, my life will surely end sooner rather than later. Cleaning windows and mirrors…and dusting furniture…really takes its toll.  One of my cousins performed cleaning services, and it wasn’t long before she was turned into 10″ squares, hemmed, and given a little tape loop so she could hang near the bathtub next to the jar of enamel cleaner. Her last days were spent stoically cleaning the tub until she finally reached a point of no return…


I’ve been very happy with my life so far. The housekeeper always makes sure I’m clean and perfectly white, and that helps me feel good about myself. But I do wonder sometimes what it would be like to be a colored damask cloth instead. I’ve heard exciting stories of their adventures: Suitcase covers encircling traveling clothes and taken on trips around the world; beautiful cases for nightgowns…or fancy comb and brush sets; even laundry bags to hang in the bedrooms–dyed to match each room’s decor. I’ve never seen the inside of the bedrooms…


What a life! Some day I, too, will reach a point of no return, and it will fall upon me to accept it with dignity and grace. Until then, “there seems to be no end to the variety of uses to which … damask may be put, so it really is worth while to pay a little more for good quality to begin with.”  At least that’s what the lady of the house always says…


Fall leaf plate

See this beautiful tablescape HERE.


In everybody’s life there’s a point of no return. And in a very few cases, a point where you can’t go forward anymore. And when we reach that point, all we can do is quietly accept the fact. That’s how we survive.

~Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore


31 Days 2013-001

This is part of a 31-day series.  All Life Lessons are listed HERE.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this October series.  Thank you for spending so much time with me lately! Who knew vintage linens had so much to teach us?  …Now I’m going to take the advice of Kahlil Gibran (and Dr. W J Wimpee, who performed Renaissance Man’s and my wedding) and let there be a little space in our togetherness.  Enjoy the rest of your week, and I’ll see you in a couple of days.


Source of historical damask information: Shojistyles


  1. Beautifully written, Susan. I will remember this lesson.

  2. Fantastic series Susan. Thanks so much for sharing all of this. I have enjoyed the month of linens!!!!!

  3. Susan, You moved. The 31 lessons seems like an interesting series of posts. I am thinking that I should recycle a few linens myself.