Less can be more—find affordable accents to refresh your space.  Shop here.

Set the tone with a fresh coat of paint. Shop Magnolia Home Paint.

This just in: a new season of Magnolia Table with Joanna Gaines. Learn more.

Table Linens 101

by Magnolia
Published on February 19, 2024

A bowl of two yellow lemons sits on a green gingham table runner. Plates, topped with green table napkins, and glassware sit on a wooden table from Magnolia.

Certain things can sometimes feel untouchable in the dining room. An heirloom china set that’s been in your family for generations. True silverware that requires polishing before use. Or maybe your linen cabinet is chock-full of tablecloths, napkins, and runners that only see the light of day for very special occasions.

This begs the question: Why wait? In our humble opinion, a typical Tuesday night at home with loved ones warrants the best of what we have, and dressing the table with linens is a simple way to do this: elevating the everyday. Swapping paper for cloth can brighten up the table at a moment's notice and helps time spent there feel extra special.

What Are Table Linens?

A variety of patterned and colored cloth table napkins are lined up on a wheat gingham tablecloth from Magnolia.

Let’s start with the definition. Contrary to what the name suggests, table “linens” can actually be made from a variety of versatile, durable materials. Our collection most commonly consists of cotton or linen textiles that come in the form of napkins, runners, tablecloths, and more.

Intended for repeated, sustainable use and safeguarding your table from scratches and stains, these pieces layer beautifully together—but can also hold their own. Even without a fully set tablescape, linens can help soften a scene, whether it’s with a full tablecloth, just a runner, or a few napkins scattered about.

A Few Reasons We Love Them....

  1. Elevate with ease: At home, Jo uses table linens nearly every night, even for casual weeknight dinners. Taking a few extra minutes to set the table can also be a fun way to get little ones involved, letting them choose which napkin they’d like at their place or picking one they think each family member will love.
  2. Style simply: The pieces in our collection are intentionally made to play well together. In other words, have fun mixing and matching! You can pair them all back to one solid color or design for a classic look or choose to mix up patterns across the table.
  3. Made to last: Our linens are not only beautiful, they’re also well-made and easy to keep clean. Most variants in our collection are crafted with 100% cotton or linen to quickly absorb and dry with ease. Plus, they’re machine washable and get softer with time. (Read more on how to properly care for table linens below.)
  4. Usher in the season: When life is quickly moving, seasonal decor can easily fall to the wayside. Enter: table linens. Setting the scene with fabric tablecloths, runners, and napkins, rather than single-use counterparts, is an easy way to transform your space and welcome a new season.
  5. Protect the table: The best part? You can keep linens on the table for both aesthetic and function. They help prevent stains and scratches that tend to come with daily use—and you can clean up crumbs in one swipe.

Cloth Napkin Styling Tips

Styling cloth napkins can be an art form all on its own…an expression of yourself and the people who fill the chairs around your table. Lay the groundwork with a tablecloth, add a layer of texture with a runner, then have fun setting napkins at each place. To spark ideas, we’re sharing a few ways our team likes to style them:

A spring-inspired tablescape from Magnolia—with ceramic plates, dusty pink napkins, gold flatware, and more—is set on a wheat gingham tablecloth.

Add bows

Utilizing ribbon is a beautiful way to help a napkin hold shape, while also adding elegance. Gently fold or roll a napkin, then tie ribbon into a loose bow to keep the fabric in place. (Tip: You can also add clippings of fresh or faux greenery for a natural look.)

A block-printed napkin sits atop scalloped plates from Magnolia.

Tie a knot

Framing plates with a loosely knotted napkin lends a casual feel to any tablescape, while also adding unexpected movement. For cohesive place settings, try placing the napkin seam down, letting the corners fall off the dish edges with ease.

A green cloth napkin sits on a white ceramic plate. A wicker placemat and green gingham tablecloth also top the table. Textured glassware surrounds the plate.

Fold casually

Embracing an imperfect fold helps highlight the texture and color of cloth. Just fold a napkin into thirds, then place it underneath (or atop) the plate at each place. Don’t worry about matching corners perfectly, a little asymmetry is welcome.

A cloth napkin with a grid pattern is folded and secured with a wooden napkin ring from Magnolia.

Put a ring on it

Securing a napkin with a ring is an opportunity to incorporate a pop of natural texture and color into your tablescape. Gently fold or pull a napkin through your ring of choice for an elevated feel. (Tip: You can also try rolling up silverware inside!)

Care Notes

Table linens are easier to care for than one might think—and they end up saving you time (and money) in the long run. To clean most linens in our collection, simply machine wash, then tumble dry on low. Avoid bleach (if possible) and iron on medium or steam to smooth, if needed. To ensure best care practices, be sure to note the composition label and specific care instructions on each tag.

The best of what we have is meant to be used, and the signs of life—wear, tear, or a stain here and there—can make linens that much more beautiful. Tie, fold, mix, and match away! Brightening your tablescape begins here:

Dawn Rose Napkin Set of Four napkins from Magnolia.
Wheat Gingham Tablecloth from Magnolia
Block Print Napkin from Magnolia