image of picnic table

Why Your Picnic Tablecloth Looks Like a Checkerboard

April 24, 2017

Picture a picnic, and you are probably picturing checkered tablecloth or blanket in the park. The red and white checked tablecloth is as predictable as a backyard game of badminton. The story goes back centuries to a simple fabric you know as gingham.

Gingham is easy to make, durable, and inexpensive. Both sides are identical, so you can flip it over when some barbecue sauce drips on it. Northern British fabric mills began producing it, with its recognizable two color pattern, at a fast pace in the 18th century. It quickly became a favorite for children’s clothes and furnishings. By the time the 1900s came around, it was used so much it was quickly considered “old fashioned,” and became associated with country lifestyle (Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz sports a blue checked gingham dress).  As it went from a fast produced cloth to a utilitarian fabric, gingham was the obvious choice for a picnic blanket or tablecloth. It was easy to wash, stood up to many uses, and inexpensive enough that it wasn’t a big loss if it got ruined. Today, your picnic tablecloth may be vinyl or even disposable plastic… but, it still retains the quaint checkered pattern that goes back centuries.