The birthday tablecloth

At the conclusion of Melody’s birthday party recently, guests were shocked when I asked them if their child would like to write on the tablecloth. What? Parents are continually trying to keep table linens nice, don’t encourage kids to write on them! But, this is a tradition that started when I was a little girl. Each guest is asked to write a birthday note, creating a memory for the birthday girl that will last a lifetime.

My mother started this tradition for our family. I asked her recently where she got the idea, and back in the 60s there was no Pinterest, so it was either a magazine or word of mouth. My dad thought it was Sunset magazine. She made a pink tablecloth for my sister and a blue one for me. We kids sat at the dinner table for cake & ice cream and pencils would be passed around. During the year following, my mom would embroider over the various little notes, memorializing them for all time. Each year she used a different color, creating a bright and colorful mosaic of birthday wishes. Some names are repeated year after year, others show up only once or twice. After I learned to embroider (badly, I must add) I took over the task of doing the embroidery and I have birthday wishes from my first through sixteenth birthdays.

Of course the cynic in me pictures unfinished tablecloths in the linen closets of America, abandoned when mothers ran out of time or gumption and lacked daughters willing to take over the embroidery task. I can say that I am glad my mother taught me to embroider so that I could complete my tablecloth. I just wish I had taken to it better, but my fingers just couldn’t manage the precise stitches necessary for really good embroidery.

Being seriously all thumbs in the needlework department these days, I knew I wanted to make a birthday tablecloth for Melody, but wanted it to be something practical. We are SO lucky fabric markers were invented! The ink writes directly on the fabric with very little hassle and once washed & dried, it is there forever. I just need to remember to make a note on the end of the tablecloth as to what color was used which year.


The tablecloth is made from 2 yards of 60″ wide cotton I bought online. Looking back, I might have gotten a poly-cotton for better wrinkle resistance but I can’t go back and change it now. The center of the tablecloth features “Happy Birthday Melody” in iron on letters which I stitched into place so that when the adhesive eventually gives out the letters won’t fall off. I put in a 1/4″ hem, then turned it and hemmed it again. Since I added the ruffle after 5 years, I stitched the ruffle directly to the back of that hem, but if putting it on during the hemming would be easiest and less bulky.

2 yards 60″ wide cotton or poly-cotton, tablecloth weight, solid color

Applique letters to spell “Happy Birthday” and your child’s name

7 1/2 yards gathered eyelet ruffle (optional)

Wash and dry fabric & ruffle. Lay out the cloth right side up and place the letters in the center in any formation you desire. Iron in place, then stitch over them. Turn up 1/4″ hem and stitch. Lap ruffle over the hem and stitch in place. Finish raw edges of ruffle so they won’t fray. Fray-check is your friend. If you are not adding a ruffle, turn up a second 1/4″ hem and stitch in place.

Supply one single color of fabric marker each year. On the end of the tablecloth, write the year in that same color.

Click the pictures for larger images.


One thought on “The birthday tablecloth

  1. I love, love my tablecloth. I’m glad you kept up the tradition for Melody. I’m on three cloths now!! I can remember embroidering mine as I grew older. I have never run across anyone else with this special momento like ours. I hope that other people will take up this tradition in their family.

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