Fine table linen was essential for fine medieval dining. In the late medieval period the best tablecloths were as white as possible, ornamented with allover woven patterns, embroidery, separately stitched coloured borders, fringes, stripes, or some combination of these. There were plainer linen cloths for plainer people, and even rough hemp tablecloths on more impoverished tables. If anyone in Western Europe had to manage without a tablecloth they were at the very bottom of the social heap, like the washerwomen whose work was essential to keeping the best linen as fine and white as possible.
image: John of Gaunt dining with the King of Portugal, XV century (x)