DANVILLE — Megan Dove needed a tablecloth.
She did not want the thin paper placemats that children color on in restaurants. Nor did she want to sling just any piece of fabric over her beloved dining table and tell Sharpie-wielding family members to have at it with the scribbling.
She had seen a piece of fabric on the table of a friend in Guatemala and watched as a child colored it with markers. What a fun way that would be to have family create a keepsake for birthdays and other special events, she thought.
Dove wanted a tablecloth made of a nice piece of fabric onto which family members — and especially children — could color inside printed shapes with a marker or write messages and draw pictures. She wanted a sturdy backing, and a tablecloth that came out of the washer looking crisp rather than tattered and wrinkled.
People could color with permanent markers on tennis shoes and backpacks, she figured. Was a nice tablecloth too much to ask?
Apparently it was. So Dove — along with her husband Stephen, an assistant professor of history at Centre College, and their neighbors Heather and Pete Marra — decided to start a company to produce the tablecloths.
The Coloring Table — Thecoloringtable.com — was born.
Megan Dove, an at-home mom with three young children, embarked on an odyssey to find the perfect fabric — which turned out to be a crisp cotton-polyester blend — get it printed, find a backing and figure out how to produce a finished product. The table-protecting backing turned out to be similar to the rubbery fabric used on mattress protectors and on the back of baby bibs.
"It was more of an idea built from wanting something that didn't exist," Dove said. "I just wanted them in the pretty fabric. It turned into one of those things that I said, 'This has to exist. ... This seems like something moms would want.'"
So far there is one design, "food fun." Three more designs — birthday fun, picture frames and holiday cheer — are planned. Stephen Dove is the artist.
The company responsibilities are allotted thusly: Megan Dove is the visionary and researcher; Stephen Dove the artist; Heather Marra the marketer and Pete Marra the project manager. Each couple has three children who have volunteered their services as eager beta testers.
Recently Megan Dove even found a way to reuse the tablecloth: Use wash-out markers and then launder as usual. The tablecloth came out looking new.
The Coloring Table crew have turned to Kickstarter to get enough money to make an initial run of fabric and get it laminated and sewn; the project has been designated a Kickstarter "staff pick."
The tablecloths are also a pick on the website Forthecool.com, which features funny, useful and ironic products. Examples include: a lunch cooler labeled "Human Organ for Transplant," a waffle iron that cooks batter into the shape of a keyboard and a laughing Buddha ice mold.
If the tablecloth business takes off, the Coloring Table company might branch into other products such as napkins, place mats and fabric by the yard.
Megan Dove describes the process as "a whole lot of heart, a whole lot of work, a whole lot of research and a whole lot of luck."