Coloring on a tablecloth would normally get a kid in trouble, but not in the Dove household.
There, the activity is encouraged for the sake of research.
Megan Dove and husband Stephen are the brains behind The Coloring Table, a company they launched this year with the support of friends to produce tablecloths that can be colored on — no marker bleeding — and preserved as keepsakes.
Their children, Sam, 7, Ruth, 5, and Georgia, 2, happen to enjoy being the product testers, like using their favorite colors — green, pink and orange, respectively — and they have their own ideas for future designs.
“It’s been fun this year,” Megan said with a smile.
Besides being a mother of three and a budding businesswoman, Dove also is a part-time teacher through the Texas Public School System. She teaches Spanish online, something she started when the family lived in Guatemala for two years. That also happens to be where the story of The Coloring Table begins.
It all started in January, when the family went to Guatemala with Stephen, an assistant professor of history at Centre College.
“He led a study abroad group to Guatemala. We had lived in Guatemala for two years, so when he found out he was able to do the trip in January, we were like, we’re all going to go,” she said.
While there she went to visit Carolina Marcel Austurias.
“I was visiting my very best friend who lived there and she had on her table this white fabric, and her girls were coloring on it with markers.” Dove was enthralled with how simple the idea was.
“She was like, ‘It’s just fabric. Look, it’s just cut with my scissors.’ And I said, ‘Yea, but you put it on the table and the girls are coloring,’” Dove said. “It wasn’t just a bed sheet. She had fabric that had black designs on it.”
They returned to Danville and had to promptly plan a surprise birthday party for Dove’s father, who was turning 60.
“I was thinking, ‘What are we going to do? I want something special for my dad — I want one of those, I want a tablecloth. We’ll all color on it, we’ll all sign it for my dad’s birthday,’” she said.
But, Dove soon found that easier said than done. She scoured the Internet with no luck.
“Things were coming up like activity mats for children. Plastic, erasable, paper, disposable. I’m like, ‘no people, a keepsake.’”
The fabric she had spotted at Austurias’ house was sold by IKEA. It wasn’t available online, and Dove didn’t have the time to drive to the nearest one, north of Cincinnati.
So, she temporarily gave up on the idea.
“It turned into one of these things with my husband and I. I was like, ‘Isn’t that crazy, I couldn’t get what I wanted? I pictured it in my mind.’ And he’s like, ‘I bet if we really search hard, we’ll find something out there.’” The search was on.
Besides being a professor, Dove’s husband Stephen is a former journalist. “Research is his thing,” she said with a laugh. They found a company in England that offered blank table cloths that could be colored on, but Dove knew that wasn’t what she wanted, either. “I wanted something they could color in and sign their name,” she said. “Sometimes that blank is really intimidating.”
Dove reached out to a college friend who does marketing work to see if she could find anything. “At this point, it was almost becoming a game of, ‘Is this a unique idea?’ We assumed, surely, this is easily available. Then it became, obviously this is not easily available, but surely it exists. To then the question of, does this exist?
“She called me back and she was like, ‘Meg, you can color on teddy bears, backpacks, tennis shoes, t-shirts…’ She lists all the things she can find and was like, ‘I am not seeing tablecloths,’” Dove said. While having dinner with friends Pete and Heather Marra, the Doves shared their discovery.
“Pete is like, ‘Make it. If you really think this is a unique thing, I think you should go for it, and we’ll support you,’” Dove said. “That was the moment where it turned into, ‘Does it exist? OK, we don’t think this exists, wouldn’t it be funny to make it,’ to, ‘Oh my gosh, maybe we could make it.’”
“Megan had a great idea, and we were just so excited about it,” said Heather Marra. “We thought it was such a great opportunity to put something out there that was new on the market.”
And The Coloring Table was born.
Admittedly, it took a great deal more research to launch. Dove learned about fabrics — “I learned a lot.”
“I was checking books out at Centre and visiting all the area fabric stores I could find,” she said. Initially, she thought she could get someone to print the designs on bulk fabric.
It turns out being a mother gave her the best product testing available. “Every piece of fabric I could find, that little lady right there,” referring to 2-year-old Georgia, “somehow made the marker go through to my table.” She wanted something better. Something that couldn’t bleed through and wouldn’t wash off, so Dove kept researching.
She found information about a textile convention to be held in Atlanta in May. “It’s from all over the world — you had the China section, the Italy section … I basically went country to country,” she said. Dove narrowed her focus to the United States and said she’s learned the importance of sticking to American-made products through the process. “This has been an experience of step-by-step realizing the importance of it having been made in America. If you would have asked me this seven months ago, I would been like, ‘Yeah, maybe.’ I’ve lived abroad and I’ve seen that stuff can help other people, too,” she said. “After this whole process, I’m like, ‘Yeah, making it in America is pretty important.’”
She gathered information at the convention, but had little luck in finding what she needed. “People thought it was cute, I think, but they were not taking me seriously,” Dove said. “I didn’t walk away from May with, ‘I’ve got it figured out,’ but I walked away with a whole lot of information.”
The next step was the phone. Dove made it a goal to call at least one fabric company a day. Some of the companies would direct her to others they thought could help.
Ultimately, Dove connected with King America in Georgia to obtain the fabric, Carlisle Finishing Company in South Carolina to print on the fabric and Narcote Textile Solutions in Tennessee to place the backing on the fabric. They are in conversations with Phoenix Vocational Services, which helps those with disabilities obtain jobs, to sew the hem on the fabrics.
The tablecloths are made from a poly cotton fabric and printed with a design created by Stephen. They have a polyurethane backing, similar to that found on a mattress cover or a baby’s bib.“It’s something that’s meant to be washed, something that is waterproof and protects,” she said. “We created a product that guarantees the markers won’t go through. That’s the part that’s pretty cool.”
Currently, Dove has launched a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $20,000 — the amount needed to place an order of 3,000 yards, or more than 1,000 tablecloths. The goal must be reached by Jan. 7, and if it isn’t, those who contributed will get their money back. Those who donate $50 will be mailed a tablecloth and shipping will be free. A larger donation will earn a larger thank you. Contributions of $50 or more will also get a pack of fabric markers that have been product-tested by the Doves. On Wednesday, the project was named a Kickstarter Staff Pick. They have also been featured on forthecool.com.
Along the way, Dove said she has learned a lot and has made a lot of connections. “Starting something like this is one part heart and determination, one part vision, and one part luck.”
“It has been a journey of people just deciding to be nice to me,” she said. “There have been these people along the way — if it weren’t for Jo, if it weren’t for Pete, if it weren’t for Tim (from King America) … this would never have happened if it weren’t for that.”
Follow Kendra Peek on Twitter, @knpeek.
Megan and Stephen Dove have one design ready to be printed, Food Fun, that features various types of food. Those who contribute $50 or more to the company’s Kickstarter campaign at www.kickstarter.com/projects/639184377/the-coloring-table will receive a tablecloth and fabric markers.