Custom Floor Cloths, Custom Decorative Art for the Home

 

History and Care
 of
Floor Cloths

What are floor cloths?

    Floor Cloths were invented in France in the early 1400s, when painted oilcloths were used  as decorative wall hangings and table coverings. They were introduced to North America in the 18th century.

    In the early days, floor cloths were used  to imitate the fine flooring found in fashionable homes.  These cloths, often referred to as "crumb cloths" because of their use under dining room tables, were also used in parlors and hallways. They also made the floors warmer in the winter, and were used to cover the dirt floors of early Colonial America. Sails from ships  were recycled as floor cloths and painted in bold designs. For several hundred  years, these cloths were made and used in both rich and poor homes. It is said that George Washington listed a floor cloth valued at $14.82 in 1779 in a financial disclosure. While in office, Thomas Jefferson had a green painted canvas floor cloth  in the dining room in the Whitehouse.

    Until the invention of linoleum, these floor cloths were very popular  throughout North America. Painted either free hand or using stencils, their washable and wearable finish made them a desirable addition to the home. By the early 1920s floor cloths virtually disappeared until hand-painted items came  into style in the 1960s and they once again became popular.

How Floor Cloths were made in the old days:
Old-fashioned classic floor cloth with linseed oil

    This method took a lot of time (mostly in drying), but an authentic period piece was created this way.

    A good quality canvas, duck or denim, was washed to remove any sizing. It was then stretched using staples or tacks on a wooden frame. The canvas was saturated with linseed oil, (Linseed oil is made by pressing oil from the flax seed, and was a common product for hundreds of years since flax is the plant that produces linen for cloth.) making sure the oil penetrated through to the back side. Oil was then applied to the back as a separate step.

    The canvas was hung outside, preferably in warm, dry weather. It took several days to a week to dry completely, depending on the temperature and  humidity. The linseed oil stiffened the cloth as it dried and created a hard surface to the touch.

    When dry, paint was stenciled or handpainted on the canvas using natural pigments dissolved in linseed oil, artist's oil paints thinned, or any oil-based paints. After the paints were thoroughly dry, the surface was sealed with a clear varnish or shellac.  At least 3 coats of varnish were applied, allowing each coat to dry completely between applications.

    The canvas was cut from the frame, and the edges were left as  is, or folded under for a hem. Hemming wasn't often a worry with the old cloths, and varnish was applied around the edges  to seal any fiber ends. These floor cloths stood up to foot traffic, but if a wear pattern was noticed, re-varnishing made it appear brand-new.

Modern Day Floor Cloths:

    Today, Floor Cloths are made of heavyweight canvas  very similar to the heavy Sails used in old days. The canvas is primed on both sides, hemmed or selvedge edge, painted with non-toxic acrylic or oil paint, and top coated with several coats of acrylic urethane, or polyurethane. These floor cloths are made to be walked on, and are designed to become heirlooms to your own family. Canvas has traditionally been used for hundreds of years, and is still around as bright and beautiful today as it was when it was painted centuries ago by the Old Masters.

Care of Your New Floor Cloth

    Cleaning

    Because our floor cloths are made of good quality, heavyweight canvas, coated with multiple layers of paint and a protective finish, they are created to be around for years to come. Clean up is easy. Wipe down with water and your normal non-abrasive cleaner, or with a damp cloth. You can even mop these down with the same mop you use while mopping your floors. (Do not use bleach).

    Should your rug start to become dull, just apply a new coat of clear, satin finish poly-acrylic varnish. Let dry, and use as normal.

    Storing

    If it becomes necessary to store your rug, store it flat, or roll it loosely. I recommend that you use a tube to roll it around, to prevent any creasing. Never fold or crease your rug, as these creases become permanent. Roll your rug so that the design faces outward. That way, when you unpack it for its next use, the edges will be turned under slightly from storage. After a few hours the rug will lay flat again. You can also use a hairdryer to apply mild heat to make the rug lay flat sooner.

As always, your questions are welcomed, and I will help you in any way I can. Just email us!

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All images and artwork copyright © 2003 - 2007 Brian Bridgeforth and Marie Bridgeforth, do not copy or distribute our designs.