Floor Cloths – What’s NOT to Love?

I L.O.V.E. floorcloths…always have. Probably due to their history. These are a few clips from my scrapbook ideas I’ve collected over the years ~ Country Living magazine perhaps?

 L.O.V.E. it!

A very traditional ‘compass-design’ floor cloth…drool drool…I want it!!!

What Are Canvas 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” (or druggets) 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. They were durable and easily maintained; they were not subject to insect damage (as were wool and straw). In summer, they were cool and did not mildew. 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 White House.

Until the invention of linoleum, 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 Were Floor Cloths Made in the Old Days?

An authentic period piece was made with a good quality canvas, duck or denim and linseed oil. This method took a lot of time, mostly in drying. First, the canvas 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 hand-painted 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 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.

Did you know I used to make floor cloths???

This was my very first ‘prototype’ ~ ahem, attempt ~ at making a floor cloth. A sheep…naturally. It’s about 10-years old now…and stood the test of wearability ~ on the floor in my workshop! I’ve made and sold a few others, mostly as table runners…including geometric designs. But, they really never caught on…

HOW-TO: Creating a Modern Day Floor Cloth

Today, floor cloths are made of heavyweight canvas (recommended #10) found at most art supply stores. Step 1: Prep – Cut the canvas to the desired size allowing 4-inches for shrinkage and seam allowance. Iron to remove all creases. Step 2: Priming – Apply acrylic gesso to  one or both sides. Allow canvas to dry overnight. Step 3: Apply the basecoat (background color). Step 4: Pencil a 1 ½ inch line in from the canvas edge. (check corners with a framing square). Trim the point off each corner and glue or sew the hem. Step 5: Apply a second coat of basecoat. Step 6: Draw your design. Step 7: Paint your design. Step 8: Apply a protective sealer allowing adequate drying time between coats (3 – 5 coats recommended). Allow final coat to cure overnight. Step 8: Apply a final coat of paste wax. Floor cloths are made to be walked on and are designed to become heirlooms to your own family.

Recently, I’ve been using my inventory of heavy canvas for various projects…faux feed sack foot stool make-overs, mug rugs/coasters, etc.

But, today, I cut down some canvas floor cloths to make a banner ~ another NO – SEW project!  🙂

First, I applied one coat of gesso to my canvas front & back. Then, I painted the front & back with one coat acrylic paint: I used antique white and mustard yellow. Don’t worry, the canvas will not fray after it’s painted.

Next, I cut my individual banner/pennants to the desired size. (HINT: My banner is reversible.)

With black paint, I painted the letters free-hand, but you could use a stencil or template of sorts. I chose the words ‘F-A-R-M’ and ‘W-O-O-L’. Last, I used tinted wax to grunge it up a bit. Finally, I used a grommet tool to punch a 1/2-inch hole into the top of each pennant. A paper punch isn’t strong enough to get through the painted canvas and a drill doesn’t make a ‘clean’ enough hole.

I tore a length of homespun fabric to thread through the holes to hang the banner…but you could use yarn, jute, ribbon, etc.

You could use a similar (or much more decoratively painted) no-sew banner ++ with your own script ++ for the holidays, kid’s party, 4-H Club display, vendor booth…whatever!?

Just trying to whittle down my stash. Oh well, I sure do L.O.V.E. floor cloths!!!

8 thoughts on “Floor Cloths – What’s NOT to Love?

  1. what a great idea! so creative. thanks also for the little history and how-to lesson. i think this will come in super handy!
    by the way, have you ever made wool soakers for babies? i believe they are like diaper covers that are made of boiled wool. any info on that?
    thanks again.

    • I did a web search on ‘wool saokers’. I can understand why WOOL would be a good choice as a diaper cover. I’m sure you could make some… felt some wool fleece and then sew little panties!

  2. I’m glad I’m not the only one clipping magazine photos for ideas. I have my own little stash(folder) of floor coverings too. Very creative use of canvas. The little fall wreath is soooo lovely.

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