Floorcloths

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Floorcloths

Floorcloths are an alternative to conventional carpets and rugs. They are really the forerunners of linoleum which, in turn, was displaced by vinyl. Floorcloths were popular in the eighteenth century as they could be painted to imitate expensive pile carpets. Sailcloth was the material generally used; it was given many coats of linseed oil to create a very heavy and durable surface. Floorcloths could be left plain or painted with a design. They were used in corridors and hallways, indeed any area of heavy wear that would have quickly ruined a carpet or rug and in the servants’ quarters where a real carpet would have been considered extravagant. The great advantage of a floorcloth is that it can be painted with any imaginable design at minimal cost. Moreover, it is a surprisingly hard-wearing ‘carpet’, making it an excellent choice for a hallway runner. And it can be made to fit any particular room’s shape.

Preparation

A floorcloth is really a blank canvas onto which any design can be painted, rather like an artist paints a picture, except that the floorcloth requires a protective coat of varnish once the design has been completed. Artist’s canvas can be used but it is probably better to visit a theatrical scenery supplier and buy the canvas from them, or to buy cotton duck, as this is a satisfactory, inexpensive alternative.

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You can make a very large floorcloth as it is possible to buy cotton canvas up to approx. 9.5m (lOMyd) wide and any length, although some of the cheaper alternatives may be a little narrower. You will need to buy a piece of canvas slightly larger than you expect the finished floorcloth to be because the canvas will shrink by approx. 7.5 per cent once it has been primed. You will also need to allow 2.5cm (lin) extra all round to fold under as a hem – to make a neat edge.

It will be necessary to find a space larger than the floorcloth in which to work comfortably. Begin by ironing out any creases in the canvas with a conventional steam iron. The canvas should be stretched before priming otherwise there is a risk of it rucking up unpredictably once it has been painted. A frame like an artist’s stretcher can be made up to the required size using 5 x 2.5cm (2 x lin) timber and the canvas fixed to that; otherwise pin the canvas along the edge to an existing smooth and level floor using plenty of drawing pins, though these will leave small holes. The canvas should be sized before painting; traditionally, artists use an animal skin glue that is purchased in granular form. A quicker and easier alternative is to brush the canvas with a modern PVA adhesive and then let it dry. Now prime the canvas with two coats of ordinary acrylic wo primer/undercoat, allowing two hou between coats; it is a good idea to give tl underside of the canvas a coat too as this w give the floorcloth greater rigidity. Tl canvas will shrink so that it becomes ve taut. Only at this stage can the drawing pi be removed, or the canvas be taken off stretcher. Use a metre rule and pencil mark out the size and shape of the finishi floorcloth and additionally mark a second lii about 2.5cm (lin) away from the first hi towards the edge of the floorcloth. Cut aw any excess material beyond this line. Use a sharp craft knife and a long metal rule and score along the first line very gently, just to break the weave of the fabric and cut diagonally across each corner on the marked line. Apply a fabric adhesive or PVA up to the marked edge and fold it on the scored line to give a neat, finished edge. The floorcloth is now ready for painting.

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