It used to be that floor cloths were for the fashionable set, used over marble floors in all the best European entries. The finest came from Bristol and Dundee, where sailcloth was hand-painted in beautiful detail for the great houses.
Here, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson imported their floor cloths from England, while Smith and Baber in Kensington were the go-to producers in the 1700s.
What happened to floor cloths since then? We rarely see them in glossy magazine spreads, never see them in actual homes, and there is a good chance that a whole bunch of us have no idea what they are.
Yet they are the simplest of all floor coverings. Made from sturdy duck or canvas, floor cloths are simply painted cloth that covers the floor.
Floor cloth historian Gwenith Jones at Gracewooddesign.com said that floor cloths can last for decades. A properly painted and sealed cloth can tolerate daily traffic in places like kitchens, entries and dining rooms.
Floor cloths were popular for a relatively short period in our history. They were the rage in the 1700s and 1800s, but fell out of favor when linoleum came along. “Linoleum was a wall-to-wall product and extremely durable,” said Jones.
Floor cloths can last for decades and they are surprisingly easy to care for – sweep and mop clean – you’re done. And paste-wax once a year to maintain the finish.
They are not only durable; they provide an opportunity to pop color and designs into your decor. While looming a rug to your specification can cost thousands, you can hand-paint a floor cloth in a single day for the change you find between the couch cushions.
And you get the rare opportunity to create a size exactly the way you need it – runner, room-wide or even around a corner.
The traditional way to create a floor cloth is to use heavy duck or canvas fabric. Many prefer to make a floor cloth by flipping over a piece of vinyl flooring and painting the paper-like backside.
Since I got my 5-by-5-foot piece of vinyl free from a friend, and had some of the paints on hand, my floor cloth cost me a whopping $7.16.
Here’s how to make your own:
Look for a medium-weight vinyl flooring or linoleum with a paper-like backing. Thicker is better and flexibility is key. Unroll your foundation piece and let it warm in the sun to work out wrinkles and roll marks.
Measure and cut to size with a box cutter from the back (paper side) of the vinyl.
Apply at least one coat of water-based primer with a small paint roller. Let dry.
Use a ruler, yardstick, stencils or free-hand sketch your design with a pencil. Use painter’s tape for clean borders.
You can paint your floor cloth with either latex wall paint or craft paints or a combination of both.
I chose a free-form design.
Use a paint roller for large areas of color. Use artist brushes or sponges for the details.
Paint your designs.
Finish with two to three coats of water-based polyurethane. A final coat of paste wax gives it rich, not-too-shiny sheen.
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