How to Make a Floorcloth

How To Make Floorcloths 

Hand-painted floorcloths are a great alternative to area rugs. Not only are they economical and simple to make, they’re also a perfect combination of beauty and practicality. Custom canvas floorcloths allow you to create designs in any size and color to match both your home and your budget.

Floorcloths add warmth to cold floors and won’t collect dust or dust mites like piled rugs and carpeting. Plus, they can stand up to years of heavy traffic and will wipe clean with a damp mop. Floorcloths have a thick clear finish applied over several coats of paint, which strengthens the surface, yet keeps it flexible.

The same basic steps are used in every project: 1. Prepare the canvas. 2. Paint the floorcloth. 3. Seal the finished piece. The essential supplies are inexpensive and easy to find at paint, craft and hardware stores. You probably already have many of the things you’ll need in your basement or garage.

Before you begin, set up a work space where you can leave the floorcloth to dry undisturbed for several hours. This space should be dust-free, well-lit and well-ventilated. To allow paint fumes to dissipate, plan to leave windows open, or consider choosing an area in a garage or outbuilding. A card table works well for small projects, though you may need to use 8-foot tables or the floor for larger floorcloths. Cover your work area with plastic and tape the edges down to prevent it from slipping.

Step 1: Purchase a prepared blank canvas which has already been shrunk, primed and hemmed with carefully mitered corners. The canvas should be heavy weight- at least 18 oz./sq.yd. (called #8) or, for larger rugs, 24 oz./sq.yd. (#4). Canvasworks has several standard small floorcloth sizes and will make any size you need as a custom order.

Step 2: Remove the floorcloth from its packaging and unroll it, unpainted side up. Iron the entire floorcloth to ensure crisp, flat edges and square corners.

Step 3: Paint the hem. A painted hem prevents fraying and gives your floorcloth a continuous painted edge. The paint also stiffens the canvas and locks in the stitches on the hem. Use the same paint color you chose for your base coats in Step 4.

Lay the floorcloth with the back (and hem) facing up. Slide an index card under the hem at one of the corners. Using a 1-inch paintbrush, paint the hem, sliding the index card along underneath the hem to prevent painting the back of the floorcloth.

When you’ve painted all the way around the hem, let it dry for at least three hours before turning over the floorcloth.

Step 4: Use top quality paints (order Canvasworks Best Paints Tutorial for 25 minutes of all the nitty-gritty on paints). Apply the base coats. Apply two base coats of paint to your floorcloth to stiffen the canvas and ensure an even application of the paint you will use for the design. To save yourself a step, use one of the colors in the design as a base coat. Think about the best sequence of paint colors, then use the first (usually the background color) as the base coat color.

When the hem is completely dry, turn over the floorcloth. With a lint remover, lift off all pieces of lint, dust and stray threads of canvas from the front of the floorcloth. Use a 2-inch brush to paint the entire surface of the floorcloth. Allow the floorcloth to dry overnight. Apply a second coat, keeping the brush strokes smooth and even, and again allow the cloth to dry overnight.

Step 5: Paint the design. Consider using stencils, stamps or a computer- generated design to produce uniform patterns that can be easily reproduced. And plan your design in advance, so your big decisions (and mistakes) are made on paper. The time spent perfecting a design is worth every minute, as it will make you more confident and relaxed when you paint the floorcloth.

If designing isn’t your strong point, choose one of the Canvasworks Floorcloth Kits to get you started.

Acrylic enamel is the best choice for floorclothsthe plastics in the paint keep it flexible and make it less likely to crack when dry. More expensive enamel lasts longer and performs better than low-grade paint. The latest innovations in paint make it comparable in durability to oil-based paint, plus acrylic is much easier to clean up, dries faster and is more environmentally friendly. If possible, choose paints with low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chemicals that can cause health problems and contribute to indoor air pollution.

Step 6: Seal the floorcloth. Allow the floorcloth to dry at least 24 hours before you apply a clear coat finish. Paint can take up to a week to dry completely, even though it is dry to the touch after about an hour. The longer you allow the paint to dry, the less cracking youll see later.

Using a 4-inch brush, apply sealant from the top left corner and work down, then across the entire floorcloth. Watch the video about how to poly.
Video: How to Apply Finishing Coats
Be sure to brush all the way to the edges, so you seal all the exposed paint surfaces. Apply at least three layers of clear coat, allowing 12 hours of drying time between coats. Dont be alarmed by a cloudy appearance; it goes on cloudy and dries clear. Let the floorcloth cure for a week before putting it on the floor. This ensures the paint has completely dried and the clear coat is sufficiently hardened.

Floorcloth care

For day-to-day maintenance, sweep or vacuum dirt from the surface of the floorcloth to prevent it from scratching the finish. When needed, use a damp mop and a mild detergent like Simple Green to clean your floorcloth, then towel it dry to bring out a nice shine. Occasionally, you may need to apply a coat of floor wax to restore the original luster. If the floorcloth is in a high-traffic area, you might want to apply a revitalizing coat of clear coat annually.

Once you start making floorcloths, it will be hard to stop. You will find uses for them in almost every room of your house. With a little practice and some imagination, youll discover inspiration for colors, textures and designs inside as well as outside your home.

Adapted from Floorcloth Magic: How to Paint Canvas Rugs for Decorative Home Use by Lisa Curry Mair.  Mair has been designing, painting and selling floorcloths since the early 1990s. She operates her business, Canvasworks , from a restored 18th-century farmhouse in Vermont.

The History of Floorcloths

Floorcloths have been used in homes throughout the United States for hundreds of years. European settlers who came to America were intent on decorating their new dwellings to remind them of their homes across the ocean.

Because resources were limited, they used their ingenuity to make floor coverings when carpets were unavailable. Worn sails from ships supplied them with canvas; hand-cut stencils and freehand painting provided pattern and color. The designs were sealed with varnish and became known as oyl clothes, or oil cloths. In 1796, records indicate, George Washington purchased a floorcloth for his Mount Vernon home.

Until the end of the 18th century, floorcloths for wealthy homes were generally ordered and shipped from England. But by the beginning of the 19th century, professional house and ship painters were creating them in the United States. The advent of linoleum in 1860 eventually led to the decreased use of floorcloths in America.