Often called “Colonial Linoleum,” floorcloths were originally used on wooden floors where rugs or carpets were too expensive or impractical for the high traffic. Floorcloths were usually stretched from wall to wall and tacked in place over a bedding layer of straw.
Now, of course, floorcloths are used to highlight a room’s decor only partially covering the main floor covering. They are also much more durable and can be coated with polyurethane for even longer use and protection. The way in which floorcloths were painted has not changed much over time and can be decorated today the same as they were in the eighteenth century.
MATERIALS TO USE
You can make your floor coverings by purchasing an extra-heavy artist’s cotton canvas. Cut your canvas to a 4×6, 8 x 10, or whatever your desired rug size leaving 2″ of extra material all the way around. Iron out any creases and apply several coats of gesso using a wide paintbrush. Be sure to paint on the right side of your cloth and let it dry. Then use a paint roller to apply your base coat of paint.
A far easier method would be to use leftover remnants of vinyl linoleum in which case you would just cut it to size and add your base coat to the back of the linoleum using a paint roller.
PAINT THE BORDER
With a pencil and a straight yardstick measure the outside border edge. You can have one or several borderlines that go all the way around your rug or add decorative medallions in the corners. If you are painting on the canvas floorcloth make sure you leave the 2″ overhang unpainted on all sides.
Whatever pattern you decide to use, you will need a wide roll of masking tape to seal off the edge you do not want to paint. Use the back of a table knife to apply pressure around the edge of the tape to make a very tight bond and prevent paint from seeping through your edge.
STENCIL A PATTERN ON YOUR CLOTH
Locate the exact middle of your floorcloth and center your stencil pattern using an adhesive spray or small pieces of masking tape to hold it in place. Mark your guidelines with colored chalk. You can make your own stencil by tracing your pattern on a piece of acetate and cut it out with a very sharp utility knife. You will need to make one stencil pattern per paint color you will be using.
I suggest that you sketch out how you want your finished floorcloth to look and decide where you want your lines or design embellishments placed. If you are using a very large stencil in the middle you may only want some small square bordered medallions to highlight a single part of that stencil in each corner.
Stencil brushes or stipple brushes should be used when applying acrylic paint to your stencil. Blot off almost all of the paint you want to use and then pounce the brush in a circular motion onto your stencil working from the outside in. Continue this process using each stencil for each color change.
FINISHING YOUR CLOTH
After your paint has dried completely you will need to finish your 2″ edge if you made your floorcloth from the canvas. Using a diagonal cut, trim the corners of your canvas then turn the floorcloth over. Using an industrial-strength fabric glue press the edges of the canvas down flat. You can use a rolling pin to help press it down. Wipe off any excess glue and wait for it to dry thoroughly.
Both methods for making a floorcloth will need to be sealed with a coat of varnish. Apply 2-3 coats of sealer for the best protection.
Skid or slip-resistant mesh tape can also be applied to the back of your new floorcloth to help hold it in place on your floor.