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What Is a Floorcloth?

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  • Written By: Kay Paddock
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 27 September 2016
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A floorcloth is a floor covering that is typically made from sturdy canvas and is thinner than carpeting. Floorcloths came into fashion in the 18th century in America after being used in Europe for at least 200 years. The first floorcloths are believed to have been made from the heavy canvas sails of ships when they were no longer suitable for use on the sea. It was common for women to decorate the floorcloths in their homes by painting or stenciling them in simple geometrical designs, such as squares or diamonds. These canvases served as both decoration and water-resistant coverings to protect flooring.

Floorcloths were often used to help insulate a room and keep cold air from coming up through the floor when other rug materials were not available. These coverings also were commonly used beneath dining tables to catch food and simplify floor cleaning. Innovative 20th century floor materials such as linoleum and inexpensive tiles gradually made these cloths a less appealing option. Today's floorcloth is used primarily for decoration in place of carpet, wood or patterned tile. Most are made from simple materials such as heavy canvas, a primer to coat the canvas, acrylic paints and a varnish to seal the cloth.

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Many people still opt to make their own floorcloths from either purchased canvas cloth that is ready to decorate or from raw canvas cut into the sizes and shapes they want. Many companies that sell large pieces of canvas for this purpose also offer kits, brushes, stencils, stamps and sealants that work well for creating the floor covering. All of the items required can be purchased separately, including floorcloth patterns, stencils and books of ideas.

Though the original cloths were most often used in kitchens, some homes used them in many rooms. These floor linens are ideal for kitchens today because the sealed surface does not require any special cleaning tools beyond a slightly damp rag or mop. These floor coverings are also thin and fairly stiff, so chairs move more easily on them than on carpets, and there is no fear of damaging tile or wooden floors.

A custom floorcloth can often be ordered from a manufacturer or an artist who will create the cloth according to the customer's wishes. The price can range from inexpensive mass-produced styles to very expensive and detailed designer cloths. Floorcloth creation is done a little differently today than it was hundreds of years ago. Easy to use acrylics and varnishes have replaced the linseed oil paints and other materials once used, so making a cloth is something many people can do. Creating a homemade floorcloth may be the best way for someone to get one in a design that matches his or her home's décor without paying for an expensive, hand-painted version.

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