Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The History of Oilcloth

Although not much research has been done on the subject of oilcloth, we here at Oilcloth International wanted to clue you in on some interesting facts we've put together. Hopefully someday one of you all will write your dissertation all about oilcloth!

Oilcloth became popular in the 18th century during which it was used as an inexpensive floor and roof covering. The fabric was produced by stretching a linen cloth with a four-sided vertical frame. In order to keep the cloth from becoming brittle and breaking the fabric was coated with a sizing solution and rubbed smooth with a pumice block. Finally the cloth was coated with a mixture of linseed oil and paint pigment.

Although the production of floorcloths originated in England, American artisans soon began manufacturing their own. "Homeowners or professional itinerant sign-painters applied the designs...with a ruler and a compass or with a stencil...these practical, easily refurbished floor coverings increased in popularity in their own rights throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It evolved into oilcloth." (Garvan)

The original techniques of manufacturing oilcloth have become rare and commercially obsolete with the introduction of non-cracking plastics and rotogravure printing process. Nowadays, oilcloth is a printed vinyl bonded and supported with a woven cotton mesh. Many people fondly remember the printed vinyl cloth. Oilcloth has existed in the homes of many people, which is why oilcloth may remind us of fond memories spent with friends and family in the kitchen or dining room where oilcloth's presence is most common. When one thinks of oilcloth they recall the bright colors and lively prints of fruits and florals that have become increasingly popular over the years.

1) Garvan, Beatrice B. Underfoot in America. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania, 1977.




I'm currently making my own oilcloth which I use in the manufacture of period clothing; specifically, forage caps (wheel hats) for the 1840-1860s period, Civil War Kepi rain covers,and period wallets. It's a slow process and I see why when modern materials became available this process was abandoned. I really have a love-hate relationship with the stuff, but I seem to be attracted to this material for some crazy reason. I just found this site and am looking forward to reading more.


Charles M. Marsh
C Marsh & Co.
2454 Indian Road
Fort Scott, KS 66701

Anonymous said...

I just purchased a circa 1820-1840 Oilcloth covered box from a Maine estate. The seller told me the box was made by the Maine inventors of oilcloth, the Brackett Family brothers of Unity, Maine. Anyone have any comment to this info.?