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.