Editorial By: Sophie Sarin
Photography By: Early American Floorcloths
Floorcloths or “Oylcloths” are first mentioned in Britain at the beginning of the eighteenth century. They were painted by humble house painters and often offered in the classical designs used for marble floors by the fashionable architects of the day.
By the middle of the 18th century floorcloths, which were originally hand-painted and stencilled, began to be printed with hand-held wooden blocks. The trade had become a proper industry with factories springing up in ports such as Dundee and Bristol as well as London, where the looms used for the weaving of sail cloth were also used to weave the great widths necessary to cover a large floor without any seams.
The apogee of floorcloth manufacture was perhaps around the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, when many great houses ordered floorcloths for their entrance halls. The North American floorcloth industry became quite substantial in the first two quarters of the 19th century.
The trade continued to flourish throughout the 19th century but the patenting of linoleum by Frederick Walton in 1860 proved to be a blow from which the industry was never to recover.
This once flourishing industry has been all but forgotten, mainly because so few examples have survived. In Britain there are only fragments preserved at Calke Abbey. American floorcloths survive especially in Colonial Williamsburg, and in built heritage museums in Canada. Perhaps the oldest cloth surviving in situ is the charming floorcloth in the Swedish Royal Palace of Tullgarn, dating from 1800. In Canada and the United States, this art form has now become more of a cottage industry, with artisans embracing the craft to create reproductions for owners of traditional houses.
There are many workshops available to take-up the craft of this beautiful art form. The Edifice Atelier will be offering such workshops in the very near future.