Make A Traditional Oil Cloth Rug

Give ordinary fabric a treatment borrowed from the early settlers to turn it into a statement floor covering.  

A replica floor runner kept at Old Government House in Parramatta, NSW was the inspiration for this rug project. 

The oilcloth was made in 1996 but it represents the prevalence of the style and its many uses for early settlers. 

With materials in short supply, temporary dwellings and floor and wall coverings were made from what was available, namely canvas sailcloth that was treated with paint, turpentine and boiled linseed oil. 

Oilcloth had the added advantages of being semi-waterproof and well suited to warm temperatures. 

replica oilcoth rug at government house, handyman magazine,
The replica oilcloth rug on display at Old Government House in Sydney

Prepare the materials

This project takes a few weeks as it requires the application of at least eight coats of a turpentine and linseed oil mixture, with a drying time of days between coats, then four coats of paint. 

We used a 1500 x 2100mm pre-primed canvas from an art supplies shop. The stretcher frame was cut from four 1.8m lengths of 42mm x 19mm DAR pine with the corners cut from a 200 x 400 x 3mm sheet of plywood. 

Be patient with the coats of oil and turps and leave enough time for each coat to completely dry before applying the next. The more thorough this process is, the more flexible and durable the rug will be. 

To flatten the canvas after it is painted and sealed, carefully weight it down with leftover timber, making sure there are no wrinkles on the back, then leave overnight to set.

TIP Work out the design on paper before making the frame.

Step 1. Make the frame

Position the sides against the top and base, securing with PVA adhesive. Cut the plywood into four triangles, position in each corner of the frame, securing with adhesive and staples.

Step 2. Stretch the canvas

Rest the canvas right side up and position the frame on top. Fold the canvas up over the frame edges, pulling it taut and securing it with staples using a staple gun.

Step 3. Prepare the surface

Apply four coats of a 1:1 linseed oil and mineral turps mix, letting it dry between coats. Remove the canvas then reattach it to the frame with the right side facing up.

Step 4. Draw the design

Sketch the rug pattern on paper and calculate the proportions first, transferring the design to the canvas using a lead pencil, steel rule and graph paper.

Step 5. Paint the canvas

Use painter’s tape to mask off the straight lines of the design. Apply interior primer to the canvas then apply at least three coats of each paint colour, leaving each to dry overnight.

Step 6. Seal the rug

Apply four coats of oil mix, let dry, remove rug from the frame and trim edges. Position face down, cut 20mm off the corners, fold the sides, apply contact adhesive and clamp until set.

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