Making Oil Cloth

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Originally, oilcloth was made of sturdy, natural fiber fabrics such as cotton duck, linen or cotton canvas which had been treated with a linseed oil based coating. Often it was dyed, painted or printed prior to the oil treatment, or sometimes colored designs were added during the treatment process. Oilcloth was commonly used in years past for tablecloths and picnic cloths because it was durable and relatively waterproof. Often it was used for making lawn furniture. An inexpensive fabric, oilcloth was usually sold by the foot at local hardware and department stores.
True oilcloth is environmentally friendly because linseed is not a petroleum based product, but a natural byproduct of processed flax. By the late 1950s, oilcloth was pretty much replaced by vinyl products. Within recent years, a PVC-coated cotton fabric has been marketed as "real oilcloth," which of course is not the case. However, if you're missing your no-longer-available "real" oilcloth, it's very easy to make your own.

Things You'll Need

  • 18 by 18 inch pre-washed square of canvas or linen 24 by 24 inch piece of plywood Stapler or staple gun Fabric dyes, oil paints or acrylic paints (optional) Linseed oil Paintbrush Scissors Needle and thread or fabric glue to hem the oilcloth
  • Lay the plywood on a flat surface. Center the cloth on the plywood and smooth it out so that there are no wrinkles.

  • Staple the cloth to the plywood, smoothing and stretching as you go.

  • Use fabric dyes, acrylic paints or oil paints to create a design on the fabric, if you wish. Allow dyes or paints to dry thoroughly before proceeding.

  • Cover the cloth with linseed oil, using long even strokes of the paintbrush. Allow the cloth to dry for a couple of days.

  • Repeat Step 4 three more times. Drying times between coats will become shorter and shorter as the linseed oil begins to build up on the surface of the cloth.

  • Add a design with dyes or paints at this time, if you have not done so already.

  • Repeat Step 4 three more times.

  • Remove your oilcloth from the plywood once it is thoroughly dry and the linseed oil has built up a nice, thick coating. Trim the unpainted edges.

  • Hem the oilcloth with needle and thread. Or turn the edges under and glue them into place with fabric glue for a nice, smooth edge.

Tips & Warnings

  • You can treat ready-made canvas items in the same manner. Or you can dip the item into the linseed oil, let it dry and repeat until the item has become thoroughly coated.
  • Always work in a well-ventilated area. Wearing gloves is a good idea, too.

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