HISTORY OF FLOORCLOTHS

 

Floorcloths are part of our American heritage, but have their origins from France in the early 1400's. They were a direct spin off from table runners, tapestries and painted wall hangings. The British were the next to adopt this artwork featuring diamonds, cubes, squares  and checkers. They were hand painted, often by the lady of the house, as a way to imitate the flooring in fashionable homes, (minus the fashionable expense of marble and stone).  Private home owners making their own cloths often met with calamitous results. Issues such as improper paint bonding, and inadequate curing times caused cracking. The use of linseed oil and lead also caused cracking issues. Today artisans use water based products which reduce the cracking. These rugs were often referred to as crumb cloths because of their use under dining room tables. They had the additional bonus of making the floors warmer in winter and were insect and water repellant.

 

These floorcloths became widely popular during the American colonial period. They were first created and imported from England prior to 1754. Several companies in Boston, Philadelphia and New York were producing them here in the US. Private home owners made their own floor cloths, often recycling sails from ships. The arrival of linoleum in the 1920's slowed floorcloth production, bringing it to a halt. During the 1980's the interest in historical American home furnishings revitalized this craft.

 

At least three presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams, according to their estate inventories, owned floorcloths. Monticello and the White house have been reported to house some of these rugs.