In 1984 I made my first floorcloth. I had no idea such a product existed nor did I have any idea how to make a floorcloth. A good friend was having a birthday party, and I wanted to make him something special. I had surveyed his home for ideas, and decided on a cool canvas rug for his screened in porch. I was overly ambitious to impress him, and cut a large 6″ x 8′ piece of canvas. I had no work tables big enough for it so I had to paint it on the floor. I folded the edges when done, and glued them, then sealed the top with varnish. It looked beautiful, and everyone loved it. Before long, I was making more upon request, and thus began my floorcloth career!
I had a lot to learn yet to perfect my product. My first beautiful floorcloth was not looking too beautiful a few months later. I was hoping the rippled edges would relax and flatten after being on the floor. They did not. The edges were constantly being kicked up, bent over, snagged in chairs and feet and overall a total nuisance. The varnish was turning yellow and cracking. The back of the floorcloth was being exposed to moisture causing the whole rug to ripple. It was a short lived beauty.
It took a lot of time and experimentation to eventually perfect the floorcloths I now make. I will share with you this process here so you can create a long term beauty on your first try.
To Begin: How To Make A Painted Canvas Rug
Decide on and become excited about the design you want to create. It is best to make your first floorcloth for yourself so while it graces the floor of your own home, you can monitor any flaws in your creation. I suggest you choose a rather simple design so you are not overwhelmed in both drawing and painting it. Save those more complex designs for later when you have mastered all the techniques involved in making floorcloths. Search the web to see what other floorcloth artists are doing, and check out regular rug sites for design ideas.
- roll of canvas
- long metal ruler
- drawing pencils and eraser
- sharp scissors
- acrylic paints
- assortment of good brushes
- paint tray, mixing paint palette, paper towels, jar of water
- Tacky glue
- water based floor varnish
The Canvas I Use For Floorcloths
I use Frederix’s Dixie in a 12 ounce weight. You can sometimes find this at a good, local art supply store or simply Google it for places to buy it online, like Jerry’s Artarama. Consider making a smaller size to start like a 2′ x 3′. Then order the canvas roll appropriate for the size you are making. If you plan on making several floorcloths, the roll is your best buy. If you just want to make one floorcloth to start, you can search for an individual piece of canvas. I always buy the canvas already gesso primed versus raw canvas. I suggest you do the same as it will make life easier. Otherwise, it takes a lot of costly gesso and several coats to prepare raw canvas.
You want to use Hard drawing pencils, not the Soft pencils. The soft will smear and tends to show through light coats of paint.
Acrylic Paints For Painting An Area Rug
I generally use either Golden or Liquitex acrylic paints in tubes, and in jars for the larger floorcloths. I also use gesso to mix lighter shades instead of white paint. To save money on paints, buy a color wheel and learn how to mix colors for the shades you want. You can learn how to mix many colors from only 6 to 8 tubes of paint. There are definitely some colors I buy in order to get the purity and brilliance I cannot get by mixing. Have some small, plastic tubs with lids handy for saving left over paint mixes. I ALWAYS save a little of every color I mix in case I need to touch up later, which is often! This will save you from having to remix and match the color. I do recommend you ever use house paints as they tend to crack over time.
Water Based Varnish & Rug Painting
I have used an assortment of different varnish brands over the years. You can find these at a good paint shop, sometimes at the hardware store. Home Depot makes one in a bottle, but they usually come in cans. Your only requirement is that the varnish be water based, and a floor varnish. Oil based varnishes tend to yellow and crack. Water based sealants are acrylic making them nice and flexible. Sealants for the floor are the most durable. I also only use the SATIN finish in the varnish over a semi-gloss or gloss finish. Gloss is more durable, but I do not like the shine of gloss for a finished floorcloth. Some water based varnishes are clear and some are milky. It does not matter, but I will address some issues regarding this later when applying it.
It is time to draw your design on the canvas. If you bought a canvas roll, unroll it on a big table. NOTE:You must allow for shrinkage when you measure the size of the floorcloth on the canvas. The canvas is only primed/sealed on one side, and when you seal the raw back side, the canvas is going to pull and shrink some. This will vary depending on the size of the floorcloth. The larger the size, the more it will pull and shrink. I found out the hard way with a 6′ x 8′ order that shrunk 3 inches in width and 5″ in length. I have prepared a chart for you below to follow.
Size – Shrinkage in inches
2×3- 1″ in width + 1″in length
3×5- 1.5″ in width + 2″ in length
4×6- 2″ in width + 3″ in length
5×5- 2.5″ in width + 4″ in length
6×8- 3″ in width + 5″ in length
7×9- 3.5″ in width + 6″ in length
I highly recommend you take notes of your measurements before and after to compare them for accuracy. Other factors that can affect shrinkage are climate. If you live in a dry climate, you may find the canvas does not shrink as much whereas in a humid climate, it may shrink more. The above chart is a guideline, but you may need to adjust it accordingly. Achieving the exact size may not be so important for your own floorcloth, but if you start to make floorcloths for customers, you will want to perfect this.
Here is another important factor. You must pay attention to the canvas roll, and which way you cut the rug as this determines your true length and width. If you measure your size along the length of the canvas roll, this will be your true length. If you measure the length across the width of the roll, this is your true width. The shrinkage occurs on the length and width of the roll regardless of how you might cut it. Anything cut on the length of the roll will shrink more than anything cut on the width. So if you draw a 3’x5′, and the 5′ is drawn across the width, it will shrink about 1.5″ in width. If you draw the 5′ down the length of the roll, it will shrink 2″ in length. You need to bear this in mind as you draw and measure the size so you know which ends and sides are going to be the width and length, and which sides are going to shrink more.
Now you need to add an additional one inch border all the way around that will be the edge you fold over and glue. So if I am cutting a 2’x3′, I will measure it out as 24″ + 2″ for the folded edge(1″ on each end) + 1″ for shrinkage to equal 27″; I will measure the 36″ + 2″ for the folded edge at each end + 1″ for shrinkage to equal 39″. I will draw out the size as 27″ x 39″. This is the size you will now cut.
Now your rug size is drawn and cut. Use the Hard pencil and long ruler to draw the one inch border all around the edge.Run your line all the way to the edges of the rug so that in the corners you have a square box drawn. You will need these square lines when it comes time to cut them. Draw your design inside the one inch border.
Mix one color at a time as acrylic paints tend to dry out rather quickly. I am always dipping my brush in the jar of water, and dowsing my paint mix with drops of water to keep it wet while I work. Dark colors will usually take a second coat. I suggest you do two coats even with light colors as some varnishes can pull paint off that is applied too thin. You also want to paint over your border edge into the one inch border you will be folding. When you are done painting, let it sit for 1-2 hours so the paint sets and is thoroughly dry before the next steps. Take the dog for a walk or start chopping veggies for dinner.
Sealing With Water Based Varnish
Now you will add a coat of varnish to the painted side of the rug. BUT do not apply this to the very edge. Apply the varnish leaving about 3 inches unvarnished all the way around the edge of the rug. It is much easier to fold the edges, without cracking, when they are unvarnished. NOTE: You want to apply the varnish with a 2-3 inch brush swiftly and smoothly with just a few brushstrokes. Do NOT over brush as the varnish can start to pull paint off and get sticky. Do not worry about milky areas as the milky varnish will dry clear. Just get the first coat on quickly and smoothly. Allow 30-60 minutes for this coat to dry. Now turn the rug upside down, and fold over the one inch border following the pencil lines. If you have covered them with dark paint, redraw them so you can see your edge to fold. Once the edges are folded, apply a coat of varnish to the back side of the canvas. AGAIN, leave about 3 inches from the edge that is not varnished. You do not want any varnish applied to the raw canvas where you will be folding and gluing the one inch border.
NOTE: Do not worry at this point that there are ripples in the canvas, These will all flatten when the remaining coats of varnish are applied.
You do not need to wait for this coat of varnish on the back to dry to begin gluing the edges.
Gluing The Edges
BEFORE you begin applying the glue to the edges, carefully cut wide “V” shapes along the border edges, but not so deep as to touch the edge of the inside border. Flip the rug over with the painted side up to do this so you can see your pencil drawn line for the border. Cut your wide “V” shapes about 10-12 inches apart all along the length and width of the rug. Why do we do this? This is my secret to making sure the edges of the floorcloth will lay flat. Removing this little bit of extra canvas allows the canvas to stretch out more when it pulls resulting in flatter edges. Just cut nice, wide, shallow “V” shapes spread out evenly along all the edges. At the corners, you will cut an “L” shape about 1/4 inch from the square pencil drawn borders. Do not cut these too tight and too close to your pencil borders as you want to be able to fold these over to make a strong corner. If you cut these too tight, you will not have that little bit of folded edge to protect the corners.
Apply the Tacky glue down one side of the length in a zigzag motion. Fold this edge over, and press it down to the back of the raw canvas. It will take about 4-5 times pressing the edge down until it sticks, Now do the other length of the rug. Now do the width sides. When you get to the corners now, you will fold the little bit of 1/4 inch edge over on both the length and the width edges, and make a nice, clean square corner. Apply extra glue to the corners if needed. I often use those heavy, black paper clips to hold the corners down foe several minutes until they stick. As the glue is drying, keep running your thumb down the glued edges to make sure they are firmly sticking.
After 30 minutes of the glue drying, apply a second coat of varnish to the back of the canvas making sure to fully cover the area you did not cover with the first coat. The canvas will significantly flatten with this second coat. Allow this coat to dry thoroughly. When dry, flip the rug over and apply a second coat to the painted side, again making sure you cover the area close to the edge you did not cover in the first coat. Allow this to dry thoroughly. I would give this an hour. Now the rug should be almost completely flat. Any remaining ripples along the edges will continue to flatten once it is on the floor. If the floorcloth will be in a high traffic area, I suggest you add a third coat to the painted side. Two coats of varnish on the raw back is sufficient to give water resistance. Allow the rug to sit for 24 hours before rolling it or use on the floor. For extra protection, rub a thin coat of paste wax on the painted side in a few days time.
Always use a thin sticky mat under the floorcloth to prevent slipping. The mats I have used for many years are made by Miracle Hold, but they are currently being discontinued. If you can find one, get it. There are still some out there if you use Google search to find them. I am working on finding a retail replacement resource for you, and I will post it here soon. I have a business wholesale account with a new company, but you have to order in bulk. You want a thin, sticky mat that is solid, not one that is textured or perforated as these patterns over time will leave an imprint that shows through the surface of the floorcloth. Anything thin, solid and sticky will work.
Never fold or bend your floorcloth. Always roll it to move or store it. Clean with a damp mop, and for deep cleaning use a soft scrub brush with vinegar and water. Even Windex works. If it gets soaked in water or too wet, hang it up to dry on a clothesline.