I’ve never put much thought into plastic tablecloths until the day I heard my mother-in-law refer to it as an oilcloth. The name describes the manufacturing process. Back when it was made of linen and cotton, stretched, pumiced and finished with linseed oil. The oil added strength and waterproofed the fabric for outdoor use.
Both my parents were really into camping so I did a lot of it as a kid. I can remember a time when we camped in oilcloth tents. They very heavy to move because of the oil saturated fabric but were otherwise quite spacious inside once set up. I also remember them being dark on the inside, even when it was sunny on the outside. Most of all, I remember the pungent, rancid oil odor they emitted.
My mom traveled with the modern day vinyl-ized version of it as well, in the form of the ever popular red and white gingham tablecloth. This plastic version of oilcloth is still being sold today but apparently less toxic then the earlier versions. I love them for there utilitarian peculiarity and for there vintage 1950’s print esthetic. Lucky for us, many of these patterns are still in production today.
This summer I was inspired to try making traditional oilcloth. Besides it was the perfect excuse to try printing with an antique print block Peter and I found in an old countryside antique store. It’s of a man who can turn his frown upside down. Sweet. Using a piece of scrap canvas and linseed oil, tinted with oil paint, I stamped away. Then I hung it on the line and waited for it to dry. And waited and waited. Okay, so not so practical in the end as the oil may take over a year to set, rendering it useless until then. At least the smell took me down memory lane, into some of my fondest childhood memories of our annual pilgrimages into beautiful Northern Ontario.