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How to Make Authentic Oilcloth

Learn how to make real oilcloth fabric

Why do they call it oil cloth? What is currently being sold in stores as oilcloth is actually made from cotton fabric covered with a petroleum-based coating. However, genuine oilcloth (the real thing grandma had on her kitchen table) is made from cotton, canvas, or linen fabric coated in linseed oil. The fabric can be dyed or printed before the linseed treatment, and the oil gives it a water-resistant surface. Genuine oilcloth (also known as oilskin) is biodegradable in a landfill. The "real" oilcloth sold in stores today is made from PVC or polyvinyl chloride, and as such does not break down in a landfill.       

 

If you'd like to give the real thing a try, here's how to do it:    

Create water-resistant fabric through this old-school method called oil-treating

 MATERIALS

What you'll need to make genuine oilcloth

Step

How to make authentic oilcloth fabric

If you know what you'll be making from your oilcloth, cut your fabric down to the appropriate size first. I made an outdoor bunting banner with my oilcloth, so I began with the banner shapes. In doing so, I didn't end up having to oil-coat a bunch of extra fabric I wasn't going to use.

Step

Oil paints and dyes colorfully dress up homemade oilcloth fabrics

If you want to add designs to your fabric before waterproofing it, do so now. Create designs by tie-dyeing, stamping, or painting with oil dyes or paints. After the designs are done, let the fabric dry completely (overnight).

Step

For the rest of this tutorial, it would be best to work outside as the vapors and smell of linseed oil and mineral spirits are strong. Put on a respirator and some gloves. In a sealable container, mix together 1 part mineral spirits and 1 part boiled linseed oil. The mineral spirits will aid the linseed oil in drying faster.

Step

If you are oil-treating a large piece of fabric, stretch the fabric onto a frame for stability and smoothness, or hang from a clothesline. If you are treating a smaller surface (like I did), lay down a drop cloth before oil-treating the fabric. 

Try this old-school method of waterproofing fabrics by using linseed oil

With long brush strokes, cover the entire piece of fabric with the linseed oil/mineral spirits mixture. 

Step

DIY oilcloth!

If your fabric is on a stretcher, leave outside to dry*. If you are oil-treating smaller pieces, hang from a clothesline outside to dry. Allow the oilcloth to completely dry (anywhere from a day to a week).

If you want to increase the water-resistant effect of oil treating, apply a second coat of the linseed oil/mineral spirits mixture, and let dry as before. 

*IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION: It is imperative that you allow your fabric to air out as it dries. Do not crumple or tightly store any oil-soaked fabrics; this also applies to any paper towels, rags, or drop cloths that were used in the oil-treating process. Linseed oil heats as it dries, making it susceptible to spontaneous combustion, and is able to catch fire even without a spark. Give your oilcloth plenty of breathing room, and let it dry outside.

If you want to make an entirely water-resistant piece of material, dip the item completely in the linseed oil/mineral spirits mixture, let dry, and repeat.


How to make your own weather-resistant oilcloth fabric

Learn to make real oilcloth

How to make weather-protected fabric a.k.a. oilcloth

Learn how to make real oilcloth

Linseed oil does tend to carry a smell with it for a while after it's been applied. I would recommend leaving your new oilcloth outside for a few days to air it out before bringing it into your home. 

How to make real, authentic oilcloth
Share this old-school DIY on Pinterest!

Here's an oilcloth upholstery tip: When using real or PVC oilcloth as your upholstery fabric, use thicker staples. Staple diagonally to the grain of the fabric and use a heavier grade of fabric. Laminated fabric tends to tear like paper if you staple with the grain and using finer staples.

If you dig waterproof textiles, you'll love this tutorial on how to turn plastic bags into flexible fabric!

How to fuse plastic bags

 

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MERussell on May 11, 2017:

@Lynn so glad to hear it! Oilcloth would make a great outdoor backing material. Good luck with your project! =)


Lynn on May 10, 2017:

Thank you SO much for this! I have pinned it 3 times. I've been looking for something to back a picnic quilt I'm making. I've seen suggestions of shower curtains - yuch! I've been looking at "oilcloth" fabric and it's either ugly or too expensive. This will work the best. I've used linseed oil before - mixed with turpentine to stain a fence...Thanks again!


Georgina on Jul 31, 2015:

Had a go at this but I just couldn't get it right :/. I just bought a 100% cotton oilcloth from www.simplytablecloths.co.uk


Anonymous on Jun 14, 2015:

This British company sells 'oilskin'  

http://merchantandmills.com/products/oilskin/ 


Spencer on Apr 08, 2015:

The linseed oil odor lingers for  a few months.  I hung my coated canvas bags out side for a week and that helped a lot.


Megan R. on Apr 08, 2015:

I remember from being an art student that linseed has a very distinctive odor. How does this work out when making oilcloth for a tablecloth??


Spencer on Jan 06, 2015:

Many older oil cloth recipes use beeswax and linseed oil. I have coated several homemade canvas bags with a mixture of of the above and a little mineral spirits to keep the mixture soft.  It is a lot of work to get it evenly coated but the end result is a bag that will be highly water resistant and wear like Iron. I have two bags that have stood up to 14 years of hunting and boating.


Anonymous on Oct 29, 2014:

You really do not need to use terpentine. Some linseed oils have terpentine in them but some do not. Boiled linseed oil has terpentine in it. I would just use natural linseed oil and make sure it does not catch fire because Linseed oil has a tendancy to self-heat as it dries.


Martha on Aug 29, 2014:

@Nadine, I'm sure that turpentine like many substances is toxic if taken internally, and that at least some people will be sensitive to it on the skin.  According to wikipedia:

"As an organic solvent, its [turpentine's] vapour can irritate the skin and eyes, damage the lungs and respiratory system, as well as the central nervous system when inhaled, and cause renal failure when ingested, among other things. Being combustible, it also poses a fire hazard. Due to the fact that turpentine can cause spasms of the airways particularly in people with asthma and whooping cough, it can contribute to a worsening of breathing issues in persons with these diseases if inhaled."

Most spray paints have similar characteristics. Like other chemical substances, turpentine should be used with care. It seems to me that some people would also be sensitive to traditional oilcloth for the same reasons if it was in long-term contact with their skin. However, oilcloth does have characteristics that would make some people want to use it. Artists have used turpentine carefully for many years, but I would not recommend its use by children.

Martha


woolylam on Aug 29, 2014:

I've used tung oil wiht citrus solvent to cure wood and stone and in my research it looks like tung oil was used for cloth and paper too.  Am definitely going to try that.  Got them at realmilkpaint.com


Christen on Aug 27, 2014:

Hi,  I would like to know where I can send fabric (tablecloth) to have it turned into oilcloth.  Your article above mentions that there are several companies but I can not access that link.

Thank you,


Pete Bianco on Aug 05, 2014:

Beware, what is sold as "boiled" linseed oil in the hardware store actually contains toxic solvents as drying agent instead of using the traditional boiling method. I am reading alot about toxic chemicals lately after geting a chemical allergy from using a product called liquid wrench. I have since learned that it contains cancer causing benzene. Varnishes and linseed oils can contain toluene which is used in shale gas extraction aka "fracking. It is a neurotoxicant and exposure to it has been proven to lower ones IQ. It is also found in nail polish and people can develop an addiction to it. Fortunately we found solventfrepaint.com who sells "all back" organic boiled linseed oil to finish our wood floors with. I recomend this product and the book "detoxify or die" by sherry rogers. Glad I found this post I will attempt to use "all back" to make my oil skin. Thanks for the how to.

P.S. mineral spirits and polyurethane are toxic too.


Anonymous on Nov 09, 2013:

Hello, I've used a 50/50 mix of boiled linseed oil and mineral turpentine (or white spirits i some areas). Straight linseed oil doesn't dry. The mix I've just described will dry within about 48 hours.


H. Gillis on Nov 09, 2013:

http://www.solventfreepaint.com/cleaned_linseed_oil.htm  This site deals in linseed oil in case someone needs a connection.


Linda on Oct 22, 2013:

I tried to make this with the kids using your helpful intructions, however I didnt quite manage to source all the materials and ended up in a mess :D. Ended up buying a <a href="http://bluejigsaw.com.com">oilcloth</a> from blue jigsaw instead.  Was good enough.

Linda


Sally on May 16, 2013:

Coco you can find it online...it's usually 15-25 $ a yard...The Vermont Country Store has some pretty reasonable right now.  


Coco on May 15, 2013:

Do you have any reccomendations as to where you can purchase genuine oilcloth?  All I can find on the internet is the fake PVC cloth.  I'd really like to be able to buy some of the real deal to make a tablecloth for a friend.


Nadine on Apr 22, 2013:

Donna, wouldn't the urathane crack? you could try it on some scrap fabric.


Donna on Apr 22, 2013:

I have some new, store bought cotton placemats.  I thought I would spray a couple of thin coats of clear polyurethane on them to  protect them from the messy eater (my husband) in the house.  I've been searching online and haven't found any references to this application.  Is there a reason this would not work?


Nadine on Jan 23, 2013:

@Martha in Oregon, Isn't Turpentine toxic?


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