Why We Love Oilcloth!


Old Oilcloth Advertisement
Tonson Garlick Co :Linoleum and floorcloth department. Linoleums and oilcloths in all manufactured widths. [ca 1910].
For most of us the word ‘oilcloth‘ brings to mind the image of plastic gingham stapled to a deteriorating picnic table or a shiny upholstered tabletop in our grandmother’s kitchen. Often covered with funky vintage florals, stripes, or chevrons, oilcloth – a retro poly-cotton treated with waterproof coating – speaks of a bygone era rather than the here and now.

Oilcloth, A (Short) History.

First created in the early 18th Century by coating linseed oil onto stretched canvas, oilcloth was an ideal water-resistant, leather-substitute for the working class because manufacturing it was inexpensive. (Oilcloth International, 2008) By the 1950’s, oilcloth’s popularity skyrocketed as suburban America began to embrace it for the versatile and handy fabric that it is. In the decades to come, the invention of non-cracking plastics and high quality polyester, shifted the public gaze away from oilcloth, but we are here to return it to the spotlight!

While it certainly makes an easy, durable and long-lasting tablecloth (there’s a reason we continue to beautify our moldering picnic tables with it), it has the potential to be used for so much more! 1950’s America knew this – they upholstered everything from their kitchen furniture to their bathroom counters with oilcloth. It’s time that we got creative and remembered why this fabric was so popular in the first place.

Old Oilcloth Advertisement
Newspaper advertisement for oil cloths manufactured by Albro & Hoyt, New York, 1853. “These goods are well seasoned, and will endure any climate.” According to An Encyclopedia of Domestic Economy (1845), cloths that had been aged a year or two were more durable than newer and cheaper ones.

Tips and Tricks

For many the stiff texture of oilcloth is discouraging. It’s certainly less flexible than a laminated cotton, and the thought of attempting a major or intricate project with it is nerve-wracking! In reality, oilcloth is super sewing machine-friendly, but – like many fabrics – it has it’s own special quirks. For tips on the best way to tackle an oilcloth sewing project, I checked out a few websites like SewMamaSew.com, and asked the ever knowledgeable Kate. Here’s what I found out!

  • A Size 16 or a Denim sewing machine needle is the most effective.
  • Using a longer stitch length for seams, thereby avoiding unnecessary perforations, is a good idea!
  • At the same time, decreasing stitch-length around curves helps with reinforcement.
  • Your favorite poly/cotton thread will work just fine!
  • To avoid your presser foot sticking to the shiny side of your oilcloth, you can try a teflon or roller presser foot, or try sticking some masking tape to the bottom of your usual foot for a better glide!

I found these tips to be not only insightful but heartening. Armed with the right information, tackling an oilcloth project seems amazingly do-able! But, now that we have all this knowledge, what are we going to make with it?!

Now for the Fun Part

The Confident Stitch just received a dozen new and beautiful rolls of Freckled Sage Genuine Oilcloth, and, upon opening the shipment, I felt a bizarre combined rush of excitement and bafflement. The many colors and patterns were speaking to me but my creative brain was jammed! What besides a tablecloth could I make?? Lucky for me, in this age of information, it takes all of thirty seconds to rustle up some new inspiration. Within ten minutes I managed to compile a list of over 60 amazing, creative and downright entertaining project ideas!

The Top Eight

I discovered awesome oilcloth project ideas via the Wunderlabel Blog, Apartment Therapy, Pinterest, A Beautiful Mess, and Freckled Sage. Here is a list of my top fav!


Reusable Shopping Bag – An oldie but a goodie, the reusable shopping bag is not only handy but eco-friendly! Additionally, the combination of easy-clean fabric and food in a bag seems like a no-brainer.


Umbrella Makeover – I have a really tough time adding to the world’s landfills, but sometimes you’re confronted with a broken object that you have no clue how to rehabilitate. A busted umbrella is one such object, or at least it was until I discovered a link to Women’s Day magazine – via the Wunderlabel Blog – on umbrella repair! This is oilcloth innovation at it’s very finest!


Oilcloth Bunting – It’s party time! Learn how to make a cute and classic party decoration that you can use again and again, indoors or out!


Car Waste Basket – About this idea, I can only list positive things. 1. Keeps your car clean 2. It’s adorable 3. A great gift idea 4. Easy to clean  5. If Oscar could live in a trashcan this chic, I’m sure he would!


Gardening Knee Pillow All you green thumbs out there tend to suffer from sore knees, but with this great, portable knee-pillow gardening will be nothing but a joy! Plus, making it out of oilcloth will help to eradicate any dampness or mildew!


Customized Flask – If we’re going to covertly drink, we may as well do it in style!


Bike Seat Cover – Chic, sensible, easy to make. Plus, you’ll never have to walk around with wet pants again!


Travel Brush Roll and Makeup Bag– I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me sooner that the perfect make-up bag begins with a waterproof (and conveniently adorable) fabric, but here I am – 25 years later – just excited to ‘make-up’ for lost time! 

Long Story Short

We love oilcloth! We love its history, its functionality, its colors, its patterns both vintage and modern, and – most of all – we love its many many uses! Check out our beautiful oilcloth selection and feel inspired to make something beautiful today.

Happy Sewing!

2 thoughts on “Why We Love Oilcloth!

  1. Marilyn Blitstein says:

    Looking for wine grape oil cloth for a wine making organization tables. Have old but need newer. Yardage. Or just any type of grapes with green vines.

    • Rachael Riley says:

      Hello Marilyn,
      I’m sorry, we don’t currently have any oilcloth with wine/grapes on it. Good luck with your search!

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