The new oilcloth
The Little Chamber was most likely used as Ellen Sadleir’s private room when she was the lady of the house back in the 1530s. Here, she would have entertained guests, worked on chores with her servants and overseen the education of her children, especially that of the girls.
Imagine how warm and domestic this space would have felt: the wooden panelled walls, a fire crackling in the fireplace… and probably a unique floor covering for that colourful final touch.
Geometric-patterned floor coverings were popular in the Tudor period and were often made from old ships’ sails. This is why, in 1991-92 after the restoration of Sutton House was completed, a bright red, green and yellow oilcloth was especially designed for the Little Chamber to recreate the atmosphere of Ellen’s time.
An oilcloth is a coarse woven flax or jute canvas – similar to the material of a sail – stiffened with a coat of oil and topped with several coats of paint. It’s clearly very hard-wearing and in fact ours survived almost 30 years of visits and school sessions! However, in the end it had considerably deteriorated and lost its brightness.
The new oilcloth project started in 2018 and was possible thanks to external donations and the support of our members and visitors who played their part in the Special Places and Winter Raffles.
A year later, we appointed Cardiff Theatrical Services (CTS) to replicate the old oilcloth, but with a smarter design. Instead of being three small pieces of canvas sewn together, our new, improved oilcloth would be a large, single piece of seamless canvas, which is less likely to fray and tear. It also includes a weight system of metal bars along the edges, which can be easily removed to roll the cloth up and clean the floorboards.
Accurate colour-matching with the old cloth was key in order to obtain the desired result, and was a really fun part of the process. When the exact shades of yellow, red and green (and brown for the border) were found, the CTS artists were able to start painting the pattern by hand.
In March 2020 the new oilcloth was finally installed in the Little Chamber, bringing back the vibrant Tudor spirit of the room and inaugurating a new chapter of Sutton House’s history. To protect the Little Chamber floor an underlay was fitted, and we chose a synthetic one: natural fibre, such as wool, would have provided a three course meal for moths!
It’s really exciting to think that the oilcloth will now be loved (and used) by thousands of visitors and school children… for at least another 30 years.
Thank you for your support in helping us to restore the Little Chamber to its former splendour.