The New Oilcloth

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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 most likely 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.

Copy of the original oilcloth drawing
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Copy of the original oilcloth drawing

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.

Detail of the old oilcloth damaged beyond repair
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Detail of the old oilcloth damaged beyond repair

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 Raffle and Winter Raffle.

A year later, we appointed Cardiff Theatrical Services (CTS) to replicate the old oilcloth, but with a smarter design. Instead of three small pieces of canvas sewn together, our new and improved oilcloth would be a single large piece of seamless canvas; this means it is less likely to fray and tear along the seams. It also includes a weight system of  metal bars along the edges that can be easily removed to roll the cloth up and clean the floorboards underneath.

Accurate colour-matching with the old one was key in order to obtain the desired result and was a very 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.

To protect the Little Chamber floor, we had an underlay fitted. We chose a synthetic one, otherwise natural fibre, such as wool, would have provided a three course meal for moths!   

 

The finished oilcloth in CTS workshop
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The finished oilcloth in CTS workshop

 

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.

It’s really exciting to think that from now on it will be loved (and used) by thousands of visitors and school children… at least for another 30 years.

Thank you for your support in helping us to restore the Little Chamber to its former splendour.