This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
Oil-Cloth. The body of floor oil-cloth is composed of burlaps, which is made of jute. By far the larger quantity of burlaps consumed in this country is imported from Dundee, Scotland. This coarse cloth is woven soft and limp, and the first operation in the manufacture of floor oil-cloth is to stiffen or "size" the cloth. This is done by passing it through a hot mixture of starch and glue, and then over heated rollers, coming out, it might be said, laundried. It is then ready for the paint-machine, where it is given the " body." This paint is composed of raw oil, turpentine, ochre and umber. There are four qualities of oilcloth, depending on the number of body coats of paint; that which is to be the best quality receives six coats; the poorer grades a less number. The cloth is in pieces twenty-five yards long, by from one to two and a half wide. The thickness of each coat is governed by a steel knife, in manipulating which a workman becomes so proficient that he can tell nearly to the pound what a piece of oil-cloth will weigh when the coating process is completed. Three men at a paint machine can turn out in a day 100 pieces containing 50 square yards each -5,000 square yards. The operation of coating the best quality of oil-cloth occupies a week; as each coat requires twenty-four hours to dry. In drying the long pieces, they are not laid on a flat surface, but are suspended from the ends. After the last painting, which is applied to both sides alike, the pieces are sent to the rubbing machine, where cylinder surfaces coated with glue and sand pass rapidly over the side which is to have the pattern printed on it, ridding it of all roughness and irregularities. The best quality is afterward given an extra coat of paint, when they are ready for the printers. The printing is the most interesting part of the operation. For every color in the operation there must be a corresponding-shaped wooden block. These blocks all come from the state of Maine, and are about two inches thick and about two feet square, composed of several pieces of wood. The top layer is of maple, crossed and recrossed by narrow grooves which form a surface of small squares, 144 of them to the square inch. These little squares look like, and are in reality, so many square pegs. Where the pattern is desired to show, the pegs are left standing; those on the parts of the surface not to be printed being cut away. Some patterns containing many colors require from twenty-five to thirty blocks, each with different portions of the pattern cut out of the surface, and consequently requiring also twenty-five or thirty different impressions to reproduce the design. The styles of patterns change twice a year. Some are designed in Utica, and others come from Philadelphia and New York. Oil-cloth is open to the objection that it has a cold, hard, uncomfortable surface, while it is almost as noisy to the tread as ordinary wood flooring. Many substances have been proposed to supplant it, in which these objectionable features have been overcome. Of these bodies linoleum and kamptulicon have been the most successful.