It is generally believed painted canvases originated in France, in the 1400s, in the form of tapestries, wall hangings, and table runners. When the English and Americans adopted the art form, they extended its use to rolled canvases as floor coverings. For a hundred years, oylcloths — as they were known in England — and floorcloths — as they were known in America — were hugely popular. However, the use of floorcloths all but disappeared once linoleum, which was far more durable and less costly than floorcloths, became available.
In the 1950s, floorcloths enjoyed a resurgence when decorators, in attempting to be authentic in restoration, encouraged artisans to create handmade crafts, including floorcloths. Today, many decorators have broken with conservative colonial American motifs and patterns, and now emphasize bolder colors and abstract forms. As a result, floorcloths as area rugs are the hottest item in home decorating for the millenium.
This short history of floorcloths has been taken from an article I wrote for “The Crafts Report” magazine. Read the original article.