Monday Nov 3d I have been working about the house all day
Varnished all the strips of oilcloth and put
down the stair and the bedroom carpets painted
and varnished some of the sills of the doors
Mrs Hubbell & Ames Father & /Sarah W were at
tea in Olivers I did not get a chance to go untill
this evening. Made Susans waist larger by putting
a piece in front
It was Monday, so servant Jane McHanna washed the laundry. By herself, meanwhile, Evelina worked on the floors. She varnished oilcloth – presumably to go on the floors – and laid it and other carpet on the stairs and in the bedrooms, also painting the sills in process. She was on her knees for most of the day although she did find time for a bit of sewing.
Oilcloth was relatively waterproof, and thus a favorite protection for floors in areas, like an entryway, that were apt to get wet. It was a common household item, even well into the twentieth century when it was used for table coverings as well, although its composition altered over the years. In 1851, oil cloth was made from close-woven cotton duck or linen that was coated of boiled linseed oil to make it waterproof.** It was generally purchased already coated, but some enterprising householders could have coated it themselves. The linseed oil carried lead, however, not that that would have worried people in 1851 the way it would worry people in 2014.
* Oilcloth Factory, 19th c., Hallowell, Maine, Courtesy of Hubbard Free Library Collection
** Wikipedia, October 30, 2014