DIY Zebra Rug

Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap  —  April 15, 2011 — 35 Comments

After posting about my hunt for rug inspiration last week, I just could not get that zebra rug out of my mind.

Stacey Costello Design eclectic family room
Stacey Costello Design

The very day that I posted this picture, Jenni Pulos was on the Nate Berkus show talking about how animal prints are a regret-proof trend. I was sold.

I loved the brown and ivory version from Ballard Designs, but an 8×10 sells for $1399! Too rich for my blood.

Ballard Designs

Then I received this comment from my lovely Aunt Julie:

I about fell out of my chair. I’m pretty much obsessed with the wide and varied uses of canvas dropcloths. Not only do I have one draped over the ugliest seventies disco couch you ever saw in my dining room, I’ve had ideas swimming in my head for months to use dropcloths for upholstery, curtains, pillows, etc. I love the texture, the color, and the cost. But a rug? It had to be too good to be true. I imagined it slipping all over the floor, getting sucked into the vacuum cleaner, or just becoming one giant cat toy. I began brainstorming ways to make the fabric heftier. As I often do in moments like this, I turned to Google.  A search for “dropcloth rug” turned up articles from Martha Stewart, Apartment Therapy, Curbly…what, have I been living under a rug rock? How is that I’ve never heard of this fabulous, amazing thing called a floorcloth?

I learned that floorcloths date to the 17th century and involve heavy fabric, a painted design, and some sort of sealant. The result is a durable floor cover well-suited to hard surfaces (like wood) and resistant to staining. I decided to give it a shot, and this is what I ended up with:

I LOVE it! And it only cost about $150! Here’s how I did it:

I read a ton of tutorials, and they all said basically the same thing:

  1. stretch the canvas on a wooden frame
  2. coat front and back with some sort of sealant (polycrylic, shellac, etc.)
  3. paint your design on the front
  4. cover the design with a few coats of your sealant
  5. cut the finished product from the frame and hem the edges with adhesive

Since I wanted an ultra-big floorcloth but wasn’t extremely concerned about the exact size or razor-straight edges, I decided right off the bat to skip the wood frame. Building a frame big enough for this project would have been too costly and I hate woodworking.

I already had some brown porch and floor paint on hand, so I headed to Lowe’s to gather the rest of my supplies:


  • A 9×12 canvas dropcloth, about $25
  • Foam brushes in assorted sizes, about $5
  • Rug tape, about $5
  • Huge plastic tarp, about $2

I forgot to get a sealant (a real forehead-slapping moment), so I went back and perused my options. I ultimately decided to go with shellac because A) it’s the more traditional product, B) it’s made from natural materials, and C) it was the cheapest (which was a good thing, as I ended up needing a lot of shellac). One quart said that it would cover 100-150 square feet so I got two quarts, figuring that would be enough to cover front and back.

I spread my tarp and my dropcloth out on our back deck.

If you look closely you can see that not only did my dropcloth have a seam running right down the middle, but the two pieces were actually slightly different in color! I decided not to stress about it and get shellac-ing.

And this is where I started to wonder if this was going to be a giant money-suck. This is how far one quart of shellac got me. I ended up using about two gallons total just to coat the front side (about $100 total spent on shellac). I also learned that brushes (foam or bristle) did not work well to spread the shellac efficiently. I had the best results with a sponge-like staining pad. Wear gloves if you don’t want your hands to be gross like mine were for a few days.

I decided to skip shellac-ing the back side for now and move on to creating my stripes. I practiced drawing zebra stripes with paper and pencil:

Then I used a pencil to freehand them onto my canvas. I tried to keep the lines really organic and imperfect. I stayed on my feet and moved quickly so I could more easily keep the overall scale consistent. Next, I started filling in the stripes with brown porch and floor paint (Churchill Hotel Brown by Valspar, left behind by the sellers of our house).

If you look closely you can see my pencil lines. I kept painting, and painting, and painting, every spare moment I got. Until I had this:

Sweet victory! I had about half a gallon of shellac left, but I was so ready to be done with this baby that I didn’t use it. I figured the porch and floor paint is designed to stand up to wear and tear and doesn’t need to be sealed.

I let my new exotic friend dry in the sun for a while before moving her to her new home in the living room. And I can attest that this would definitely make an outstanding exterior rug, as a heavy rainstorm came through when  I was only partway through painting the stripes. The water just sort of sat on top before drying up. No sogginess whatsoever.

And now our living room is no longer rug-less! I would describe the texture as pleasantly coarse. It’s actually kind of hide-like. There are some wrinkles and creases and I’m waiting to see if those come out on their own. If not, I may go back and shellac the backside. I also ended up not needing the rug tape-this thing doesn’t slip or slide at all! I haven’t vacuumed it yet, but it’s so stiff that I can’t imagine we’ll have a problem.

If I ever tire of the zebra stripes, I can paint right over them with a new design. It took me a day or so to get over the shock of the stripes in here, but now I’m totally digging it. It adds such a fun, graphic touch to the room!

Thanks for the inspiration, Aunt Julie, and to everyone else who gave tips for my rug dilemma!

P.S. Read the original post about my yearning for a rug here. To see where all the other stuff in our living room came from, check out the post about the room here. To see pictures of the rest of our little bungalow, visit our House Tour page.


Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap


35 responses to DIY Zebra Rug

  1. Julie Hursey (AKA ~ Aunt Julie) April 20, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    Dear Charlotte,
    I love your hand painted floor cloth! I’m so proud of your fearless approach to DIY.

    You are a chip off the old block, aren’t you? Once, I visited your mom’s when both she and I were “younger” with small kids. I walked in her living room and she had the same draperies in her Slidell home that I had hanging in my house located in Whidbey Island, Washington. Guess we are all kindred decorators…ha!

    Enjoy your domestic bliss.
    Aunt Julie

  2. That is amazing! I have never heard of such a thing either. It looks awesome!

  3. Love your pretty floorcloth and the thrifty way you made it. I purchased a book on floorcloths a while ago and decided it was too pricey to produce. Some artists coat the floorcloth with a base of oil or latex paint and then design their pattern over it. One person used a paint roller to paint the background color on a large canvas. Your way seems much more user friendly and I might give it a shot. Thanks for the directions.

    • livingwellonthecheap April 25, 2011 at 5:10 pm

      Thanks, Monique! I definitely skipped some steps in the official floorcloth-making process and lived to tell the tale. Let me know if you end up making one! I saw your comment on the curtains post as well. I love love love the inexpensive and breezy white muslin. Hope you’re inspired to make some of your own! Thanks for subscribing!

  4. Brooke @ Inside-Out Design April 27, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    Oh my goodness, how awesome!! I would never in a million years have thought to do that! Your living room looks so cool and stylish! I’m having a giveaway on my blog for some brown and cream colored zebra-print fabric. Come check it out if you’re interested- it’d look great with your rug!! :)

  5. Wow!!! You did an amazing job!! So much impact for such a relatively small price tag. I’m so impressed. :)

  6. livingwellonthecheap April 27, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    Thanks, Brooke and Erin!

  7. Wendy Ann Clemons June 6, 2011 at 10:52 am

    I must say this is impressive.
    Good job. Thanks for the inspiration.

  8. About how long would you say this took you, from start to finish? I am going to run right out and buy all the supplies, but I do want to be able to try it out when the hubs isn’t home, just in case it’s a colossal failure!

    • Charlotte | livingwellonthecheap July 16, 2011 at 10:26 am

      Because of the size it took kind of a long time. I would say I worked a couple hours a day for about a week maybe. Coating it with shellac was the most time-consuming part for sure. If you want to do a trial run maybe you could do a small 3×5 rug? I bet you could knock that out in a day! Good luck!

  9. I did a search for paint your own rug & I found yours. I am redoing our living room. I want to do something different. I am thinking cheetah! Love your new room!

    • Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap May 10, 2012 at 5:07 pm

      Thanks, Melissa! Glad to have inspired you!

      • When I applied the varnish it turned to an ugly yellow color like someone peed all over it. I used a clear varnish. Did the shellac do that after a while?

        • Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap June 4, 2012 at 5:40 pm

          Bummer! You can see in my pictures if you look closely that the color of the drop cloth did change to a more brownish-yellow after I coated it with shellac (guess I should have mentioned that), but I was okay with it since I was going for a natural hide look. A year later I can tell you that the color does an excellent job of hiding actual pet stains, if that’s any consolation.

  10. Looks amazing! I’m fixing to sit down and make one myself. Question, why did you shellac first? I was thinking of just painting straight on the canvas and then using a water-based poly to seal it? Any advice?

    • Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap September 20, 2012 at 7:39 am

      Chessa, so sorry I took so long to approve/answer your comment! Bad blogger! Anyway, I basically shellacked first only because the Internet told me too. I was going to shellac before AND after, but when I realized how much shellac I was using I decided to skip the after, so in retrospect it would have been better to save my shellackin’ for the end. Also, the fabric shrunk up a little unevenly with the shellac, so if you’re painting a design that would look bad if that happened it might be wise to shellac first. I think the zebra stripes are free-flowing and organic enough that it wouldn’t have mattered.

  11. This is so genius!

  12. Hi Charlotte,

    I also searched for DIY fabric rugs, and your tutorial was so helpful! I have a dropcloth that was bought to create curtains (never happened :) ), so I was thinking it might make a nice rug. I’m excited to nail down the design and go for it! Did you use a specific brand shellac?

    Thanks again for sharing your info! Such a resource.

    • Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap June 2, 2013 at 7:03 am

      Hi Ashley! Thanks for your kind words! I think that I used Zinsser shellac but I can’t be sure. It was in a yellow can. I actually ditched the dropcloth rug after a while. You can read about why in this post:

      I think maybe the idea might work better for a smaller rug in an area with less use, like maybe a bedroom or office. In the living room it just got a lot of wear. Good luck and thanks for reading!

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