For thousands of years, mosaics have been used to create luxurious and hard-wearing surfaces. Mosaic tiles come in a range of shapes, sizes and colours – including silver and gold leaf. You can use them to create continuous ‘fields’ of a single colour, or insert individual tiles in different colours to make simple patterns, or even design a large mosaic picture. To calculate how many tiles you’ll need, draw out the shape of the surface you want to tile (using some small-squared graph paper) and design your pattern first on paper.
Mosaic tiles are usually sold in packs of five or ten sheets of 250 tiles attached to a backing paper, which is soaked off. These sheets, about 30 cm sq. (12in sq.), will cover roughly the equivalent of five 108mm sq. tiles and have a paper facing, which is soaked off with a damp sponge before grouting. Other tiles are attached to a mesh backing, which is simply pressed into the bed of tile adhesive. This backing scrim can be cut easily with a sharp knife, and individual tiles detached and cut to fit around awkward shapes. Hang mosaic tile sheets exactly as if you were hanging an individual ceramic tile – but give them a little help by tapping them in gently with a mallet applied to a board covered with a piece of old carpet.
When you buy mosaic tiles, make sure you buy enough – and all at the same time as the colours can vary from batch to batch. It’s a good idea to shuffle the sheets so that any colour ‘imperfections’ are evened out. Watch out for any odd, delicately coloured tiles, which could be inserted in random places for added effect.
The tiles can be grouted in the same way as standard tiles: you can use coloured grout if you want, but make sure it is waterproof where necessary. Traditionally the tiles – were bedded in with concrete. If you do use concrete, wear heavy-duty rubber gloves and wait for at least two whole days, keeping the concrete damp under a sheet of polythene while it ‘cures’ before it is allowed to dry off and then the surface cleaned with hydrochloric acid – or patio or path cleaner.