About Waxed Canvas
What is Waxed Canvas?
Waxed canvas is a cotton canvas that has been impregnated with wax and is water resistant. First used as sailcloth by 19th century mariners, waxed canvas is durable and has a look similar to distressed leather.
THE LOOK AND FEEL
- Waxed canvas has slightly waxy feel and gets a rugged mottled look with use. The surface shows creases and marks easily, contributing to the character of the fabric. You can choose to emphasize this by deliberately scrunching it in your hands then smoothing it out. There are several weights available in waxed canvas available on the market today.
- When you first receive your waxed canvas, you may notice a slight discoloration towards the edges...don't worry! This is mostly likely due to the wax not having cured all the way when rolled up and packaged for shipment to us. The easiest way to speed up the curing process is to lay your canvas out flat in a warm, clean area overnight. In the morning, you should notice that the discoloration has disappeared.
- The first thing you notice about it is the weight. Waxed canvas has a natural substance and heaviness to it that bags or clothing made from synthetic materials simply don’t have. When you pick up a waxed canvas bag, even when empty you’ll notice a little heft and when you rub the material through your fingers it feels sturdy. There are two reasons for this: the weight of the heavy gauge cotton used to make the canvas as well as the waterproofing wax itself.
The History of Waxed Canvas
- Waxed canvas, linked to oilskin, is a heritage fabric tied to the history of clipper ships. Historically, impoverished sailors would sew scraps of ruined or discarded sails and rub them with fish oil, grease, and later, linseed oil to create a water proof poncho that protected their skin from harsh weather conditions at sea. In the mid-1800s, taking a cue from history, a Scottish mill contracted as a sail maker for the British military fleet responded to the creation of fast moving clipper ships by replacing flax sails in favor of sails made from cotton impregnated with linseed oil. While early mariners noticed that wet sails were more efficient than dry ones, their weight slowed the vessels down. These new sails were stronger, lighter and more waterproof in heavy gales. This trend rapidly spread to protective clothing worn by fishermen and sailors, who now, not weighed down by sodden clothing, could respond more quickly to dangerous situations. However, all linseed-oiled cloths suffered the same issues: stiffness in the cold and a tendency to turn yellow with age.
- The turning point for waxed canvas came during the 1920s with the invention of a paraffin-impregnated cotton. Paraffin is a waxy substance derived from petroleum. The benefit of paraffin, as opposed to other oils or waxes used previously, was both its excellent waterproofing properties, breathability, but without the stiffness or yellowing. Linseed oil treatments were replaced with paraffin wax in the 1930s, a big improvement over linseed which hardened and cracked with age.
- Water resistant waxed canvas garments expanded from nautical use, becoming profoundly useful to farmers and outdoorsmen. Co-opted by the military and motorcycle enthusiasts during both World Wars, waxed canvas gained a foothold in the fashion and millinery world. After the war, the surplus of army clothing was sold off to the public, making waxed canvas clothing popular on both the hiking trails and the streets throughout the 1940s and 50s.
- Although many new innovative waterproof materials have since been developed, people still have a strong affection for waxed canvas items because of their proven long-lasting nature and the weathered vintage aesthetic it brings to gear and clothing. Newer types of wax blends and melding methods also mean that modern wax canvas clothing can also be very sleek and lighter weight than many older wax canvas items were.
- Use of waxed canvas in bags and clothing is enjoying yet another renaissance as people once again favor durable, quality materials that last a lifetime. Today, many high-end outdoor and clothing companies still sell some very practical and great looking waxed canvas clothing and gear.
…And now our makers can utilize this amazing and versatile fabric in their own projects!