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Essential Guide to Waxed Canvas

 

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Fabric for practicality

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If you’ve ever made a bag from a Klum House kit or taken a workshop here in our Portland studio, you know that we are big fans of waxed canvas around here. Waxed canvas is our favorite bag making fabric for lot of reasons. It’s durable, water-resistant, has a lot of structure, and is a dream to sew with—not to mention it develops a beautiful, weathered patina with time.

We’ve been using waxed canvas in our kits and workshops for several years now and are very excited to announce that we now offer waxed canvas yardage as well! Read on to learn everything you need to know about this historic, heavy-duty material.

What is waxed canvas?

Waxed canvas is a densely woven cotton fabric that has been saturated with wax, giving it an extra layer of protection against the elements. This fabric has been long-loved for its durability, natural water resistance, and rugged character. The waxed coating is made from either a paraffin or beeswax and records folds and creases, giving it a weathered patina over time. Waxed canvas quality and strength is determined by the wax, thickness of the yarn, and weave density. Klum House’s waxed canvas is made from 100% Better Cotton Initiative certified cotton canvas and treated with a unique wax blend of petroleum jelly, mineral oil, paraffin.
  

What is the history of waxed canvas?

Waxed canvas is considered to be the original waterproof fabric. It first became popular in the early nineteenth century with sailors in England and Scotland. Ultimately, Linseed oil was set aside for Paraffin wax, which prevented fabric stiffening and yellowing. In 1894, a British brand called J. Barbour & Sons Ltd began manufacturing waxed canvas for a broader audience. To this day, they are widely known for their waxed cotton jackets. (Klum House sources some of our waxed canvas from the original Barbour Mill in Scotland!) 

Is waxed canvas the same as oilcloth?

Early forms of oilcloth were cotton or linen coated with boiled linseed oil. This fabric was greasy and damp to the touch and mostly used in a nautical context. Today, oilcloth refers to printed vinyl with synthetic backing, most commonly used for tablecloths. Waxed canvas is a durable cotton fabric coated with paraffin-based wax; it is soft and dry to the touch. 

 

Where does Klum House's waxed canvas come from?

Klum House’s waxed canvas is sourced from the original Barbour Mill in Scotland, as well as a mill in New York. The waxed canvas we sell is made from 100% Better Cotton Initiative certified cotton canvas, which is ethically sourced from India. The wax is comprised of a unique blend of petroleum jelly, mineral oil, paraffin resulting in a dryer touch to the fabric than other waxed canvases on the market.

 

Why is waxed canvas expensive?

Waxed canvas is three to four times more expensive than canvas. This reflects the cost of the paraffin-based wax (alternative waxes, such as beeswax are even more costly) and the time-consuming process of saturating the canvas with wax. Waxed canvas is far less expensive than leather and has many of the same qualities!

 

waterproof waxed canvas

Is waxed canvas waterproof?

Wax canvas is water-resistant and will repel rain and moisture, but if it's immersed in water for a long period, the fabric will eventually become soaked. Waxed canvas bags and outerwear will repel and wick moister and keep you and your stuff dry. We definitely appreciate that feature here in Portland, Oregon

 

 

What does waxed canvas feel like?

While waxed canvas has a lot of structure, it is surprisingly flexible. It’s not gummy or damp, but soft and pliable. Waxed canvas has a “memory” meaning that it records folds and creases and will hold its shape with a simple finger press. The wax has a slightly tacky feel to it and will probably make your hands feel a little waxy after working with it.

 

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Working with Waxed Canvas

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Are there special considerations for sewing with waxed canvas?

When sewing with waxed canvas, make sure you are using the right needle. For a medium weight waxed canvas (10–12 oz), we recommend a sharp, size 100 denim needle and a high-quality all-purpose thread. Because waxed canvas is thick, pinning multiple layers can be tricky. Instead, we recommend using craft clips to keep the layers in place.  

 

Can I iron waxed canvas?

Waxed canvas has a “memory,” meaning that it records each fold, wrinkle, and crease. This means that you can “finger press” (or use asteel fabric roller) with no iron required! If you must use an iron, make sure to use a medium setting and a protective press cloth to keep your iron free of melted wax. Careful ironing with a press cloth can be used to smooth out unwanted creases and wrinkles but avoid it as much as possible.

 

Can I remove the marks on my waxed canvas?

Many companies recommend using an iron with a press cloth between the iron and the fabric to reduce the appearance of marks. Be careful that your iron is not too hot otherwise you’ll risk discoloring your fabric. The chances of damaging your fabric are less if you use a hairdryer, hover a blow dryer on high a few inches above the fabric, moving quickly, not heating any particular spot too long. Waxed canvas will always keep a memory of use, but to restore your project to its early glory, you can always completely rewax your canvas.

Is there a “right” and “wrong” side?

Technically, yes. Any fabric coming off of a loom has a right and wrong side. Although, because the canvas is made using a plain weave and the wax coating is equal on both sides, the difference between the right and wrong side is almost indistinguishable. Usually, right and wrong side refers to how the fabric shows up on the project and how the material behaves, but in the case of waxed canvas, we don’t see much visual or functional difference between the two sides.

Will the wax gunk up my sewing machine?

Yes. When sewing with waxed canvas, the teeth of the feed dogs will scrape off a little bit of wax off the fabric while it moves it through the machine. Over time, this wax will build up on the feed dogs and your needle. We’ve found that we can make five or six bags before we feel like the machine needs a cleaning. The good news is, it’s really easy to clean the wax from your machine!

How is the weight of waxed canvas measured?

When purchasing waxed canvas, keep in mind that there is a difference between the ‘dry’ weight and ‘waxed’ weight, and different companies list the weight in different ways! Just make sure that you are clear about the product description, so you don’t end up with something that isn’t what you wanted. Klum House waxed canvas is 10-12 oz (waxed) weight.

 

What’s the best way to clean my waxed canvas bag?

Due to its protective wax coating, waxed canvas will not stain easily, and the inevitable scuffs made by daily use will most likely blend into the weathered patina of the fabric. However, if your waxed canvas does need cleaning, only spot cleaned with a damp towel, never put it in the washing machine or dryer.

 

Will my bag need to be re-waxed some day?

Over time, the wax coating on the fabric will weather and fade, making it less water-resistant. Depending on how you use your bag, you might want to ‘re-wax’ it every year or two to freshen it up. You can do this yourself with a product likeOtter Wax.

         

Is waxed canvas vegan?

The wax blend used in our waxed canvas is a vegan, but some waxed canvas is created with beeswax, although it’s uncommon. Wax canvas is also much more environmentally friendly than other vegan leather substitutes, which generally use products derived solely from petroleum. Additionally, Klum House waxed canvas is Better Cotton Initiative certified, which aims to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in. Currently, only 30% of global cotton qualifies to be BCI certified.  

Can I wax my own canvas?

Yes! You can use a bar of heavy-duty fabric wax if you want to ensure that the wax stays on one side of the fabric and use something like a fabric wax dressing if you are looking for the wax to soak through to both sides. Both techniques are pretty labor-intensive and will work on projects that are already made, as well as on raw materials. Our fellow Portland buddies at Otter Wax have a robust collection of tutorials and supplies for waxing canvas.

  

Ready to get your hands on some waxed canvas? 

 

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