You have to love springtime. When the days get longer and everything is renewed. Life springs back to the landscape and nature’s rhythms beat once more. But with renewal comes rain. A lot of rain.
To prepare for the rain I decided to wax a canvas jacket and was pleased with the results. It was a learning experience, and I couldn’t help feeling like I was channelling the past by using time honored waxing traditions mastered by my mancestors from the British Isles.
The history of waxed canvas dates back to the 15th Century when sailors were at the mercy of harsh weather. Boats faced a constant barrage of wind, rain, and waves. Wet clothing is heavy and cold, so British and Scottish sailors began treating sailcloth with linseed oil to prevent it from becoming soaked, which made it lighter and more efficient. Leftover pieces of sailcloth were often made into capes worn by men on deck.
The problem with linseed oil was that it turned cloth yellow over time and cracked in cold weather. By the 1700’s more efficient cottons were being developed and people began using paraffin and beeswax to waterproof the cotton. But enough with the history lesson, let’s get to waxing.
I started with a raw duck canvas chore coat ($127) from Pointer Brand made by L.C. King in Bristol, Tennessee. They are the oldest cut and sew facility in the United States and one of my favorite heritage brands.
Otter Wax makes all of their fabric care, leather care and apothecary products by hand in Portland, Oregon and have amassed a huge following since opening their doors in 2011. Their packaging is recyclable, and their products are natural and simple. They don’t use any animal fats, fillers, petroleum distillates, mineral oil or chemical preservatives. Their plant-based ingredients come from sustainably harvested beeswax and lanolin. I picked up two of their Large Wax Bars ($17.95) and I’m glad I did. I ended up needing every bit of both bars.
I started by rubbing the solid bar of wax on the jacket but it wasn’t quite permeating the fabric. The wax really needs to work into the cotton for it to be waterproof and that just wasn’t happening.
I decided to try a hair dryer to warm the bar as I worked it around the jacket. You have to be judicious with the heat (a heat gun is too hot for this step). The hair dryer softens the bar just enough without melting it. It’s important to work the wax completely into the seams and stitches too.
You may want to do the initial waxing on a surface that can be easily wiped down or consider putting down a vinyl tablecloth to protect your workspace from getting all waxified.
Two large wax bars and a few hours later, the outside surfaces of my jacket were saturated.
And it looked amazing.
Hang your jacket up for 24-48 hours. This step is key because it’s essential to rest the wax and let it cure completely. If the wax doesn’t cure it can get flaky and crusty.
After a few days of waiting my coat had set up nicely. It was stiff and waxy. Admittedly, I applied the wax pretty thick for maximum waterproofing. Now it’s time for the heat gun. Work the heat gun around the jacket and watch the wax melt into the canvas even further. For some reason it was satisfying to watch it absorb and disappear into the fabric.
During the re-melting I could see the wax permeate into the inside of the jacket (with the exception of where the pockets are) which it didn’t do the first time. Be sure to melt the wax around the stitching as well, as it tends to clump up in those areas and around buttons.
Another 24-48 hours of curing. The heat gun re-activates the wax, so it needs to rest and cure into the fabric once more. Patience, grasshopper.
At this point my jacket was still pretty stiff and the folks at Otter Wax advised me to place the jacket into a paper bag and put it into the dryer for 30-60 minutes. This softened the jacket considerably and allowed some excess wax to seep into the porous bag.
This was the finishing step for me and I knew when I took it out of the dryer that it was complete. The end result is a one-of-a kind jacket that has a ton of personality and a touch of history. Waxing a jacket allows you to leave your mark on a garment that is now uniquely yours, and gives it increased functionality.
Stay waxy, my friends.