The origins of waxed canvas began in the early 15th century. Scottish sailors of the North Sea began coating their sails with fish oils and other types of grease in an attempt to make the sails waterproof and therefore, more efficient. This technique proved successful for the sails and the scrap sailcloth left over from this new sail making technique would go on to be used as capes for the soggy sailors of the North Sea. These capes were the precursor to the modern fisherman's slicker.
As the decades and centuries passed, technologies evolved and so did the sailing industry. By the 1850's the scrappy old flax-based sailcloth would be replaced with a lighter, cotton-based sail.
The grease used for waterproofing would get a replacement as well. Gone were the old days of melting animal fat and soaking it into the material. In 1795 a sail maker started applying linseed oil to his flax-based sails. Later, with the application of the linseed oil to the much lighter cotton-based sails the industry would have a lightweight waterproof sail that performed much better than previous iterations of the technique. These new lightweight sails would usher in a new generation of faster vessels that would have a huge impact on the fishing and shipping industries.
The linseed oil did have some drawbacks. Not only was the linseed oil a little smelly, but with age it would stiffen and begin to turn yellow. This yellowing of the oil is where the classic yellow of fisherman's clothing comes from. With age the linseed oil would eventually begin to lose its waterproofing features and its usefulness quickly deteriorated.
A Great Change
In the 1920's three companies had had enough and they began to collaborate on a solution. They came up with a paraffin-based wax which quickly became the new standard for commercially waxed fabrics.
With the creation of this greatly improved technology manufacturers of waxed cotton pushed to expand its use outside of the shipping and sailing industries. The benefits of waxed cotton were quickly noted by the garment industry and the material was adopted for use in the production of waterproof clothing and outerwear for farmers and the military.
Once this proved a success the wonders of waxed cotton would take another industry by storm.
Motorcycling was quickly becoming one of the most used and rapidly growing modes of transportation around the world. Not only a practical method of transportation, it was becoming very popular for sport as well. Motorcycle racing was growing in popularity and competitiveness and the calls for higher performance outerwear for riders were getting louder and louder. Until the introduction of waxed cotton, motorcycle riders had no high performance options for protection from wind, dust and rain.
With waxed cotton they got it all in one package. Waxed canvas outerwear exploded among both competitive and recreational riders, but it wasn't until one American celebrity donned a Belstaff riding jacket on the big screen that waxed canvas jackets became a cultural icon. In 1963 American actor Steve Mcqueen appeared in The Great Escape wearing the iconic Belstaff Trialmaster jacket. From then on waxed canvas was cemented as being synonymous with cool.
Today, waxed canvas is used across many industries for its practical and aesthetic aspects. Waxed canvas has become extremely popular in the fashion, travel, and outdoor industries for both clothing and accessories. In the making of bags and luggage, the aesthetic and practical qualities of waxed canvas are unparalleled making this one of the most popular modern uses for waxed canvas.
Waxed canvas offers rugged durability with an aesthetic that truly is timeless. Well-made waxed canvas goods can last forever. An item made from waxed canvas can be passed on for generations to come and you can rest assured that it will always be in style.