History and Care of Waxed Canvas

At Oberon Design, a part of the attraction of designing bags from waxed canvas is the allure of the practical, yet romantic, history of its use in the seafaring world. The fact that it was originally produced in Scotland, as was a branch of the Smith family, became another fun enticement to delve the history of our materials.

Waxed canvas, linked to oilskin, is tied to the history of clipper ships. Historically, impoverished sailors would sew scraps of ruined or discarded sails and rub them with linseed oil to create a water proof poncho that protected their skin from harsh weather conditions at sea.  In the mid 1800’s, taking a cue from history, a Scottish mill that contracted as a sail maker for the British military fleet, responded to the creation of fast moving clipper ships by replacing flax sails, for sails made from cotton impregnated with linseed oil. This strengthened the sails, keeping them lighter and more waterproof in heavy gales. This trend rapidly spread to protective clothing worn by fishermen and sailors, who now, not weighted down by sodden clothing, could respond more quickly to dangerous situations. Linseed oil treatments were replaced with paraffin wax in the 1930’s, 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, not just Britain, but New Zealand and America. Co-opted by the military and motorcycle enthusiasts during the world war periods, waxed canvas gained a foothold in the fashion and millinery world. Use of waxed canvas in bags and clothing is enjoying yet another renaissance as contemporary Americans once again favor the practical in durable, quality materials that last a lifetime.

Care and Cleaning of Waxed Canvas

You NEVER want to do this:

  • Never wash your bag in the washing machine.
  • Never use warm or hot water to clean it.
  • Never have it dry cleaned
  • Never use detergent, solvent or starch.

How to clean my waxed canvas and leather bag:

  • Shake or brush off dirt, sand or any other abrasive material
  • For small spots, use cold water and mild soap, and a sponge or brush.
  • With a little soap, gently massage the spotted surface.
  • Rinse with a sponge and cold water. Let the bag air dry.

Re-waxing your bag:

Depending on how much hard use your back gets, at some time you may consider re-waxing it. This can be done professionally or at home.

  • Use Otter Wax or Martexin Wax, or an approved product, made for this purpose, only.
  • Messenger bag should be clean and dry.
  • Lay as flat as possible using a table or ironing board.
  • Using a soft cloth to apply the wax, rub down the entire bag as evenly as possible.
  • If the wax isn’t pliable enough, warm it slightly by submerging the container in warm water or wax the bag and then let it sit in the sun to soften and impregnate the canvas.
Back to the top