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Tips for Working with Waxed Cotton

Find out the essentials for constructing garments and accessories with oiled canvas.

When I visited the Merchant & Mills store in Rye, England, last fall, I knew from the moment I walked through the door I could spend a lot of time there. I was about to send my son and husband, who were with me, off to the local pub for a pint, but by the time I found them they had already picked out several projects of their own. It was so much fun to have them as excited about the place as I was. We piled up meter after meter of gorgeous waxed cotton canvas with visions of lovely tailored Barbour-inspired coats dancing in our heads.

Merchant & Mills store interior

Merchant & Mills store offerings

Thank goodness store staff was able to ship our purchases to the States. Otherwise, we would have needed another suitcase to get the incredibly weighty fabric, plus the other supplies, home.

Merchant & Mills shipped packages
The Merchant & Mills packaging was just so British.

When the package arrived in my sewing room a few weeks later, the heady rush that had accompanied the purchase was long gone. Just picking up three yards of waxed cotton is a workout. I confess the stuff was intimidating. However, I had promised coats by Christmas, and that was just a few weeks away. Yikes! So began my crash course in working with waxed cotton.

Merchant & Mills shipped supplies
Yes, that is linen on the left along with the waxed cotton that arrived in the Merchant & Mills shipment. One is only human, after all.

Waxed cotton origins

You can find loads of history and facts about waxed cotton online of course, but briefly: Waxed cotton, aka oiled canvas or oilskin, is an old fabric. It was invented by British sailors who used fish oil, and eventually linseed oil, to treat sails. The oiled cloth absorbed less water, so it was lighter in wet weather. Sailors…

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