Sewing Waxed Canvas: Tips & Tricks

Item # X-HT-300504

Waxed canvas is an incredibly durable, well-made and long-lasting hobby and bag fabric. It was originally used by sailors to waterproof and increase the performance of their sails. Today, it's an animal-friendly alternative to leather for bags, backpacks, totes and duffles, briefcases, outdoor clothing and gear, and much more. Let's discuss the best techniques for working with waxed canvas. We'll pass along our tips and tricks for patterning, marking and sewing this popular hobby fabric.

Sewing Waxed Canvas 2

Our DuraWax™ Waxed Canvas fabric is a heavy-duty dyed cotton fabric that is treated with a natural wax coating. We offer two collections of DuraWax: Light and Heavy. Both collections start out as the same base 12-ounce cotton fabric. The Light version is treated with a paraffin wax coating, which makes it lighter and slightly more flexible than our Heavy version, which features a beeswax coating and a stiffer initial feel. Both fabrics soften up and wear beautifully with use.

Sewing With Waxed Canvas: What You Need to Know

We thoroughly tested our new DuraWax Waxed Canvas fabrics so we could learn all about this long-standing favorite among bag makers, hobby sewers and leatherworkers. Known and loved for its durability, fantastic water and stain resistance, and rugged outdoorsy look, waxed canvas is a clear choice for handcrafted, artisanal DIY projects that have the look of high-end retail pieces. With simple maintenance and care, your waxed canvas items will last a lifetime.

Do I need a special needle or thread for sewing waxed canvas?

No. A Round/Sharp Point #16 or #18 needle with a Tex 70 polyester thread, or a #20 needle with a size Tex 90 thread, will work great. You'll want to use UV treated polyester thread instead of nylon for its excellent UV resistance.

Can a home sewing machine sew waxed canvas?

You can sew waxed canvas on a home machine. We recommend using a #16 or #18 needle with Tex 70 thread, depending on what you're sewing.

What is it like to sew with waxed canvas?

Waxed canvas sews almost like regular marine canvas, except that the presser feet and feed dog will leave marks on the fabric. But no need to worry; these marks can easily be removed after sewing. Or you can leave them to enhance the fabric's weathered and worn-in look and appeal.

Does DuraWax Waxed Canvas feel sticky or leave a residue?

After thoroughly testing the canvas and sewing several projects with DuraWax, we found that no residue was left behind on either the sewing machine or our work surface. DuraWax does not feel sticky, only slightly slippery.

Sewing Waxed Canvas 3
We made this tool roll using DuraWax Waxed Canvas Cotton Duck.

Do I need specialty feet to sew waxed canvas?

Because of the wax coating on the canvas, no matter what kind of presser foot you use, the presser foot and feed dog will leave marks on the fabric. We tested three types of presser feet and feed dogs and they all left marks on the fabric after sewing. This is an unavoidable side effect of waxed canvas — but you shouldn't see this as a bad thing! The marks left behind enhance the fabric's vintage and rugged appeal. If you don't like the marks left from sewing, they are very easy to remove. Keep reading to learn how to do this. You can also decrease the upper foot pressure and that will reduce the number of marks left on the fabric.

What stitch length should I use to sew waxed canvas?

You can use the same stitch length you would use for sewing marine canvas. We recommend a 5-6mm stitch length.

How do I mark on waxed canvas for patterning?

You don't need to use fabric markers or pencils to mark patterning and cut lines on waxed canvas. Because the wax coating shows scratch marks beautifully, you can use a scratch awl to mark the fabric. The waxed canvas scores easily with an awl, making the use of a fabric pencil not required. The score line is also easy to follow for cutting, hemming and matching up panels for sewing.

Will basting tape adhere to the waxed canvas?

Basting tape does not stick at all to the wax coating, so don't waste time and money applying basting tape. Instead, you can use a scratch awl to score the fabric for patterning and seam allowances. Once the fabric is folded and creased, it has a very good memory and will hold while you take it to the machine for sewing.

How do I remove unwanted marks and scratches from sewing?

Due to the nature of waxed canvas, the fabric will show scratches, wrinkles and marks from handling and working with the fabric. This is one of the biggest assets of waxed canvas and the reason so many crafters and bag makers flock to the unique fabric. We call this marking and crazing a "patina effect," and it adds to the fabric's legendary weathered look. It's also the reason waxed canvas is a happy substitute for leather, as both materials beautify with age and use.

However, if you don't like the marks your waxed canvas accrued from patterning and sewing, they are easy enough to remove. Simply hover and move a hair dryer on the "heat" setting over the fabric in a smooth motion. Don't let the hair dryer stay on one spot for too long. The heat from the hair dryer will soften the wax so you can easily rub out and smooth out the marks.

Other Tips for Working With Waxed Canvas

  1. A scratch awl works well to score and fold hems. We recommend using fabric clips when you're lining up secondary panels together for sewing.
  2. Do not iron waxed canvas and never wash waxed canvas in a washing machine. Waxed canvas should only be spot cleaned with the appropriate cleaning products, including Otter Wax Spot Cleaner (#122671) and Tampico Cleaning Brush (#122674).
  3. If sewing a lot of waxed canvas, it's a good idea to clean your machine to prevent the wax from building up. After every two waxed canvas projects, clean your needle, your sewing machine hook, and your presser feet and feed dog. If you notice a lot of wax buildup on your needle after sewing, you can use rubbing alcohol to remove it.
  4. Rewax your waxed canvas items once a year to maintain the water-resistant and stain-repelling properties. Check out our blog "How to Take Care of Waxed Canvas Fabric" (#300503XHT) for a step-by-step photo tutorial on how to clean, prep and rewax your waxed canvas projects.
  5. Don't leave waxed canvas items in a car on a hot day. The wax may warm up and could either melt or leave a waxy residue behind on your car's interior.

Sewing Waxed Canvas 4
Waxed canvas is a great choice for durable and stylish bags and backpacks!

We hope you've found these tips and tricks for sewing waxed canvas useful! If you'd like to learn about the history of waxed canvas, read our blog "History & Benefits of Waxed Canvas — Why Choose Waxed Canvas?" (#300502XHT). Do you have experience working with waxed canvas? Do you have any special tricks you've learned along the way? Be sure to share them in the comments below!