Recently I was asked a fabulous question that made me realize that although I work with these materials nearly every day, my clients may not know why I do. They are selected because of what they bring to the item, and in the case of hand-waxed canvas, its waterproofing and durability.
Waxed canvas, also known as waxed cotton, is fabric that has had a paraffin applied to it to create a water resistant barrier. The process dates back to 15th century mariners applying fish oils and grease to their ship's sailcloth for more efficient travel. They also created coats to keep themselves dry on the rough seas, an early precursor to the fisherman's rain slicker. Over time the process was refined and lighter weight oils were added to cotton sails and were used by the Royal Navy and tea ships in the mid 1850's. It became the first choice for British forces during WWII to keep soldiers dry in wet and damp conditions.
Texas-based A.L. Frances Textiles, my supplier, hand waxes their canvas with local triple-filtered beeswax and sets it to dry in the sun. This creates a product that not only looks good but smells fabulous! Their fabric becomes naturally water resistant and rugged. It looks and acts a lot like leather - it will get scratched and distressed, but soften and get better looking with time. For even a more "used" look, you can scrunch and squeeze the fabric and create more wrinkles.
While it is waterproof, it does require special care. You don't want to use soap on it, put it through a washing machine and dryer, or have it dry-cleaned. Avoiding prolonged exposure to heat help maintain is unique qualities. Each book that I make with this beautiful material is sent out with an information sheet to help you care for your item.
Waxed canvas is perfect for books that might be used outside in the natural elements, near water or liquids, and for books that will be handled often. The photo above shows the colors that I carry, however, A.L. Frances has many more. If you are looking for something else, just ask! If you have an idea for an item not featured in my shop, please contact me so we can create it!