DIY Waxed Canvas Tote Bag Tutorial (Part 2)

In part 1 of this tutorial, I showed you how to sew a simple canvas tote bag. Today I’ll provide instructions for how to waterproof the canvas by waxing it with a mixture of beeswax and paraffin. Until I experimented with this bag, I had never waxed fabric. But it turns out that it’s fun, and transforming the fabric is kind of magical.
DIY Waxed Canvas Tote Bag Tutorial

Obviously I didn’t invent the process–people have been waxing fabric in various ways for thousands of years. It’s a great way to keep things dry, so it’s widely use by outdoorspeople. And of course fashion loves to co-opt function, so you can even wax jeans for a shiny faux-leather effect. My information about waxing canvas came from a simple google search, and I mainly consulted this helpful site and this forum post. As these resources demonstrate, there are multiple ways to wax canvas, some involving an iron or a dryer, but this is the way I did it.

First, a couple of notes about the process.

Be careful with the hot wax. Don’t spill it on yourself. It’ll probably hurt, and result in burns. Also, because the beeswax is yellow/orange, it will slightly change the color of your fabric, most noticeably on white. You may be able to lessen the effect by using less beeswax and more paraffin in your wax mixture, but I haven’t tried it. If you’re worried about the color of your fabric changing, test the wax on a scrap. Here’s my fabric before and after waxing, with the finished bag on the left:
DIY Waxed Canvas Tote Bag Tutorial
After waxing, your bag will be stiff, but it’ll soften up over time and with use. Depending on how refined your beeswax is, it may also smell like honey. Since I bought my beeswax from a stand at a local farmer’s market, I’m guessing it may be less processed than beeswax you might buy in a store. And again, using less beeswax would no doubt lessen the effect.
Materials:
Beeswax (I bought mine from a stand at a local farmer’s market.)
Paraffin wax (You can often find it in the canning section of grocery stores, or here.)
Jar or tin can
Stove
Pan
Hairdryer
Screwdriver or other blunt tool
Measuring cup
Paintbrush or roller
Paper bag
Wooden chopstick or craft/popsicle stick
DIY Waxed Canvas Tote Bag Tutorial
Methods:
1. On a sturdy surface (like pavement), use the screwdriver to break off small chunks of beeswax, and measure out 1/2 cup.
DIY Waxed Canvas Tote Bag Tutorial
2. Break off chunks of the paraffin wax, and measure out the same amount as above, 1/2 cup.
DIY Waxed Canvas Tote Bag Tutorial
3. Combine the two types of wax in a jar or can that you don’t plan to use for anything else (not because they’re toxic, but because they’re really tough to remove). Place the jar in a pan with water, and melt on medium heat until the wax has liquified, stirring occasionally with a disposable chopstick or craft stick. If you’re using a glass jar you should keep it from touching the bottom of the pan, otherwise it could crack.
DIY Waxed Canvas Tote Bag Tutorial
DIY Waxed Canvas Tote Bag Tutorial
4. Take your melted wax, and start brushing it onto your bag in a thin layer. You can keep your wax in the pot of warm water to help keep it warm, and if it cools down too much before you’re finished just heat it up again.
DIY Waxed Canvas Tote Bag Tutorial
DIY Waxed Canvas Tote Bag Tutorial
DIY Waxed Canvas Tote Bag Tutorial
5. Once you’ve covered one side with wax, flip the bag over and do the other side, then the bottom and the side seams.
DIY Waxed Canvas Tote Bag Tutorial
6. Now for the magic! Turn your hairdryer on the highest heat setting and hold it an inch or two from the canvas. It may take a couple of minutes after you first turn it on to warm up, but the wax should start to melt, and then soak into the fabric. Continue heating the whole bag until all of the wax is melted.
DIY Waxed Canvas Tote Bag Tutorial
If you have big chunks, just heat them until they melt. Or if they really won’t cooperate, you can scrape them off.
DIY Waxed Canvas Tote Bag Tutorial
7. Your bag should now be waxed and waterproof!
DIY Waxed Canvas Tote Bag Tutorial
Water should bead up and roll off. Pretty cool, right?
DIY Waxed Canvas Tote Bag Tutorial

Almost done! Next we’ll add the leather handles.
DIY Waxed Canvas Tote Bag Tutorial

Part 1: Sewing the body of the bag
Part 2: Waxing the canvas
Part 3: Adding leather handles

16 thoughts on “DIY Waxed Canvas Tote Bag Tutorial (Part 2)

  1. Wow, this is so cool! I’m excited to try this soon. One Q, did you put anything inside the bag when you were melting the wax? I’m just wondering if there’s any risk of seeping through the fabric and the two sides sticking together…? Thanks so much for this whole tutorial!!
    xo
    Joy

    • transientexpression says:

      Joy, thanks so much! Nope, I didn’t put anything between the two sides and they didn’t stick, but you certainly could put a piece of cardboard or thick paper between them to be sure.

  2. Great tutorial! I have seen waxed canvas furniture, though few and far between, so I plan on trying this method on a canvas chair. Do you think this is sittable? Or could the heat from your rump melt the wax?

    Thanks!

    • transientexpression says:

      Menna, gosh, I’m really not sure about the answer to that one! People do wear waxed canvas clothing for ourdoor activities, so maybe it would be ok, but you might want to do some internet searches to see if anyone else has tried it.

      • Paraffin wax melts at 160 F, so unless you’re storing the furniture in a greenhouse in Arizona, it should be ok.

  3. What a cool tutorial. I’m curious about washing the bag (and leather handles), can you put it in the washer (on cold?) and dryer (on low?)

    • transientexpression says:

      CindyD, I wouldn’t put it in the washer. Luckily the helps repel stains, but if you do need to wash it, I’d do it by hand, trying to keep the handles dry.

    • transientexpression says:

      It would probably work, but the wax makes the fabric more stiff, and I’m not sure if it could potentially gum up a sewing machine needle.

  4. Ben and Carissa Vance says:

    Hi! what a great idea! I was curious how the bag has worn? Is the wax still holding up, or has it worn off in some places? Thanks for the great tutorial! I am anxious to try waxing a purse! 🙂

  5. Hi,

    Does the waterproofing wax solidifies into a creamy textured state or hardens which requires you to re-melt to use again?

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