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 canvas, or any fabric. But it turns out that it’s fun, and transforming the fabric is kind of magical.
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. 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:
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.
How to Make Waxed Canvas
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
Screwdriver or other blunt tool
Paintbrush or roller
Wooden chopstick or craft/popsicle stick
1. On a sturdy surface (like pavement), use the screwdriver to break off small chunks of beeswax, and measure out 1/2 cup.
2. Break off chunks of the paraffin wax, and measure out the same amount as above, 1/2 cup.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you have big chunks, just heat them until they melt. Or if they really won’t cooperate, you can scrape them off.
7. Your bag should now be waxed and waterproof!
Water should bead up and roll off. Pretty cool, right?
Almost done! Next we’ll add the leather handles.