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A Short History of Waxed Canvas

Waxed canvas is a utilitarian fabric at heart, created to withstand the harshest of weathers and to last.

Its roots lie at sea, in the shipping history of England. Here is a condensed history of where it comes from that I hope will help you understand the origin of the fabric I make.

Waxed canvas originates from the sailing industry in the form of oilskin in England and Scotland in the 17th Century. Mariners used to grease their sails with a mixture fish oils, linseed oil and wax for performance and durability (wet sails are more efficient than dry sails but their weight slowed down ships).

They also used to make themselves protective clothing out of old sail remnants to protect them at work. The French term "Ciré" – meaning "Waxed" refers to the traditional yellow waterproof coat and waders outfit that used to be worn by fishermen (developed by Edward Le Roy circa 1898).

Even Burberry launched it's own line of lanolin infused garments called "gabardine" in 1879.

The use of waxed canvas sails was adopted by the Royal Navy and the Tea Clippers in the 19th century. In the 1930s paraffin was used instead of linseed oil to wax the sails as it made them lighter, more durable, less stiff in the cold and less prone to yellowing.

Waxed canvas then evolved into what we know it as now.

19th Century Clipper ship painting

traditional fisherman

Waxed Canvas was adopted in clothing for outdoor use and made popular by mainly two companies: J.Barbour & Sons, and Belstaff respectively creating outdoor and motorcycling clothing.

The use of waxed cotton declined in the 1950s with the arrival of breathable synthetic fibers like nylon and then more technical fabrics like GoreTex.

My aim with Ciré is to go back to the source of waxed canvas and to that simple pioneering spirit.

The bags I make are meant to be tough , utilitarian and durable.

There is an increasing trend towards natural and sustainably made products and using traditional waxed canvas allows me to do this. I use organic & fairtrade cotton which I dye naturally and in small batches, the wax preparation is made of beeswax and paraffin wax only and do not require any chemicals at any stage.

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