If Your Head Is Wax, Don’t Walk in the Sun

Fabric wax. It is hard for me to even think where to start with this post. I feel like I’ve been thinking and experimenting with fabric wax for so long that I can’t even sort out my thoughts and conclusions.

It all started when I received the latest issue of Vogue Patterns Magazine, the one about jeans and denim. They mention a product called Otter Wax, which you can use to get a wax finish on your jeans. Now, waxy jeans are something that I lust after every time I see a pair in a store, so I went immediately online and ordered a bar of Otter Wax. It shipped right away, but took a while to arrive on my doorstep (through no fault of the people at Otter Wax).

In the meantime, I could think of little else but wax. I ran around the house looking for stuff to wax. As I looked out the window, I thought, “If that squirrel were waxed, she would not get so wet in the rain.” I came across this youtube video about how to make your own fabric wax. I looked in my fabric closet, came across some silk taffeta, and remembered a Barbour waxed silk jacket that I saw a while back that was insanely great.

When my bar of Otter Wax finally arrived, I broke it out and applied it to my cotton twill. I was underwhelmed by the results. It’s certainly not awful, it’s just not, well, WAXY enough for me. I made the jeans anyway, using the Jalie pattern that everyone uses, and they are just fine, but the wax effect is subtle at best.

I consulted the video mentioned above, then shocked and amazed my husband with a request that accompany me to Home Depot for the ingredients. HD, unfortunately, doesn’t carry beeswax. I was a little stumped about where to buy it, but my husband came through with the suggestion that we go to Michael’s. And there it was! I went home and mixed it all up in my backyard. It’s pretty pungent at first. My neighbor, who lives across the street and nearly a block away, said she could smell it from her house.

I dyed my silk taffeta because I wanted black, then applied the wax. The effect is a lot like what I wanted, but it was really, really uneven. My application technique clearly needs work. I still like it, though, and think it looks pretty cool. My raincoat, at this point, requires buttons and buttonholes. I’m hoping this will happen before it rains again.

Apologies for doing a post without photos. The wax effect is pretty much all textural. I tried to take some photos of the fabric before and after waxing to give you an idea of the difference, but in the photo it was impossible to see.

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16 Comments

  1. Shams
    Posted October 10, 2013 at 10:05 am | Permalink | Reply

    I can’t wait to see it, Claudine!

  2. kristen gumm
    Posted October 10, 2013 at 10:38 am | Permalink | Reply

    This may help…when finishing batiks I put the waxy fabric in boiling water and most of the wax (there is a lot)floats to the top, but there is always a film left on the fabric. That film of wax is pretty well distributed. Can’t wait to see your finished product.

  3. akismet-21b053fec805c8711a1f608da8cdd26a
    Posted October 10, 2013 at 11:32 am | Permalink | Reply

    I could totally hear your voice speaking this post in my head. Miss you! Can’t wait to see the coat.

    Elizabeth
    http://www.sewnblog.com

  4. Posted October 10, 2013 at 2:53 pm | Permalink | Reply

    This sounds fascinating. I look forward to seeing, or hearing more about, the results.

  5. Posted October 10, 2013 at 3:31 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I’m very interested in your experiments.

    BTW, have you noticed any difference between beeswax and soywax? I feel so guilty about what little beeswax that I do use b/c of the poor bees and colony collapse disorder. I’m trying to go soy to help save the bees. But beeswax is so lovely for handsewing….

    • Posted October 10, 2013 at 6:42 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks! I have no experience with soy wax, but it sounds intriguing. Beeswax is expensive, which leads me to believe that it’s resource-intensive. Perhaps soy wax would be a more sustainable alternative.

    • md
      Posted October 17, 2013 at 5:15 am | Permalink | Reply

      You do no harm to bees when using beeswax. The bees produce a lot of wax every year and the beekeepers harvest it much like honey, pollen or propolis. Another matter is royal jelly or bee venom – they need to kill bees to get these.

  6. esr0se
    Posted October 28, 2013 at 6:31 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Very interesting! Can I ask what is different about the wax you made yourself from the Otter Wax, and if you have any application tricks? I live in Seattle, so for about 9 months of the year it’s important that I have a (large) waterproof bag to carry to work. I made Sew Liberated’s Bohemian Carpet Bag out of a mid-weight Japanese cotton/linen blend, then used Otter Wax to try to make it more like a waxed canvas. My test piece turned out gorgeous — dark, even, and smooth. But on the actual bag, I have waxy white build-up all over it. I’m not sure if I used too much (probably) or too little. I rubbed the wax in and then used a hairdryer to even it out and blend it in. It looked great at first, but as it cured it because splotchy with the white build-up.
    Any waxing tips you have would be appreciated!

    Thanks!

    • Posted October 28, 2013 at 7:05 pm | Permalink | Reply

      First off, I have all of 3 gaments’ worth of experience waxing, so my comments are not necessarily authoritative.

      The Otter Wax bar that I used did not put a thick-enough layer of wax on my fabric, IMO. The homemade wax leaves a much thicker layer. If you look at the video I linked to, I tried to make and apply the wax in exactly the same way. I borrowed a heat gun from my neighbor and used that to melt the wax. The heat gun gets much hotter than a hair dryer, so the wax totally melts and absorbs into the fabric. Be careful with it, though, because your fabric could catch fire. Do it outside. Melting the wax into the fabric might not work so well with a hair dryer, so the wax might be sitting on top of the fabric and turn white. Maybe.

  7. Posted October 31, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink | Reply

    Interesting post. I’ve been contemplating making a waterproof coat. How does the smell of Otter Wax compare with the homemade stuff?

    • Posted October 31, 2013 at 9:37 am | Permalink | Reply

      You should try it! Otter Wax smells the same as the homemade wax, but the smell of the homemade wax is 10X stronger. Kind of like perfume vs eau de toilette. The smell wears off completely after a while, no matter which wax you use. This takes maybe a week with Otter Wax, and maybe a month with homemade wax. I just put my face on my coat and took a big whiff. There is only a very slight beeswax smell.

  8. Posted November 14, 2013 at 5:49 am | Permalink | Reply

    I can’t wait to try this – may I ask, did you have any problems with the wax during sewing? Did it, say “gum up” your needle? Mostly asking to figure out if I should wax the fabric first or wax the finished garment – but then the wax would get on the lining as well?

    Thank you!

    • Posted November 14, 2013 at 8:43 am | Permalink | Reply

      There were no problems during sewing. In fact, the sewing may have been easier with the waxed fabric vs unwaxed. For instance, with waxed fabric, you can just fold in a crease and it will stay without pressing. However, I did notice when cutting out my jacket that the wax caused the yardage to go off-grain slightly, so the grain lines in my finished garment are a little off. But with this fabric and this garment, it does not seem to be a problem.

      I do wonder how commercial manufacturers do it? Do they wax the fabric before or after construction?

  9. Sarah
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 11:20 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I think waxing squirrels may be illegal in some states 🙂

    • Posted November 21, 2013 at 9:20 am | Permalink | Reply

      Not to mention the practical considerations!

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  1. By For a Rainy Day « Rolling in Cloth on October 12, 2013 at 9:05 am

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