Sewing with Waterproof Fabrics

Sewing with Waterproof Fabrics

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From drizzles to downpours, chances are that everyone has an item or outfit they’d like to protect from the wet. Waterproof fabrics [ e.g. Waxed Cotton , Italian Water-Resistant Gabardine] can be a sewist’s best friend– if you know how to use them! Whether you’re covering outdoor pillows, making weather-resistant trousers, or sewing up a high-quality rain jacket, knowing the ins and outs of waterproof fabrics will certainly help you on your way. In this post, we’ll identify the various types of waterproofing, what to look for in a waterproof fabric, and how to get that perfect, water-tight finish on any project.

Types of Waterproof Fabric: Synthetic versus Natural

Waterproof Fabrics | Waxed Cotton | Water Resistant Gabardine

Synthetic materials (such as vinyl) are reliably waterproof and durable, but they come at a cost to the environment. Vinyl production includes chemicals such as ethylene dichloride, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls, which wind up in the environment if not disposed of properly. Some alternatives to purely synthetic waterproofing include fibre blends like our organic cotton + recycled nylon Italian Water-resistant Gabardine. Add Waterproof Seam Tape to seal up every seam! This handy notion ensures that the water can't leak in where your pattern pieces join up.

A coating is typically required to waterproof woven fabrics. Outdoor gear, such as tents, hiking jackets, and hammocks, are made of polyester coated in polyurethane, as polyester is lightweight and convenient for travelling. However, as with vinyl, polyester is not biodegradable.

Cotton, on the other hand, is commonly chosen as a natural fibre for waterproofing. Long staple fibres, in particular, make for good waterproofing, as the weave structure encourages water to slide off rather than soak in. When paired with a waterproof coating, these tightly woven fibres become impenetrable and keep water out.

Waterproof Coatings

Waxed Cotton Fabric | Core Fabrics

While fabrics like our Waxed Cotton come pre-coated, you can also use coatings like Otterwax heavy duty fabric wax to waterproof canvas, twill, and other fabrics with a tight enough weave, such as denim. Waterproof coatings can range from polyurethane laminate (a synthetic derivative of petroleum) and silicone to natural oils and waxes like lanolin (produced by sheep to protect their wool) and beeswax.

Regardless of the coating used for your fabric, you will need to maintain it. Re-waxing your fabric seasonally will ensure a long life and enduring water-resistant qualities.

Choosing a Fabric

Waterproof Fabrics | Waxed Cotton | GabardineAs with any sewing project, your choice of fabric will depend on the desired outcome. Fabrics like our Italian Water-resistant Gabardine retain a slight drape and are perfect for long coats with a bit of swish, or lighter jackets such as the Sienna Maker Jacket. Fabrics with a bit more weight, such as canvases and our Waxed Cotton are great for a little more heavy-duty projects, such as a more structured September Jacket or the Kelly Anorak. These types of fabrics would also be great for outdoor pillows, lawn furniture cushions, and the best backpacks and bags!

Sewing With Waterproof Waxed Cotton

There is no need to be intimidated by waterproof fabrics, in particular waxed cotton. Conquering them is simpler than you think, requiring a dash of patience and a few tweaks in your sewing routine. Here are our top tips for sewing waxed fabrics:

  • Use denim or heavyweight needles. Waxed coatings add weight to the cotton, requiring a little extra oomph to push through the fabric.
  • You can hand wax the inside of your seams on to add more wax over the stitch holes to improve waterproofing using Otterwax heavy duty fabric wax
  • Use longer stitches when sewing to minimize the number of holes in your waxed cotton.
  • You can use an iron on the lowest setting with steam and a pressing cloth. A hot iron will melt the waterproof coating (and leave a sticky mess all over your iron), so always test on scraps!
  • Do not use pins on your waxed cotton, as they will leave noticeable marks. Instead, use wonder clips to keep your pieces in place.
  • Do not use markers. Waxed canvas takes on marks very easily, so you can mark it with a light stroke of the corner of a ruler or another blunt object you have around.
  • Clean your sewing machine after use. (If you're anything like us, now is your chance to do that deep clean you've been putting off). The coating can and will get all over your feed dogs and needle and reach your bobbin case. A thorough cleaning will leave your machine sparkling and ready to sew again!

    Caring for Waterproof Waxed Cotton

    Waxed cotton develops lines and creases as it ages, creating a beautiful patina. While this is part of the charm, a few ways exist to minimize excessive creasing:

    • You can roll your waxed fabrics up for storage to avoid fold-creases.
    • You can also smooth out visible lines with a hairdryer. The warmth will melt the coating just enough to redistribute it across the surface of your fabric.
    • Never wash your waxed cotton; this will strip the coating away and eliminate its waterproof qualities. Any stains should be spot-cleaned with saddle soap or something similar.
    • Your fabric may require re-waxing seasonally, depending on use. If you notice your finished garment is losing its water-resistant properties, it's time to get some refinishing wax.

    With the proper care, your waterproof garment should live a long life, protecting you and your belongings from the rain, whether you're the type to dash for the nearest building or stay out and splash in the puddles.