In Depth: Wax Cotton

We are very excited to officially add our British Millerain oilcloths to our online shop. Oilcloth or wax cotton is a woven cotton material which is coated in wax to create a waterproof yet breathable fabric. It is stiff and shapes beautifully, softening overtime to develop character. We now have a variety of weights and colours available from earthy tones to bright sunny colours. It makes great coats, jackets and bags; perfect for a classic or rustic look. These garments and bags will be perfect for rainy summer days and will take you right into the colder autumn months.


The first waterproof fabrics were developed by sailors in the 15th century when they discovered a wet sail caught wind much more efficiently than when dry. However the weight of a wet canvas became heavy and slow so, sailors began to coat the sails in various fish oils to prevent water soakage. In the 1700's Scottish linen canvas manufacturers began using linseed oil from their surplus flax seed to coat their fabric. Over time, the material was developed; by using finer cotton yarns their sails became much more practical than the previous heavy linen canvases. This finer fabric also made excellent overall's for seamen. However there were some problems; over time the linseed oil stiffened and cracked, causing the cottons to lose their waterproof quality and becoming uncomfortable to wear. The oils also stained yellow - which is why a Fishermans overalls are known to be traditionally yellow. A well established cotton finishing mill in Lancashire - British Millerain set out to solve this problem by using a new wax coating. Their patented technique was much more breathable and longer lasting.  They became very successful and very quickly many apparel brands were developing garments using the British Millerain wax cotton.

British Millerain now dye their own fabrics in a wide range of bright colours, some of which are available at Ray Stitch. British Millerain are proud to be approved suppliers of the Better Cotton Inititave (BCI). BCI helps provide farmers with the skills for sustainable farming, helping to provide a fairer workplace, maintain soil integrity, reduce waste water, and reduce the use of the most harmful pest/insecticides. Their wax cotton is full of character and will make a gorgeous coat or bag that you will cherish for years.


Wax cotton is easy to sew with, it cuts beautifully and due to it's stiff nature it can be folded easily, eliminating the need to press with an iron. However it needs special care. Pins will leave marks easily so we suggest using wonder clips instead. Make sure your machine is well cleaned beforehand as your fabric may  catch lots of dust. A strong polyester or topstitch thread is recommend for heavier cottons and a slightly longer stitch than usual might work best. To make sewing more enjoyable we recommend investing in a strong sharp needle, such a as a leather needle. While you probably won't need an iron, if you do find that you'd like to press your fabric, do not put the iron directly onto the waxed cotton. Use a press cloth in-between.


Caring for your oilcloth.

You must take particular care with your waxed cotton. Conventional washing will cause severe damage. To clean any dirt or dust; wipe with a cold damp cloth or use a soft brush to remove very small mud or dust fibres. After cleaning leave to hang dry for 24 hours. Do not dry clean, machine wash or tumble dry. Do not apply soap or detergent as it will eat at the wax coating. Do not iron directly and never use a starch stiffener. Store your fabric or garment in a cool, dry place and leave to hang rather than folding it.

Ray Stitch Makes:

We have a number of project ideas and patterns that would work perfectly in a waxed cotton. You could make something as simple as tote bag or apron. We've already made the 'Jack Tar Bag', the RTR Rucksack and most recently the TN31 Parka from Merhcant and Mills. What have you made with wax cotton? We'd love to hear all about your projects. You can email us or message us on instagram or facebook, or even better visit us in the shop!