The history of waxed cotton begins in the mid 15th Century. Scottish sailors began treating flax canvas sailcloth with linseed oil in an attempt to waterproof their sails to keep them light and efficient in the strong winds. Remnants of the sails were used to make capes which protected the sailors from rain, wind and waves and keeping them dry and warm.
With the demand for lighter and more efficient sailcloth, by mid-1850s the sailcloth evolved from heavy flax to a lighter weight double fold cotton yarns treated with linseed oil. This cloth also became more suitable to be used in outerwear.
With exposure to elements, the impregnation with linseed oils proved to be less than ideal as oils turn yellow over time and crack in cold temperatures causing the cloth to lose its water-resistant properties. After a series of attempts to find the best alternative, the combination of densely woven cotton, impregnated with a paraffin waxed coating proved most successful. This treatment offered high water-resistance but the fabric was more breathable and less stiff.
From the original application in sailcloth and sailing, waxed canvas began to spread to the military application and was due to its durability and water resistance used for tents, uniforms and duffles. After WWII, waxed canvas began to be used commercially in heavy duty rainwear and outerwear, motorcycle clothing and gear, shoes, bags and camping gear.
As for the beauty of waxed canvas ... waxed canvas is built to last due to its durability and longevity. It's breathable and adjusts to the temperature of the environment – it becomes more breathable, softer in the warmer climate and stiffer, more weatherproof in colder conditions. One of my favourite characteristics of the waxed canvas is that it's a fabric that looks better with age. With use, it creases and picks up marks which add to the character of the fabric making each product unique and one of a kind.