February 15, 2010

How-To: Waxing your own cotton

So as part of my design process, I've decided to experiment with one natural fabric finishing technique for each collection. Last season, it was rust dyeing, which created the the lovely, dripping, stained effect on the center panels of some of the garments. For fall, I finally tried my hand at creating one of my favorite fabrics: waxed cotton. Commercial waxed cottons are often created with petroleum-based waxes, but beeswax is readily available, including at the fantastic Union Square Greenmarket, and online from places such as Majestic Mountain Sage, where after some clumsy attempts with solid beeswax, I bought these tiny, convenient granules called prills.

For anyone who'd like to try this at home, here's the method I worked out based on trial, error, and some vague instructions I found online. Hope it works for you, too!

What you'll need:
• Fabric to wax — pre-cutting the pattern pieces for your garment will save wax and time.
• Beeswax in prills, pellets, or shaved into small chunks
• Ironing board
• Iron
• Pattern paper or other large scrap paper
• Muslin or other scrap fabric to cover the ironing board

First, you'll want to spread two layers of muslin over your ironing board to protect it from spilled wax. The wax doesn't transfer well from fabric to fabric, so two layers will be enough. Then, scatter your prills over the fabric you'll be waxing, and spread them out evenly with your fingers to avoid blotching. Make sure the fabric and ironing board are cool to the touch; if they're warm, the wax will clump.

With the prills evenly distributed over the fabric, turn on your iron (I always use the highest temperature) and place a piece of paper over the wax and fabric. Previously waxed paper will work well for the first ironing and help the melting wax to spread evenly. After ironing once, the fabric will be blotchy with excess wax, so place a clean piece of paper over it and iron out the excess.

Once your piece cools, you'll have a matte, hardened slab of fabric that can be shaped into 3-d forms. You can stop here if you like for a cleaner look, but my favorite thing about waxed cotton is the weird, grungy sheen it takes on once it's broken in; so I scrubbed the fabric together until it softened a bit and took on a wrinkly, shiny texture. Here's the waxed cotton skirt I made for my collection (shown with a vegetable leather top):

1 comment:

Héloïse Chung said...

beautiful skirt titania! can't wait to try the waxing at home. :)