Wintergreen’s Newest Fabric Has a Very Old Twist

August 31, 2018 3 min read

Wintergreen’s Newest Fabric Has a Very Old Twist

Many of Wintergreen's clothing designs are renowned as timeless classics: our hooded anoraks reflect a 'tried & true' garment that has kept Arctic Inuit families warm for centuries.  And our newest fabric -- waxed cotton -- is a timeless classic as well.  Plus it comes with a fun story and a proud history.

Waxed cotton was developed 500 years ago by sailors in the cold, rainy North Sea. Fishermen noted that their boats moved faster when their sails were wet.  Less wind 'leaked' through the saturated sails.  For a more permanent fix, sailors began treating sailcloth with fish oils and grease.  Because that made the cloth both windproof and waterproof, sail scraps were used as capes to withstand the high winds and sea spray. That kept sailors so warm and dry that waxed-cotton 'slickers' have been in use ever since.

All the Way from Scotland

While fashions have changed throughout the years, waxed cotton fabric has stood the test of time and now we craft Wintergreen jackets and mitts with it.  Our fabric comes from the world's leading waxed cotton manufacturer, Halley Stevensons in Dundee, Scotland. Their Baltic Works plant has been making this weatherproof textile since 1864. The process has evolved from employing a linseed oil coating to impregnating the densely woven cotton with a long-lasting paraffin-based finish.


Waxed cotton was an instant success with the commercial shipping industry and later, given its abrasion resistance, provided 'road rash' protection for early motorcycle enthusiasts.  And it's still used by clothing companies (including Aerostitch in Duluth) to provide great all-weather protection for motorcyclists. 


The "Natural' Gore-Tex

During World War II, waxed cotton became the military's fabric of choice for rain gear. It performed far better than non-breathable rubber raincoats. That's because it's just as important for outerwear to let water vapor (sweat) escape as it is to keep rain out. Fortunately, water droplets are relatively large compared to the particles in water vapor, so microscopic holes can be used to allow vapor to pass through while rain drops bounce off. That’s the founding principle of the waterproof-breathable membranes, the first of which—Gore-Tex—was invented in 1969. It employs a stretched fluoropolymer with nine billion pores per square-inch to provide breathability.

Waxed cotton achieved a similar function almost by accident. By rubbing oil into sail cloth, those 15th century sailors created a fabric with fibers close enough to block rain drops but with microscopic gaps between them that vented sweat vapor.


Improves with Age

The beauty of waxed cotton is its durability and longevity. While repelling water, it's also adaptable to weather and use. The wax finish adjusts to ambient temperature to be softer/more breathable in warm weather and stiffer/more wind proof in cold conditions. The finish ensures that the fabric looks better with age. The wax naturally picks up marks and creases through use, which add to its character. The garments continually adapt to the wearer's personality, creating unique, one-of-a-kind products.


Just Apply a Little "TLC" 

The adaptable nature of waxed cotton means these garments benefit from extra care. To clean, lightly brush off any dirt, wipe with cool damp sponge and air dry. Machine washing or drying will cause damage. Depending upon usage, these garments may also benefit from re-waxing every year or so to maintain a water-resistant finish. Fortunately that's easy to do, and Wintergreen provides a tin of wax with each jacket. To apply, you simply warm the wax and rub into the garment with a soft cloth. After application, heat the jacket again to allow the wax to fully soak in.

Your Wintergreen Options

Our new Wintergreen Waxed Cotton garments include our Men's and Women's hooded Trail Jackets. For extra warmth, choose the option lined with our lightweight Merino wool in a Tartan plaid that beautifully complements that vintage look of the cotton. Depending upon garment, our Wintergreen color options include Dark Khaki and a new rich Merlot.

Like heirloom leather garments, your waxed cotton gear will develop a patina and fit all your own, and will last for decades with regular use. That's why wax cotton ranks among the world's oldest fabrics that's still in use today. Buy Wintergreen to get yourself some gear for the ages.

 See Wintergreen Northern Wear's Waxed Cotton Collection here.

Paul Schurke - Polar Explorer

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