Sewing Tips, Tutorials

How to Wax Canvas Fabric

Last week I sewed a men’s messenger bag with waxed canvas fabric. Waxed canvas has the look of aged leather, but is much easier to sew. It’s also water repellent and stain resistant, which is great for items that will be used outside often.

How to Wax Canvas for Bags Using Otter Wax | Radiant Home Studio

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Though there are a few sources of waxed canvas in the US (you can find a short list recommended by Colette Patterns), I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for at a reasonable price. I remembered seeing a post over on the Thread Theory blog recommending Otter Wax to make your own waxed canvas fabric.

Men's Waxed Canvas Messenger Bag | Radiant Home Studio

After weighing the options, I decided to try the Otter Wax. It worked exactly as I had hoped! (I feel like I need to say this, but this is not a sponsored post. I’m just a happy customer, sharing my experience!)

First, let me share a few tips about working with the wax:

Use the suggestions on the website to figure out how much you need. I most likely ignored the estimates, hoping to stretch the limits. I ordered the small size bar and ran out. Thankfully, their shipping is super fast and received the 2nd order in 3 days! I ordered the bigger bar the second time, and have plenty left for another bag or a couple of smaller projects.

How to Wax Canvas Fabric | Radiant Home Studio

Applying the wax is easy, but a bit time consuming for larger projects. I worked in small sections (6″ squares) and took breaks. I decided to apply wax as I was putting the bag together. I wanted to avoid stitching on the waxed fabric as much as possible. The presser foot makes extra marks and if you need to pick out stitches there will be visible marks as well. But I also wanted to wax some of the parts that would have been difficult to reach after the bag was finished, like the insides of the outer pockets. I sewed the outer pocket pieces together, then waxed the entire pocket. I waxed the main outer section of the bag before attaching the pocket, but I did the sides of the bag at the end.

How to Wax Canvas Fabric:

Rub the bar of wax vigorously on the canvas. You need to create a bit of heat from friction to warm up the wax. As you can see, it won’t cover every part of the fabric.

How to Wax Canvas Fabric | Radiant Home Studio

Next, use your fingers to rub the wax and spread it evenly across the fabric.

How to Wax Canvas Fabric | Radiant Home Studio

I tried rubbing in all directions, but I created a smooth finish by rubbing perpendicular to the direction of the wax bar strokes. If body heat and friction aren’t enough to smooth out the wax, you can use a hair dryer to warm it up. I didn’t find that a hair dryer was necessary though.

(Update: Wax tends to dry out when stored for months, even when wrapped in plastic. You can soften your wax by microwaving it for about 10 seconds. The surface also forms a sort of crust as it dries out. You can just scrape off that layer to expose the softer wax underneath.)

How to Wax Canvas Fabric | Radiant Home Studio

Just work in small sections, using the corner of the bar to get into the cracks and seams. The wax will stay sticky (and have a distinct smell) for a couple of days while it dries. I recommend letting the wax dry overnight before sewing with your fabric.

You can reapply wax as needed. Just like paint, a second coat will go on smoothly, quickly, and require less wax than the first coat. I expect that a bag would need a fresh coat of wax about a once a year.

Waxed Canvas Retro Rucksack | Radiant Home Studio

Update: Since writing this tutorial, I have continued to use and love the wax! My husband has been carrying his bag for two years now, and it still looks great. The wax keeps the fabric looking new and resists staining. I haven’t applied any more coats of wax and it doesn’t seem to need any.

I recently updated my Retro Rucksack pattern sample with this waxed canvas version. Check out the post for a few more tips!

I also posted a free gift pouch tutorial with a waxed canvas flap.

What do you think? Will you try waxing your own canvas fabric?

Sewing Tips, Tutorials

Sewing with a Twin Needle (How to Thread it and Examples)

Wondering what a twin needle is and why you would need to use one? Read my first post about sewing with a twin needle here.

In this post, I explain how to thread a double needle and show you some examples of twin needle use on stretch knit fabrics and on woven fabrics.

How to Sew with a Twin Needle | Threading, Tension, & Examples | Radiant Home Studio

How Do I Use a Twin Needle?

You will need to consult your sewing machine manual for specific directions about twin needle use on your machine, but I will demonstrate on mine (a Pfaff) to give you the general idea.

Loosen the screw that holds your current needle and carefully remove it. Make a mental note about the direction the needle shaft fits in your machine. In all of the machines I have used, the flat part of the shaft faces the back of the machine (but I think there are a couple of exceptions, so double check!). Insert the new needle and tighten the screw.

Remove Sewing Machine Needle | Twin Needle Sewing | Radiant Home Studio

To thread the machine, you will need two spools of thread and one bobbin. (If you don’t have two spools of the same color, wind an extra bobbin and use that.) You will also need to locate an extra spool holder in the accessories for your machine. Most of the time, this is just a 3″ plastic rod that fits into a hole on the top of your machine. Sometimes the extra spool can be placed onto the bobbin winding pin instead. If neither of these options works, you can place your spool in a coffee mug next to your machine and wind it from there.

Add Extra Thread Spool | Sewing Twin Needle | Radiant Home Studio

Arrange your spools of thread on the holders so that the thread spins off in opposite directions. This will help prevent tangling.

Thread the machine normally, making sure to separate the threads when you guide them through the tension disk.

Seperate thread Through Tension Disks | Radiant Home Studio

If you have separate guides near the needle shaft, put one thread through each. If not, just slide them in together and put one thread through each needle eye.

Separate Thread Through Guides | Radiant Home Studio

Rotate your hand wheel to guide your bobbin thread up as usual.

Threaded Twin Needle Use | Double Needle Tutorial | Radiant Home Studio

Troubleshooting Twin Needle Problems:

I highly recommend testing your threading and tension on a piece of scrap fabric. I typically don’t need to make any major adjustments. I lower the tension just a notch or two for a basic jersey knit fabric.

Below are some examples, so that you can see how changing the tension affects your stitching. Number 1 is the lowest tension setting, and number 4 is the highest. (My machine has settings 1-8, so these are 2 step increments.) You can see that numbers 1 and 2 look best on the front, 3 is starting to pucker, a number 4 is very puckered and pinched up.

Sewing Twin Needle Front | Radiant Home Studio

On the back, you can see that number 1 isn’t quite right. The top threads are pulling through. For this fabric, I would set my tension to the 2nd setting for the best results.

Sewing Twin Needle Back | Radiant Home Studio

If your machine is skipping stitches or tangling your threads, remove and reinsert your bobbin and rethread your machine.

If your stitching lines are pinched together and your zigzag is barely visible from the back, lower your tension.

If your zigzag is loose or top threads can be seen from the back, raise your tension.

Examples of Twin Needle Use:

Joining or hemming stretch knits:

You can use a twin needle for regular seams in stretch fabrics. The second row of stitching adds extra strength, while the zigzag provides the stretch needed to keep the threads from breaking. You can also use the twin needle to make clean, even hems that mimic a coverstitch (that nice finish on store-bought t-shirts that can only be made with a very expensive serger).

Sewing Twin Needle Topstitch | Radiant Home Studio

Sewing Twin Needle Hem | Radiant Home Studio

Creating pintucks:

To create pin tucks, choose a double needle with a narrow distance between the points. Raise your tension to a high setting and test to make sure you get the desired result. To make the tucks even tighter, you can gently pull the bobbin thread ends as you do when gathering fabric. Tie a small knot, in the end, to keep the tension tight.

Sewing Twin Needle Pintucks | Radiant Home Studio

Decorative topstitching:

Generally, you want to use a straight stitch with your double needle. However, some of the narrower decorative machine stitches may produce beautiful and interesting patterns when you use a twin needle. You may want to try some of these with different thread colors as well.

Check your manual to find out which stitches you can use with a twin needle. Wide zigzag stitches may cause your needle to hit the presser foot and break. My machine has a digital display for each stitch which shows whether or not it can be used with a twin needle. Many of the decorative stitches can be used when I reduce the stitch width.

Decorative sewing with Twin Needle | Radiant Home Studio

(See the pink bobbin thread? That means I need to lower my tension. It’s always a good idea to test your stitches on the fabric you are using for your project to identify these problems. It’s much faster than picking out the stitches later!)

Here are a few examples of twin needle use that may give you some more ideas:

Katy explains how to use twin needles for swimsuit fabric.

This post has more helpful tips for threading a double needle and lots of helpful tips in the comments.

This post has a couple of beautiful photo ideas for quilting with a twin needle.

And here’s a beautiful heirloom baby dress with twin needle pintucks.

Have you tried using twin needles? What is your favorite way to use them?

Sewing Tips

What is a Twin Needle and When Should I Use It?

Recently, a friend and I were talking about the difficulties of sewing with stretch knits. When I mentioned that sewing with a twin needle had made my stretch knit sewing easier and more fun, she told me that she had never used one. She wasn’t even sure why you would need to sew with a twin needle, or where to purchase one.

It occurred to me that I have mentioned twin needles in a few blog posts, assuming that anyone with a sewing machine would understand what I meant. Even though my friend has been sewing for many years, she has never come across a pattern directing her to use a twin needle.

Commercial patterns do not tell you everything! They assume basic knowledge of your sewing machine, the appropriate fabrics, and tools. The problem is that most home sewists are self-taught, learning to sew from patterns (or blog posts!), and miss many of the great tools and tricks to make sewing easier and more fun. (Independent pattern designers have recognized the knowledge gap here and written more educational patterns to help fill in some of these details…)

No more assumptions for me though! I’m going to tell you what a twin needle is, when to sew with a twin needle, how to attach it to your machine and thread it, and show you some examples of fabrics sewn with a twin needle and without one.

What is a Twin Needle | Radiant Home Studio

What is Twin Needle?

A twin needle looks like this:

Threaded Twin Needle Use | Double Needle Tutorial | Radiant Home Studio

It has the same single shank as your regular machine needle, but branches out from there with two parallel needle points. The two needles can be spaced at different widths, but range from 1.6mm to 8.0mm. (You can also find triple pointed needles, but that’s another discussion!)

Sewing needles also come with different points and thicknesses for different types of fabrics. These numbers are usually something like 90/14. You can find a great chart for sewing needle basics here. Twin needles are available in many of the basic sizes and point shapes as well.

Twin needles should be available in any sewing shop and even in the craft aisle of large chain stores.

Why and When Do I Need a Twin Needle?

A twin needle produces two parallel lines of stitching along the top as the bobbin thread zigzags between them.

For stretch fabrics, the zigzag stitch allows the threads to stretch so that they will not break when you pull your fabric over your head or push your arms through the sleeves.

If you want to sew on knits without a serger, a double needle is the most helpful tool you can have.

Twin Needle Front and Back | Radiant Home Studio

For woven fabrics, twin needles are generally used as decorative detail. You can use twin needles to make pintucks, professional looking hems, or decorative topstitching.

Woven Twin Needle Use | Radiant Home Studio

Which Needle Should I Choose?

For stretch knits, choose a ball-point/stretch twin needle. Ball point needles are designed to poke through existing space between fabric fibers without piercing or breaking them. This is true whether you use a twin needle or a single needle.

For non-stretch fabrics, choose an all-purpose twin needle. The size will depend on the thickness of your fabric. Generally, you need stronger, fatter needles for thicker fabric.

There are also specific needles designed for denim and embroidery.

Twin Needle Types | Radiant Home Studio

My next post will cover how to thread a double needle and various ways you can use a twin needle to make sewing easier and more fun!

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