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I want to try and make an old-fashioned oilcloth hat shaped like this Dutch Harbor Souwester Hat. The base material is woven cotton, which I would waterproof using oil and wax.

When picking a fabric does it matter if I pick something thin (100 gr/m2) like printed cotton or should I pick a heavier canvas (200 gr/m2) or even really heavy fabric (400 gr/m2)?

For firmness, I would use several layers when picking the thinner material. Can I just choose which fabric has the nicest print or should I worry about thin material wearing out much quicker?

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I don't have any first-hand experience, but here are someconsiderations:

Oilcloth is heavy! You need a sturdy foundation fabric that can carry the weight without just ripping. So a lightweight (like 70 g/m2) blouse cotton is out of the question. OTOH using a very thick and heavy fabric adds even more weight to the finished oilcloth without any positive effect.

As a rule of thumb:

  • The fabric should be woven tight enough not to have any visible holes (like muslin or cheesecloth).
  • The fabric should probably be woven in "canvas weave" (one thread goes over on, under one, over one, etc). Other weaves like twill or satin have one thread go over several others, under one or several, over several etc. This gives water more opportunity to seep through.
  • The fabric must be thick enough to not rip when it's oiled. Something like old bedsheets, tablecloths or tent canvas should do fine. Denim is already on the heavy side of the options, outdoor tarp or furniture fabric is probably much too stiff and heavy.

All things considered, I would probably use a 100 - 130 g/m2 cotton instead of a heavier canvas.

PS: Although oilcloth was traditionally made with beeswax and/or oils, modern alternatives use simple construction silicone. It's extremely flexible, water repelling and more lightweight than traditional oilcloth. If you're interested, here's a YouTube video by NightHawkInLight (not affiliated).

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  • Of course denim is also a slightly different weave as well. The tighter weave of cotton duck is probably better than other types of canvas (and is what's used in the waterproof cotton bike bags I know of). I think of going for tent canvas, you'd want a relatively lightweight one. The heaviest tent canvasses are really heavy.
    – Chris H
    Oct 5, 2023 at 6:18

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