Like vegemite on toast, or pav with cream... Australia & canvas are an iconic duo etched into the Australian heritage. From the early swagman to the modern day family campers, canvas has become synonymous with our Australian roots... and tackling the Australian outback.
Canvas is an amazing material, with a long and fascinating history. Originally it was handmade and used for a small variety of purposes including ship sails, tents, clothes and of course for artists to paint on. Today, it is made across the globe for a much greater range of products, and of course varying quality levels.
The material itself is unique in many ways and when correctly made will last for many years even in harsh environments.
Canvas is a fabric that is woven together and then waterproofed. There are a variety of different types of canvas to suit the range of applications today, but in general it’s made from a blend of cotton and polyester that is waterproof, strong and most importantly, breathable. This makes the perfect product for making swags, bags, tents, sails and even shoes.
For most people, the most well-known canvas colour is olive green, particularly in the camping industry where it plays a huge role in storing items, and allowing people to sleep in the elements in a dry and comfortable place.
If you’ve never spent a night in a canvas tent or swag, you’ve been missing out!
Who makes Canvas in Australia?
Like many industries in Australia, offshore work has had a dramatic affect on canvas manufacturing in Australia. There is currently only one Canvas Mill left in Australia, which is WCT, or Wax Converters Textiles Australia.
Wax Converters Textiles Australia have a big operation in Hunter Valley and have been making Australian made Canvas since 1991. They manufacture canvas for a wide range of camping applications along with supplying the Australian Defence Force, among other industries such as fashion/apparel, artist canvas, filtration and many others.
With a significant number of Australian employees running their factory 24 hours a day, the finished product is world renown, and widely regarded as one of the best on the market. There are several factory tours on YouTube that you can watch, showcasing the incredible manufacturing factory making quality canvas with a huge attention to detail.
Australia is the perfect testing ground with harsh UV conditions, extreme humidity (in northern Australia) and plenty of rainfall. From scratch, WCT make their canvas with thousands and thousands of single strand threads, and turn them into kilometres of canvas via a complex manufacturing process.
And here's the kicker... WCT are very proud to be the only canvas manufacturer who source their cotton from Australian farms. You can't get more Australian than that!
Australian vs Overseas Canvas
Canvas is manufactured all over the globe, however, the process & quality-control vary greatly, depending on where they're made & to what price point.
Australian canvas has been designed for Australian conditions, with specific treatments for UV stabilisation, waterproofing, durability, consistency & preventing rot. Trusted by the Australian Military for their only source of canvas, capable of withstanding extreme conditions & meeting their strenuous criteria.
Overseas canvas will be lighter weight, contain cotton impurities and designed for foreign conditions.
Don't get me wrong, overseas canvas has it's place in the camping & 4wd industry. Without it, I wouldn't have been able to afford as much gear when I was just starting out. Hitting the road with next to nothing in the sky rocket meant that I was able stretch my dollar further sourcing my gear from manufacturers overseas.
Are you getting quality canvas?
Regardless of where you source your canvas from, you should ask a couple of questions...
- Is the canvas cleaned prior to waterproofing? This is a critical step that a lot of manufacturing processes miss, which leaves impurities in the cotton and doesn’t allow the waterproofing to correctly absorb. WCT have a bleaching process that removes all impurities, and then it is washed and dried before the final works take place.
- Does it meet the Australian Standard for canvas fabric? The Australian Military use AS 2001.2.18.1987 (R2016) and this is a great baseline for ensuring you are getting canvas that is up to the task.
- Is the canvas weight suitable for your application? Thicker canvas is obviously heavier and more robust, but it may not be any more waterproof. It's important to choose the correct canvas weight for whatever the application... which is why the roof of a camper trailer will generally have heavier weight canvas than the walls. If you’ve ever had to put a soft floor camper trailer up you’ll know exactly why getting the weight right is important!
- What is the blend of cotton vs polycotton? The latter is cheaper, and a blend that has too much will not breath as well.
Blacksmith Camping Supplies' Bags
This post comes back to the amazing camping bags that are being made by Blacksmith Camping Supplies. Not only are they fully Australian owned, but they employ Australians and they prioritise Australian products, including the DX12 canvas from WCT Australia. The only components that are not from Australia are the YKK zippers, which are used all over the world and are considered to be the best quality on the market.
If you're in the market for camping bags, know that when you buy from Blacksmith Camping Supplies, you're supporting a small Aussie business, but you are buying bags made from some of the best canvas in the world.
It won't be the cheapest option but chances are, you won't buy a replacement ever again.