You Made That Outta What? A Semi-Comprehensive Guide to Fabric – Part 3 Cotton Duck

And…we’re back! How often do we take the ordinary for granted; do we see the tools and necessary items in  our life as routine and take no notice? Whether it’s a pair of high tops, one of those trendy little zipper bags, the sails in your winds, or even the seat cushions on your lawn furniture, Duck is a whole lot more than you think. A close cousin to Duck Tape, their stories converge in an interesting way. So let’s dive into the history of this popular utilitarian fabric that’s getting some mileage these days.

Earlier, we talked about “Plain” weave. You’ll recall that’s the weave most of us are familiar with, over/under/over/under and so forth. Cotton Duck is known also as duck cloth, duck canvas, or just plain duck. The name comes from a Dutch word doek meaning cloth, any of a broad range of strong, durable, plainwoven fabrics including linen, made originally from tow yarns and later from either flax or cotton. Oh, clever you! Good job! You were paying attention. In my last post, we learned that toile also means cloth, and was sometimes stretched as a canvas.

But this is a Dutch thing, not a French thing.

Cotton was added to the name so it would not be confused with linen. Linen originated in the 18th century. Canvas Duck is no spring chicken either, having been in use for centuries. Despite its rough texture and common look, it’s no stranger even among the gentry.

Most people recognize canvas, but tend to pigeon hole its uses. More than just shopping bags, tents, awnings and sails, canvas duck has also been used in the clothing industry from high top basketball shoes to high fashion. Duck is a remarkable fabric. It’s easily dyed and takes printing well, making it versatile. No stranger to home decor, duck is a favorite for making slipcovers as it’s durable, and easily washed and dried. I love the fact that duck can be dyed, inked, printed, even painted on. The creative opportunities for customizing duck in an upholstery or home decor application make it undeniably attractive. You’ll find duck/canvas in a wide selection of indoor and indoor/outdoor styles.

**Before there’s any confusion, cotton duck and duck canvas are different. Cotton duck is a smoother, very soft weave. Duck canvas, you’ll quickly note, is rougher and stiffer, more at home, not at home but working hard. Cotton duck as lighter weight. There is also cotton duck is mid-grade weight for use in upholstery projects where more strength, but still softness is required. Duck does soften with use, so even coarser, heavier grade duck will soften with  use.

Cotton/Canvas Duck Fabric Features and Benefits

One look and feel of duck quickly reveals how useful it is.

  • plain woven and not a specialty item
  • Comes in off-white originally but can be dyed
  • Can be inked or painted on
  • Multiple grades from lightweight (graded  12) to heavy utility weight (1)
  • Strong threads give it really solid strength and durability on high use items
  • Can be washed and dried
  • Low maintenance
  • It has a relatively smooth surface that won’t snag or tear (Cotton Duck).
  • Second only to leather for super duty work wear (Canvas Duck), it blocks the wind. A good reason to use it for tents too!
  • Not flame retardant (Canvas Duck), it is somewhat burn resistant and won’t melt like nylon or other synthetics when exposed to high heat or sparks.

I mentioned that duck tape and duck canvas are kissing cousins. So”duck” tape, according to Brittanica, is older than you think. It predates what we think of duck or duct tape by nearly 50 years. Tape, by definition has nothing to do with adhesives. Tape simply means a strip of cloth. Duck, going back to our definition “doek“, is cloth or canvas. Duck tape has been used in various building applications such as bridge building dating back to pre-20th century to strengthen and provide waterproofing/protection to cables, pipes, and so on, by applying an adhesive coating.

Duck tape, the kind we know, was the brainchild of Johnson & Johnson contracted during WWII to design a product that would keep ammunition dry in the field. It was originally made much like its predecessor by coating cotton duck with adhesive. It was later renamed duct tape when it was found to be a choice product in the HVAC industry for sealing and waterproofing duct work.

There. Now you know!

Consider duck for your next project. Its versatility, weight availability and durability makes it an excellent choice that will give you years of use. Look for an upcoming project using lightweight duck in Zig-Zag Lipstick to create chair cushions and matching placemats.

Until then, sew ‘n piece my friends.