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Textile Tales: Duck Canvas

Interest in denim has ballooned in the last decade with mills, brands, and customers all clamoring over the different weights, weaves, dyeing techniques, etc. and and if you’re like me, you’ve already built up a nice collection of denim. More attention on the different characteristics of denim fabrics has also piqued an interest in other textiles, knits, and materials.

One of the more commonly mentioned fabrics is duck canvas which has increasingly been used in both jeans and jackets so it brings up the question: What exactly is Duck Canvas and where did it come from?

The History of Duck Canvas

mtvernonmill

A lithograph of the Mount Vernon Mills in 1860

As every article about duck canvas will quickly tell you, it has nothing to do with waterfowl. The name instead comes from the Dutch word for linen cloth, “doek”, and was originally used for ship sails and tents due to its durability resistance to water and fire.

In the mid-1800s, mills like Mount Vernon Mill in Maryland upped their duck canvas production and people began utilizing the fabric for other goods like bags and clothing. Duck became especially popular amongst miners and other manual laborers who needed their work clothes to be comfortable but able to withstand heavy wear and tear.

Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis actually made their first pairs of riveted jeans from duck canvas, they didn’t switch over to denim until a few years later.

How Duck Canvas is Made

Duck canvas is a tightly woven plain weave textile, which means it uses two yarns in the warp and a single yarn for the weft. The tight weave contributes to its durability and weather resistance despite it being made from natural fibers (usually cotton). It starts off stiffer but softens up with wear and washing, the smooth surface also makes duck less prone to snagging and tearing.

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See the two-over-one weave pattern in close up

Much like denim, duck canvas can come in different weights and some of the most sought after fabrics are selvedge duck canvases made on shuttle looms.

But unlike denim, which for the most part involves different colored yarns for the warp and weft, duck canvas normally has just one color for both. The most commonly seen color is a brown-orange but duck can also be found in black, navy, indigo, and khaki.

How Duck Canvas is Used Today

Clothing made from duck canvas is not nearly as prevalent as denim, but brands such as Carhartt and Pointer Brand provide some solid options with their chore jackets, pants, and overalls. Many brands such as Left Field and Roy will occasionally use duck canvas both from US and Japanese mills.

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Norman Porter Navy Duck Canvas Jeans

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Levi’s Vintage Clothing Duck Canvas Jacket

indigo duck

Left Field Indigo Duck Canvas