Beeswaxmain_large

Hundreds of sewing patterns, sewing books, magazines and instructions and hardly any mention of this most useful sewing notion: beeswax.

It ensures durability of a finished garment and makes many hand-sewing tasks easier to execute. I am sure many of us worked on at least one of the following techniques where beeswax comes in handy:

Hand-worked buttonholes
Sewing on Buttons
Padstitching
Setting-in a sleeve by hand
Hemming
Inserting a zipper
Hand-stitched French Seams on fine fabrics
Inserting a chain on a Chanel-like jacket
Sewing-on patch pockets
Sewing fur
Quilting
Beading…

PhotobucketPhotos courtesy of JeffreyTailor, Threads and Frabjous Couture.


Generally, any task that requires additional strength for a thread will benefit from using beeswax. Cotton and silk thread should always be waxed for one of the tasks mentioned above, but I also wax polyester thread to prevent tangling and to achieve some stiffness, so helpful with hand-worked buttonholes. Of course, every task will require specific thread and needle, so, for the best results, do some research before using the first available tool or notion.

Waxing the Thread

Usually, your thread should be approximately 36 inches long, or from your shoulder to the wrist – anything longer with snarl and knot. If you have to use a longer thread – for large hand-worked buttonholes, for example – work slowly.

Once cut, draw each thread two or three times through the wax, then press it with an iron between a fold of paper to blend the wax and the thread, and to remove excess wax. Ironing through paper is recommended to protect your ironing board and the iron from wax. However, it will absorb more wax, so if you want a stronger and stiffer thread try the following two methods.

Some professionals recommend pulling the thread between your thumb and the index finger to set the wax, or to wipe it with a soft cotton cloth, such as a clean cotton T-shirt fabric. I think these methods work well with good quality beeswax. In general, I would suggest to try all methods and see what works best for you and for the materials you work with.

Be careful, when sewing with white fabrics, however: beeswax may discolor the fabric or thread, so be sure to make a test first.

Where to Buy Beeswax

Photobucket

You will be surprised how much difference good quality beeswax makes, so try to find a good supplier. When I just started hand-sewing I used Dritz Beeswax, which comes with a handy holder. Now, however, I get my beeswax from Laney Honey – great quality and a 2oz beeswax cake is more than enough for home sewing purposes.

Another source is Bergen Tailors and Cleaners in the U.S., McCulloch and Wallis in the UK, or any other good tailoring supply store. I heard favorable reviews about these two stores but haven’t tried their beeswax so far.

~Marina

Marina von Koenig is a couture enthusiast documenting her learning experience on her blog Frabjous Couture.

29 Comments

  • Img_6694_large

    Jan 3, 2012, 06.55 AMby merlinatman

    I use LUSH cuticle butter called lemony flutter which has beeswax..lol..

  • Karengun3_large

    Dec 15, 2011, 06.06 PMby kschum20

    We use thread heaven where I work, because beeswax can stain delicate and light-colored fabric.

  • Missing

    Nov 23, 2011, 01.30 AMby kimpe

    I have always used beeswax. Got in the habit from my grandmother and aunt who sewed constantly. I use it for hand sewing, embroidery, cross stitch, anything that requires thread. It is a constant in my sewing kits!! Glad to hear of others who swear by it.

  • Mee1_large

    Nov 19, 2011, 11.26 PMby fashionfreek

    I have heard of it and used it. I have some in my sewing box. Good stuff beeswax and even as candels.:-)

  • Missing

    Nov 19, 2011, 07.17 PMby jecouds

    I’ve used beeswax, and it does help when I remember to use it. It’s important to make samples, as noted.

    The recommended thread length I’ve read in the past is considerably shorter, from the shoulder to the elbow, or a maximum of 18 inches.

  • B6e8478911e32abbfa88924d28cbff1d359e089d_large

    Nov 18, 2011, 09.20 PMby atrinka

    I was thinking on buying some high quality beeswax but for my holiday baking (french canellets!)> I’ll save some for my sewing!

  • 254794_10150729194660431_637530430_19708947_5857664_n_large

    Nov 18, 2011, 07.12 PMby mollyapple

    I use beeswax for hand-sewing, the quality stuff bought in bars not from the notions department, I love it. I’ve not had any issue with discolouration but if its a concern you can buy white beeswax instead of the regular amber colour.

  • _dsc3110-edit-2_large

    Nov 18, 2011, 07.00 PMby suzysewing

    Excellent article, as all by you Marina!! I started using beeswax recently mainly to avoid tangling of thread but good to learn other times when it’s good to use it. Thank you.

  • 985f0154fdefdf284531d76b36fbffee7a42548e_large

    Nov 18, 2011, 06.33 PMby katexxxxxx

    BE VERY CAREFUL about waxing thread for very densely woven light weight silks: the wax can leave a greasy mark at each stitch if you aren’t careful.

    I hated Thread Heaven: madethe thread sticky and ikky.

  • Missing

    Nov 18, 2011, 09.26 AMby mgracer

    I used to use bees wax years ago and forgot about it. thanks for the reminder.

  • Missing

    Nov 18, 2011, 02.37 AMby rochelle49

    Great post! I had not heard of beeswax for this use before. I am familiar with Thread Heaven. I believe the notions vender Clotilde offers it.

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      Nov 18, 2011, 01.50 PMby Marina von Koenig

      Do you use Thread Heaven? It would be great to compare it with beeswax!

  • Me_4_large

    Nov 17, 2011, 05.40 PMby FashionSewingBlog

    Hi Marina,

    I enjoy reading your posts – they remind me so much of the skills my mother taught me when I was a child when I first showed an interest in wanting to make my own clothes.

    I only use this technique when sewing on buttons for a jacket or coat. I agree it is hard to get good quality beewax. The links you have provided are most useful.

    Colleen G Lea

  • Dsc09595avatar_large

    Nov 17, 2011, 05.13 PMby Ralf Schmitz

    thank you so much for this interesting article! i will go and try this right away and let you know, how i found using beeswax. great tip! thank you very much for sharing again!

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      Nov 17, 2011, 07.21 PMby Marina von Koenig

      You are welcome! I’d love to hear how you’ll use it in your hand-sewing!

  • 486043_10200326557759449_664517254_n_large

    Nov 17, 2011, 04.40 PMby heidilea

    I use beeswax extensively because of my historical sewing. In the 18th century, some people, to be thrifty, would harvest their own earwax to use like beeswax!!!! :P

    2 Replies
    • Marina_large

      Nov 17, 2011, 07.17 PMby Marina von Koenig

      Oh, that’s really interesting! I’d love to learn more how you use it. At the end, a lot of couture sewing techniques are revived from the past… I am sure I would learn a lot from looking at those construction techniques!

    • 486043_10200326557759449_664517254_n_large

      Nov 17, 2011, 08.31 PMby heidilea

      Extensively might be a slight exaggeration, but I don’t sew unless I have a lump on hand. I run linen and silk threads through it, like you described, minus the ironing. Silk is very floaty and the wax stabilizes and strengthens it. Linen frays and weakens while using it unless it’s coated with wax. I also use it when doing crewel work: I rub the unknotted thread end on the wax so I have an easier time threading the needle. I’ve also melted some and dipped the ends of handwoven tape and ribbon to keep it from fraying.

      I’ve also read that you can use it to “neaten the edges of fine cloth (tight woven wool),” but I have not tried this.

  • Profile_pic_3_large

    Nov 17, 2011, 03.25 PMby daughterfish

    Great post, Marina. I’ve been thinking I need to get some beeswax. Any places you’d recommend in NYC for buying good quality wax? One of the tailor shops on 38th?

    3 Replies
    • Marina_large

      Nov 17, 2011, 04.07 PMby Marina von Koenig

      Honestly, I don’t know! I would just go to a good nature/organic store that carries honey, or candles and get a beeswax cake there. They also smell better than the Dritz one. Also, try Union Square farmer’s market, or, I think I saw a natural candle vendor at Grand Central – there is a kind of Christmas market if you enter from the Park Avenue. I just guess they would have something.

      I ordered mine from Laney Honey, as I said. They shipped next day! No product placement here, just a good stuff :-)

    • Profile_pic_3_large

      Nov 17, 2011, 06.11 PMby daughterfish

      Perfect! I will go to my coop. Didn’t think of the natural food option!

    • Marina_large

      Nov 18, 2011, 01.48 PMby Marina von Koenig

      Let me know whether you could find it! I got another one for a friend from an organic store in Midtown (Health Nuts 44th and 2nd)!

  • 2004_toni_large

    Nov 17, 2011, 02.41 AMby ndimi

    Love this information, thank you.

    I’ve been using beeswax for beadwork, but I didn’t know to iron the thread. :)

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      Nov 17, 2011, 04.01 PMby Marina von Koenig

      you are welcome, I am ironing it if I need to remove the white residue on the thread – it looks better on buttonholes, for example. Ironing does remove more wax than wiping, so if I need a really strong thread I pull it through the wax cake again (and iron it again, if necessary). With buttonholes, especially if you are a beginner, it really helps to have a straight strong thread.

  • 5_large

    Nov 17, 2011, 02.37 AMby susanne2011

    I am a scientist working with honeybees and now know what to do with our excess wax! Thanks! :)

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      Nov 17, 2011, 03.58 PMby Marina von Koenig

      this is so funny (and interesting, of course!) :-) Just let us know if you got too much of it ;-)

  • Missing

    Nov 16, 2011, 10.37 PMby ivorynoire

    I happen to be allergic to beeswax. Does anything similar exist that could be used instead?

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      Nov 16, 2011, 11.18 PMby Marina von Koenig

      I have heard people using soap to prevent tangling and to stiffen and straighten the thread. It won’t prolong the life of the thread, so I would suggest using it with polyester for the best effect.

      Also, there is a product called Thread Heaven (http://www.threadheaven.com/about.html), which is supposed to be a great substitute for beeswax – but I have never tried it.

  • 028_6__large

    Nov 16, 2011, 09.23 PMby puffling

    Hi Marina – I’ve yet to use beeswax, but I’ll file this away for future reference. (My first memory of hearing about this technique was in a Laura Ingalls Wilder story about a cobbler making boots in the 1860s. Some old technologies are still the best!) vicki @ www.anothersewingscientist.blogspot.com

    • This is a question
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