What is duck cloth? Does this material have anything to do with the web-footed, yellow-feathered birds? This heavy-duty fabric has tons of uses and varieties—but what exactly is it?
Duck cloth fabric is a woven canvas fabric, usually made out of cotton. It has a high thread count and a tight structure that make it durable and smooth-textured. There are standardized weights ranging from industrial fabric to lighter workwear.
Duck cloth is easy to take care of and is easy to weatherproof. You can find it plain or patterned. You won’t find it much in garments, but there are dozens of other uses for it. This guide tells you everything you need to know about duck cloth and its role in the textile industry.
What Is Duck Cloth Fabric?
Duck cloth fabric is a heavy woven fabric, usually made of cotton. It’s a plain woven cloth, meaning the warp and weft threads are at right angles to one another. For duck cloth, there are two threads in the warp and one in the weft.Duck cloth is a sturdy fabric, with twelve different weight classifications. The lightest, grade twelve, is for everyday clothing and the heaviest, grade one, is for equipment like sandbags or hammocks. The classifications indicate how heavy a square yard of the duck cloth is, starting with the heaviest and ending with the lightest.
Another term for duck cloth is canvas duck. Duck cloth is similar to canvas fabric, which is why it’s sometimes labeled canvas duck. Whether a retailer calls the fabric canvas duck or duck cloth, it is the same material.
What Is Duck Cloth Made of?
Almost all duck cloth is made of cotton. Unlike other canvas fabrics, duck cloth does not ever contain synthetics. There is a type of duck made of linen, but otherwise, all duck cloth is 100% cotton.
Slight differences in thread count, thread width, and weaving technique differentiate different types and weights of duck cloth. However, the threads themselves are cotton.
Cotton is the preferred fiber for duck cloth because it’s durable and versatile. Tightly woven cotton is easy to waterproof and holds up well to numerous uses. Synthetic fibers can’t compete with cotton on these qualities, so manufacturers continue to use cotton instead.
How Is Duck Cloth Made?
Duck cloth is a woven fabric. It is a plain weave, which means the warp and weft threads run perpendicular to each other. A high thread count and a tight weave are the signature marks of a high-quality cotton duck.
Plain weave is a weaving technique that makes durable fabric because the threads sit against each other at right angles. There are twice as many warp threads as weft threads. Today, duck cloth is woven on industrial looms.
It’s an old fabric. The name “duck” doesn’t come from the bird. It comes from the Dutch word “doek” which means “linen canvas” or “cloth.” It’s a descriptive name for a simple but useful fabric.
Most duck cloth is plain, unbleached cotton. However, some manufacturers will print or dye duck cloth depending on its intended use. You can find a wide array of colors and patterns of duck cloth fabric, as well as multiple weights.
What Are the Properties of Duck Cloth Fabric?The primary property of duck cloth fabric is durability. The tight weave and the natural toughness of cotton combine to make duck cloth as strong as possible. Wind and water don’t come through the fabric easily, and it’s easily water-proofed.
The tight weave also means the cloth resists snagging and tearing. The surface of duck cloth fabric is smooth, with all the threads lying close together. Like all cotton fabric, it gets softer with increased use and washing. However, it will retain its strength even as it gets softer.
The threads in duck cloth fabric are thick, so the fabric feels more coarse than a cotton t-shirt or other cotton textile. Even the thinnest duck cloth is a heavy fabric. While the fabric is easier to work with than leather, it’s nearly as durable.
What Is Duck Cloth Fabric Used For?Due to the range of weights, canvas duck has dozens of uses. Different weights have different uses. Ranging from outdoor utility fabrics to clothing, there’s a duck cloth for just about everything.
You can find heavier duck cloth in items like hammocks, sandbags and seabags, cots, camp chairs, livestock feedbags, equipment covers, tarps, awnings, tents, and more. Lighter duck cloth is more suited to work clothes, shower curtains, outdoor furniture upholstery, tennis shoes, artists’ canvases, and conveyor belts.
It’s easy to add treatments to duck cloth that make it waterproof or sticky. You can apply a treatment like wax or adhesive to one side, and the other won’t be impacted because the threads are so close together. That makes duck cloth very useful for items like bags that need to be waterproof on the inside but have a smooth outer surface.
One of duck cloth’s early uses was as an adhesive tape for World War II ammunition boxes. A woman named Vesta Stoudt suggested adding adhesive to the back of strips of waxed cotton duck to make a sturdy seal that soldiers could still tear through quickly in battle. The result was duct tape. It’s no longer made of fabric, but the iconic product got its start as a duck cloth application.
What Is Cotton Duck Fabric?
Cotton duck fabric is duck cloth made out of 100% cotton. It is another term for duck cloth fabric. Since the vast majority of duck cloth is cotton, the two terms are often used interchangeably. Duck canvas fabric is another term for this cloth too.
The original duck fabric the Dutch used was made of linen. Modern duck cloth is not typically a linen fabric, so the term cotton duck helps differentiate the two. In short, not all duck cloth is cotton, but cotton duck is a duck cloth that is 100% cotton.
What Is Duck Canvas Fabric?
In addition to duck cloth and cotton duck, the term duck canvas can also refer to this type of fabric. Duck cloth is very similar to canvas fabric. Canvas is also a plain woven fabric usually made of cotton. But is duck cloth the same as canvas?
Duck cloth and canvas are different fabrics. Plain canvas is a much looser weave, and it has significantly fewer threads. Technically, duck cloth is a type of canvas. If you’re deciding between duck cloth vs. canvas, consider what you’re using it for. Both fabrics will be similarly durable and hard-wearing, but duck cloth will be more waterproof and smoother to the touch.
So what is duck canvas fabric used for? Duck canvas is great for tents, tarps, workwear, tennis shoes, equipment covers, and more. It’s another term for duck cloth fabric, so it has all the same uses, according to the weight.
Is Duck Material Weatherproof?Untreated, duck cloth isn’t fully weatherproof. However, it is very easy to weatherproof duck canvas. Cotton duck isn’t very porous. Even without weatherproofing, the cotton absorbs plenty of moisture and the fabric is thick enough that it takes a lot of moisture to soak all the way through.
Most liquids and even wind won’t penetrate all the way through the fabric easily. This also means adding protective layers to the fabric works well. Coating one side in a weatherproofing substance like wax elevates the fabric’s natural durability. Another way of improving duck fabric’s weatherproof abilities is to make it into waxed cotton.
What is waxed cotton? Waxed cotton is any cotton fabric that incorporates beeswax or paraffin wax into the weave. Most waxed cotton has the wax added during the weaving process so that the fabric repels water all the way through.
However, some waxed cotton is treated after weaving. The wax is painted onto the surface of the fabric to create a barrier. This technique started with the sails on ships in Great Britain in the 1920s as a replacement for coating the sails in fish oil.
Modern waxed cotton techniques are common for workwear and water-proof bags or equipment cases. Duck fabric that’s treated with wax is heavier and less breathable than untreated duck cloth, so it’s usually outerwear or non-garment textiles that get this treatment.
What Is a Linen Duck?
Linen duck is the original duck cloth. Modern duck cloth is almost exclusively cotton, but the original Dutch fabric was made with linen instead. While the Dutch word that gave the fabric its name references the linen component, cotton has largely replaced it.
Linen is a fiber that comes from the flax plant. Like cotton, it is a natural fiber that boasts good breathability, absorption, and durability. Flax is now a less common commercial plant than cotton is, and it has more specific growing requirements than some cotton varietals.
Cotton duck and linen duck are nearly identical. The thread counts, weights, and weave style are the same. The only difference is what fiber the threads are. Cotton duck has taken precedence because cotton is a larger commercial crop.
Most duck cloth fabric on the market is cotton, particularly in North America. North American flax is primarily harvested for seeds and oil, not fiber. North American cotton is more closely related to the textile industry.
Sewing With Duck Cloth
Sewing with duck cloth isn’t as troublesome as some other heavy-duty fabrics. The smoothness of the surface means you’re less likely to snag a needle or tear the fabric with a pin. Because it’s woven, pins are also unlikely to leave holes when you take them out.
Denim needles will work best to punch through the thick material. Smaller needles are likely to break, especially with heavier classes of duck cloth. Lighter classes will be easier to pin and sew, but you should still use a denim or upholstery needle.
Because duck is almost always cotton, it’s easy to press. You won’t have to worry about wrinkles either, as it’s heavy enough to prevent them as you work. Even heavy duck is flexible enough to fold and pin easily, and even light duck is heavy enough to avoid wrinkles.
Working with duck cloth fabric is very similar to working with denim. As long as you use sturdy needles, you won’t run into any problems.
Duck Canvas Fabric by the Yard
While the wide variety of duck fabric weights means it has a large price variance, here is a brief overview of duck fabric prices. Despite the weight differences, most duck fabric is approximately the same width, so a yard of a number twelve duck fabric will be about as much as a yard of a number four duck fabric.
Duck canvas fabric is usually sold by the linear yard. Most canvas duck is between 54 and 60 inches wide, regardless of the weight classification. The price differs primarily based on the weight and any treatments the fabric has.
A plain, unbleached, lightweight cotton duck will cost between $6.00 and $10.00 per yard. Heavier duck fabric and anything that’s been waxed or otherwise weatherproofed will run between $12.00 and $15.00 per yard. Patterns and colors are also on the higher end of the price range.
Where to Buy Canvas Fabric?
Canvas fabric like canvas duck is available at most fabric retailers. It isn’t a rare or specialty fabric, so it’s available widely online as well. Local fabric stores will usually carry lightweight duck options, including patterned fabrics.
Duck cloth fabric has many industrial uses but is also common for home textiles like upholstery and curtains. These lighter-weight duck cloth choices are more common than the heavier weights.
Waxed cotton and heavy duck cloth are more likely sold at fabric wholesalers than at local craft or fabric stores. However, some manufacturers and retailers specialize in duck cloth. They sell the full range of weights and various weatherproofing treatments.
How to Care for Duck Cloth Fabric
Duck cloth fabric is an easy-care fabric. Untreated duck cloth fabric can be machine washed and dried. Cotton duck can shrink, like any 100% cotton fabric, so cool to warm water and low tumble dry are the best settings.
However, pre-shrunk or fabric treated for shrinking can withstand hot water and hotter dryer settings without damaging the fibers. The benefit of duck cloth is that repeated washing actually softens the fabric. Not only is caring for duck cloth easy, it actually improves the texture of the fabric without damaging it.
Waxed cotton duck or otherwise weather-proofed shouldn’t go in the drier, and won’t need washing. The wax in the fabric will repel water and other stains. Dirt and other debris will wipe right off. Washing duck cloth that has a wax treatment won’t be effective, and putting it in the dryer could melt the wax and damage both the cloth and your dryer.
Whether it’s labeled cotton duck, duck canvas, or simply duck cloth, this hard-wearing fabric is a staple textile for commercial and home use. A simple weaving technique and a sturdy, versatile fiber make this fabric affordable, useful, and long-lasting whether you’re using it for tents or tennis shoes.
What’s the best duck cloth project you’ve ever made? Tell us about it in the comments!