Victorian Rainwear: How To Make Fabric And Shoes Waterproof

Victorian Rainwear- How To Make Fabric And Shoes Waterproof

To protect themselves against rain, Victorians wore boiled wool coats, oiled silk capes, oiled silk umbrellas, or early rubberized coats. I’ve compiled Victorian and Edwardian recipes how fabric and shoes were made waterproof between the 1840s and 1910s.


To Make Cloth Waterproof

‘Take half an ounce of isinglass (Russian is best), put it into one pound of rain water, and boil until dissolved; take one ounce of alum, put it into two pounds of water, and boil till it is dissolved; take a quarter of an ounce of white soap, with one pound of rain water, and boil till it is dissolved. After each of these ingredients has been separately dissolved, strain them separately through a piece of linen; afterwards mix them well together in a pot’. Spread the cloth on a table, and put the solution ‘on the fire again till it simmers, then take it off, and while thus near boiling, dip a brush into it, and apply it to the wrong side of the cloth’. Let the cloth dry on the table. Then brush it ‘on the wrong side against the grain’. To remove the gloss caused by the solution, brush the cloth with a wet brush, and let the cloth dry again. ‘Three days after the operation has been done, the cloth will be imperious to water but not to air.’ (The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, p. 229)


Related: 20 Ways To Make Homemade Natural Glue


Making Cloth Waterproof With Beeswax

‘Cloth may be rendered waterproof by rubbing the under side with a lump of beeswax’. This makes the cloth ‘practically waterproof, although still leaving it porous to air.’ (Henley’s twentieth century formulas, recipes and processes, 1914, p. 749)


To Make Oilskin

Paint the fabric ‘with two or more coats of boiled linseed oil, allowing each coat to dry before the next is applied.’ Improved Dr. Stenhouse’s method (patented in 1864): ‘impregnate the fabric with a mixture of hard paraffine and boiled oil in proportions varying according to circumstances from 95 per cent of paraffine and 5 of oil to 70 per cent of the former and 30 of the latter. The most usual percentages are 80 and 20.’ (Henley’s twentieth century formulas, recipes and processes, 1914, p. 751)


Waterproof Dressing For Overalls

‘Unbleached calico or drill sheeting is generally used for making overalls; all the seams should be double seam. For a dressing, really good boiled oil is perhaps the most durable, though some sailors prefer raw oil, but both take a long time to dry and are apt to become sticky.

The following is safer for oilskins not in constant use: boiled oil 8 parts, turps 2 parts, and melted beeswax 1 part. Warm the oil, add the wax, stir in the turps, and apply warm. The first coat must be well rubbed in. In an hour or so wipe off any surplus that may have drained down to the lower edge. When thoroughly dry, add equal parts of boiled oil to the former mixture, and lampblack or ochre as desired. With this paint give the material two more coats, letting each dry thoroughly in a cool, shady place.’ (Cassell’s Cyclopaedia Of Mechanics, 1900)


How To Make Waterproof Overalls Or Oilskins

‘Unbleached calico is generally used for cheap oilskins, fine drill for better-class goods, and sometimes, but rarely, silk. Best linseed oil, with very little driers, is the most suitable dressing, and should take about two months to dry in a cool, airy place. Lampblack is the cheapest suitable black; ivory black is better, but dearer.

One pound to 2 lb. of lampblack may be used for 1 gal. of oil. If oil alone is used, 1 lb. to 1 1/2 lb. of driers for 1 gal. of oil may be added; with lampblack, 2 lb. to 3 lb. of driers. Ochre is the only yellow pigment cheap enough to use. If the solution has to be made quickly, use plenty of driers, and hang the articles up to dry in a room artificially heated. The solution should be laid on with a stiff brush or scraper in a thin layer, and the first coat must be allowed to become thoroughly dry before putting on a second; two or three coats will be required. The articles should be hung on sticks so that no two portions of the cloth touch. Boiled oil, coloured with ochre or lampblack, and a dash of driers is also used.

It is recommended, in order to keep the oilskins from becoming stiff, that yellow soap cut into shreds should be dissolved in the waterproofing paint, the proportions being 1 oz. of soap to 3pt. of paint. A little beeswax dissolved in the paint is also used for the same purpose. A good black dressing is boiled oil and lampblack 1 qt., to which the white of five eggs and l oz. of melted beeswax are added; give two coats, and allow each coat to dry thoroughly before the next is applied. The drying will occupy quite two weeks. If the drying is not thorough the dressing will become sticky. If driers is used the oilskins are apt to crack. If the dressing is too thickly applied it will peel off where exposed to friction.’ (Cassell’s Cyclopaedia Of Mechanics, 1900)


Indian Rubber Varnish

To make Indian rubber varnish: ‘Put in a bottle two ounces of Indian rubber, cut very small; add one pound of spirits of turpentine, and stop the bottle close, that the spirit may not evaporate; leave it two days without moving, then stir the liquor with a wooden spatula, and if the India rubber is swollen, and has absorbed the spirit, add a sufficient quantitiy for it just to swim in the liquid. Stir it every forty eight hours, till the India rubber is quite dissolved, which is ascertained by squeezing a little of it between the fingers; when in this state put it in a glass bottle and keep it well corked till wanted for use; the longer it is kept the better it becomes.’ (The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, p. 231) Rubber varnish was used to make rubberized coats and balloons.


How To Repair Mackintosh

‘If the water penetrates the mackintosh in a few places only, obtain from a rubber warehouse some rubber cloth in the piece as near like the coat as possible; also get some rubber solution. Cut the rubber into circles large enough to cover the leaks, spread the rubber solution upon them, and also upon the mackintosh inside wherever a leak occurs, and press the circles of rubber into place. Press under a weight for a day or two. The mackintosh should be thoroughly dry before being treated.’ (Cassell’s Cyclopaedia Of Mechanics, 1900)


Victorian Rainwear- How To Make Fabric And Shoes Waterproof-2
Edwardian bicycle costume


Oiled Silk Hoods

Oiled silk hoods ‘are convenient for persons who travel much, or go excursions in open carriages, as a protection against rain; they are made of oiled silk, either black, or light coloured, the former looks best’ (The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, p. 162) Here’s the pattern for the oiled silk hood: The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, plate 20 fig. 17,18.


How To Care For Leather Shoes

‘Boots and shoes, if taken care of properly, will last two or three times longer than they usually do, and, at the same time, fit the feet far more satisfactorily, and keep them dry and more comfortable in wet and cold weather. The upper leather should be kept soft and pliable, while the soles need to be hard, tough, and impervious to water.

The first thing to be done with any pair of new shoes, is to set each one on a platter or a dinner-plate, and pour on boiled linseed-oil sufficient to fill the vessel to the upper edge of the soles. Allow the leather to absorb as much oil as it will for eight hours. Linseed oil should not be applied to the upper leather, as it will soon become dry, rendering the leather hard and tough. But if the soles be saturated with this oil, it will exclude the dampness and enlarge the pegs, so that the soles will never get loose from the upper leather.

If the shoes be sewed, the linseed oil will preserve the thread from rotting. Now wet the upper leather thoroughly when the boots or the shoes are to be put on the feet, so that those parts which are tight may render a trifle, and thus adapt the form of the shoe to the foot far more satisfactorily than when the upper leather is not wet. Keep them on the foot until nearly dry. Then give the upper leather a thorough greasing with equal parts of lard and tallow, or tallow and neat’s foot oil.

If shoes be treated in this manner, and a row of round-headed shoe nails be driven around the edge of the soles, they will wear like copper, and always set easy to the feet. Boots and shoes should be treated as suggested, and worn a little several months before they are put to daily service. They should be cleaned frequently, whether they are worn or not, and should never be put to stand in a damp place, nor be put too near the fire to dry. In cleaning, be careful to brush the dirt from the seams […] Let the hard brush do its work thoroughly well, and the polish will be all the brighter. Do not put on too much blacking at a time, for if it dries before using the shining brush the leather will look brown instead of black.’ (A Dictionary Of Every-Day Wants, 1872)


To Make Shoes Waterproof

‘One pound of mutton suet, four ounces of bees-wax, two ounces of Venice turpentine, mixed altogether; the bees-wax being melted and strained. Put on the composition with a hare’s foot or brush, drying it before the fire, and repeating it at intervals of time, till all the seams and little cracks are filled up.’ (The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, p. 227)


Waterproof Varnish For Shoes, Boots, etc.

8 parts linseed oil, 10 parts boiled oil, 8 parts suet, 8 parts beeswax. ‘Mix with heat and apply hot.’ (The Cyclopædia of Practical Receipts in All the Useful and Domestic Arts, 1841)


Waterproof Composition For Shoes

‘Boiled oil 1 pint; oil of turpentine, black rosin, and bees’ wax, of each 3 oz. Melt the wax and rosin, then stir in the oil, remove the pot from the fire, and when it has cooled a little, add the turpentine.’ (A Dictionary Of Every-Day Wants, 1872)


Waterproof India Rubber Varnish

‘Spermaceti, 4 parts; India rubber (small), 1 part. Melt with a gentle heat, then add tallow or lard, 10 parts; amber or copal varnish, 5 parts. Well mix and apply the composition to the leather with a paint-brush. Cut the rubber into very small pieces, and let it take its time to dissolve, say four or five hours.’ (A Dictionary Of Every-Day Wants, 1872)


To Mend Rubber Boots

‘Get apiece of pure rubber […] cut it into small bits. Put it into a bottle, and cover to twice its depth with spirits of turpentine or refined coal tar naphtha […] Stop the bottle and set one side, shaking it frequently. The rubber will soon dissolve.

Then take the shoe and press the rip or cut close together, and put on the rubber solution with a camel’s hair brush. Continue to apply so fast as it dries until a thorough coating is formed. Spirits of turpentine dissolves the rubber slowest, but forms the most elastic cement.

Purchase a can of rubber cement […] also some rubber for patches […] To make the patches adhere, it is necessary to remove the cloth from them. To do this, moisten the cloth with benzine and remove immediately. Cut the patches the proper size to cover the hole in the boot. Make the boot around the hole rough […] with a wood or shoemakers file; apply the cement to the boot, and the patch with a case knife, and let them lie in a warm, dry room from thirty to sixty minutes; then put the patch on the boot, and press it down firmly. […] After it has been on a short time examine it again, to see that it has not started off; if it has, press it down again. Do not use the boot under forty-eight hours after the patch is put on.’ (A Dictionary Of Every-Day Wants, 1872)


To Make Soles Waterproof

‘A coat of gum copal varnish applied to the soles of boots and shoes, and repeated as it dries, until the pores are filled and the surface shines like polished mahagony, will make the soles waterproof, and also cause them to last three times as long as ordinary soles.’ (A Dictionary Of Every-Day Wants, 1872)


To Prevent Ripping Of Pegged Boots

Because shoes at that time usually had leather soles and leather soles could be slippery in wet conditions, shoes often had metal pegs in the soles to provide more grip on wet grassy slopes etc.

‘Pegged boots, it is stated, if occasionally dressed with petroleum between the soles and the upper leather, will not rip. If the soles of boots or shoes are dressed with petroleum they will resist wet and wear well. The pegs, it is said, are not affected by dryness after being well saturated with this liquid.’ (A Dictionary Of Every-Day Wants, 1872)


To Preserve Shoes Though The Winter

‘Wash the blacking off; let them dry; then oil them with castor or neatsfoot oil. When you wear them they will be soft and pliable, and will last longer if preserved in this way. After you have worn them a few days they are ready for blacking.’ (A Dictionary Of Every-Day Wants, 1872)


How To Restore Old Shoes & Make Them Look New Again

‘Shoe leather is generally abused. Persons know nothing or care less about the kind of material used than they do about the polish produced. […] To remedy this abuse, the leather should be washed once a month with warm water, and when about half dry, a coat of oil and tallow should be applied, and the boots set aside for a day or two. This will renew the elasticity and life in the leather, and when thus used upper leather will seldom crack or break.’ (A Dictionary Of Every-Day Wants, 1872)


To Preserve Woodwork

Boiled oil and finely-powdered charcoal; mix to the consistence of paint, and give the wood two or three coats with this composition. Well adapted for water spouts, casks, &c.’ (The Cyclopædia of Practical Receipts in All the Useful and Domestic Arts, 1841)



  • By a lady (1840), The Workwoman’s Guide, London, Simpkin, Marshall, and Co., Stationers’ Hall Court
  • By a practical chemist (1841), The Cyclopædia of Practical Receipts in All the Useful and Domestic Arts, London, John Churchill
  • Hasluck, P. N. (1900), Cassell’s Cyclopaedia Of Mechanics, Cassell And Company, Limited, London
  • Hiscox, G. D. (1914), Henley’s twentieth century formulas, recipes and processes, New York, Norman W. Hemley
  • Youman, A. E. (1872), A Dictionary Of Every-Day Wants, New York, Frank M. Reed

5 thoughts on “Victorian Rainwear: How To Make Fabric And Shoes Waterproof

  1. This is such GREAT information. I am hoping to make some cushions for my back porch and maybe for my front porch. Would love to try some of these out as it gets hot and humid and rainy where I live. 🙂 Visiting from Wonderful Wendnesday blog hop.

  2. This is so helpful. I have just bought some lovely stiff striped and checked silks I would love to use for redoing umbrellas and for making rain capes / macs so will need to experiment with your ideas to see how the fabrics react. It is so good to be able to use a fabric you like in a natural fibre instead of a limited range of plasticy fabrics.

  3. Hi Lina,

    I have got to make them yet – I am just recovering old vintage umbrellas as a starting point and will need to do some homework on how to do it. It is a very steep learning curve.

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