By Erin Murphy
In the midst of working with leather, Dave realized he really digs canvas too. In a 2010 late-night moment of inspiration, he realized there was nothing really amazing out there in canvas. While impressed with Filson’s quality after owning and reviewing various products, he just wasn’t finding a bag attractive to him. He wanted a great, durable, highly-functional canvas bag of the same quality as Filson, but cooler.
Quality begins in the design room, but Dave’s not really a “draw at the side of my bed” kind of designer. How could he make canvas better? He needed to interview the best. What a great excuse to travel!
Dave started his fact-finding binge in early 2011 with his first trip to the Halley Stevenson factory in Scotland. Learned all he could about fabric, particularly heavy cloth. Since 1864, these are some of the very first waxed cotton fabric makers. He interviewed Martin Wigglesworth (link to video on website.) This guy has been in textiles since college, and knows canvas down to the molecular level. (Dave knows because he asked him questions to that degree.)
Dave: “Martin, are you the best in the world at making waxed canvas?”
Martin “I wouldn’t say I’m the best, but I don’t know anyone who does it better.”
Next came researching hardware and metal. That took Dave to Suncor Stainless in Massachusetts, where they make stainless steel 316. This is THE best hardware. Not all stainless is the same, “but if your life depends on it, you want to use this hardware!” Suncor custom-makes all of our stainless hardware.
To find the best, most durable method of stitching, Dave asked who makes stuff out of canvas, and how do they keep water out? Next stop: Kenya, and Rob Flowers, the BEST tent maker in East Africa. For 25 years he’s crafted the highest quality tents for British military and royalty. Dave interviewed him to find out how he made his seams to keep water out. If anyone’s gonna know, it would be Rob Flowers. Didn’t fail him. Great insights into stitching.
Over to New Zealand, the best in the world at sailing, and where the quality of your sail may mean the difference between life and death. Those sails are constantly exposed to the elements for years, so sail makers have learned how to reinforce stitching for the ultimate strength. Dave interviewed a second-generation sail maker. He’s been making sails for 35 years, following in the footsteps of his father, who had been making sails since the 1940s. He explained in depth exactly how they stitch their sails. This proved amazingly helpful to create the right stitching and seams.
That’s when Dave returned to the design room. Starting with simple canvas pieces, he visited Army Surplus stores for old bags and backpacks. He spent months combing through Amazon, Ebay, Google Images, etc. and began searching for parts he liked. Handles, pockets, flap, closures, all those fine details. After having several designs made out of plain canvas, once the look, feel, and functionality were correct, he started adding Old Bull leather to get it to sit right.
Finally he found the best design in the world according to Dave. After years of designing, waiting, coming back with tweaks and changes, April 2015 launched what Dave feels is the highest quality line of canvas goods in the world.
Stay tuned for a documentary on the making of Saddleback’s Waxed Canvas. Don’t know of anyone who does canvas better. Back to what Martin Wigglesworth from Halley Stevenson said, “maybe not the best in the world, but I don’t know anyone who does it better.”