In Part 1, I discussed assembled a custom stretcher frame using prefabricated stretcher bars from the art supply shop. Now, let’s start stretching a custom canvas over those bars.
First, gather your tools together.
Stretching your canvas:
- canvas, unprimed and heavier weight
- fabric scissors
- staple gun with staples to attach canvas
- canvas pliers
You can often buy canvas by the roll or by the yard at your local art supply shop. I only wanted a small amount, so I ordered by the yard, but if you are making several large canvases, it might make more sense to buy a roll. You can’t see the rolls properly above, but the top one is primed, the darker brown one is linen, and the one near the bottom is 12oz unprimed. Beneath that are two 10oz unprimed rolls in half the width of the other rolls.
I decided to use the heavier 12oz unprimed canvas. Unprimed canvas is easier to stretch, and I wanted to try my hand at priming.
This canvas came on the wide 84″ roll, so I only needed one yard. You can see some wrinkles pressed into the canvas, but these will stretch out.
Canvas is usually smoother on one side than the other. Depending on which side you want to paint on, place your canvas on your working surface with the facing side down. Roughly measure the amount of canvas you will need to wrap over the edge and back of the stretcher, and place your stretcher in the corner of your canvas, leaving that margin for folding. Then, cut and tear the canvas along the other two sides. The goal is to have your stretcher sitting on the canvas with enough canvas on each side to wrap around the sides and back of the bars.
It starts with one staple! Place a single staple in the middle of your longest side. There is no tension yet, so just place the canvas up and over the stretcher bar, and staple.
Your second staple is directly across from the first, pulling tightly with your canvas pliers. Third and fourth staples go in the centre of the shorter sides, again pulling tightly with your canvas pliers.
When your first four staples are in place, one in the centre of each side, begin stretching and stapling on one of the longer sides (if you are working with a rectangle), about 2.5″ apart, moving from the centre. Move around your canvas as you work, adding staples diagonally across from each previous staple. You should be pulling as tightly as possible with your pliers, keeping the canvas flat on the edges, and work outwards toward the corners.
Make sure you start on the shorter sides as you progress towards the corners, so you are maintaining tension in all directions as you work.
When you approach the corners, and you feel confident about your current staples, use your scissors to cut the excess canvas from the back of the frame. The canvas should now just cover the back of the stretcher bar.
Now, temporarily fold your corners into place to test the placement of your fold. Your corners should be folded so that the extra bulk appears on the sides of your finished work, and not on the top and bottom of the stretcher frame. Your positioning will depend on the orientation (portrait or landscape) of your painting.
Before I stapled the fold down, I added a few additional staples near and beneath where I knew the fold would be, pulling tightly with the canvas pliers each time. Then, I added three staples to secure the fold itself.
When your folds are stapled securely, you should be able to test your canvas by tapping on the front. Your canvas should sound like a drum, and bounce back to your touch.
You will probably have room to stretch and staple between all your existing staples. Adding those extra staples will help prevent ballooning on the canvas later on. Finally, when everything is good, tap all staples in firmly with a hammer.
Please watch for Part 3, which will describe priming your canvas. In the meantime, here is a Pinterest-friendly preview of this tutorial.