DIY: Stretch Your Own Canvas

Hello everyone!! I had a wonderful half-off-a-single-item coupon for Micheal's last week and I decided to buy a roll of canvas and stretch my own canvases. I thought it would be fun to take you through the process. This is how I stretched my canvases in is really easy and will help you if you have a small art supply budget like I did when I was learning how to paint.

You will need:
1. 2X2 pieces of wood cut to size for the desired canvas frame (if you plan to cut the wood yourself, you will need a skill saw, tape measure, pencil...or just have the guys at Home Depot cut it for you!)
3. Drill and 3" screws
4. Roll of canvas (primed or unprimed...I am using unprimed so I will have to add gesso before I paint on it) Note: If your local art store doesn't sell unprimed canvas by the yard, buy it from an on-line supplier. Alternately, ask your local fabric store if they've got heavy-duty, unbleached calico.
5. Staple gun and staples
6. Gesso if using unprimed canvas
7. Canvas pliers aren't necessary, but they might be helpful.

Step 1. Buy, measure, and cut your wood. Confession: when it comes to using a miter box, I am just I have a much easier technique:

Instead of buying a stretcher bar kit or stretcher bars from an art supply store, I simply purchase 2X2 pieces of wood and cut them myself (okay, I had help...if you don't have someone wonderful to help you operate a skill saw, you could ask the guys at Home Depot to cut them to length before you bring home the wood). When selecting the wood, make sure that you get a good, straight pieces that don't have a lot of knots and chunks cut out of them.

Note: For me, 2X2" is preferable over 1X2" wood because it doesn't warp as easily...I have used 1X2" boards before and had trouble keeping my canvas square after I stretched it...Also, the 2X2 is square on the corners making it easier to get the desired results.

With these particular canvases, I knew that I did not need standard or specific sizes....since I didn't miter the edges, the wood accounts for an extra two inches of canvas on the sides so be sure that you figure in the wood if you are following my method exactly and you want specific sizes of canvas.

2. Attach the wood at the corners with screws. To me, this is much easier than using a miter box and/or a stretcher kit. The screw goes into the wood flush and the canvas will wrap around the edge so no one will ever know the difference. I love the 2" wide wood for my canvas edges, they truly do look different than the 3/4" canvases you buy pre-fabricated. These tend to be a bit heavier than traditional canvas, but I have never had trouble hanging them because of the added weight.

3. Once you have built your frames, you are ready to add the canvas. Little tip: if you are creating a 3X4 foot canvas or larger, you may want to install a beam across the center for added support to keep it from warping. I use a 1X2" board for the center is a little cheaper than a 2X2 and it gets the job done just fine.
4. You can pre-measure the canvas to fit over the frame...but I like to eyeball it....Luckily I had a couple of helpers to assist me when I was rolling the canvas over the frame.
You will want to trim off some extra canvas, but be generous with what you leave, you will want to have plenty to pull and stretch when you start stapling....I am going to find something fun to do with the smaller scraps...maybe a bag or a pillow!!
4. When you have trimmed your canvas down so that it will wrap over the edge of your frame, you are ready to start stapling the canvas in place. This is where the extra hands can be helpful. I was trying to operate the camera so I was grateful for the helpers!

The most important things to remember when attaching your canvas to the stretchers is to work from the middle outwards and in opposites. So, starting in the center on any side, staple the canvas to the back of the stretcher. Put in about three staples, approximately two inches apart. With your first few canvases, you'll probably put in more staples than you need; practice will give you a feel for this. Move to the opposite side, pull the canvas taught, and staple the middle in place. Repeat with the other two edges.

Now staple one edge from the middle to the one side. Remember to pull the canvas as tight as you can - an extra pair of hands or a pair of canvas pliers is useful. Then do the same on the edge that is diagonally opposite. Continue like this until all the edges are in place.

If you're stretching a very large canvas, don't staple all the way to the corner in one go. You'll get better tension by doing it in sections.

5. The corners are my favorite part!! I used to get so frustrated with bumpy corners, but if you fold it carefully enough....and you make sure that it lines up with the straight edge, you can get a really nice corner...make sure you stretch it tightly.

6.  My painting professor also said that if your canvas isn't stretched quite tight enough, you can use a spray mister of water....over the front and back...sometimes that will tighten up the canvas.

7. The final step is to prime your canvas, if you are using unprimed canvas....I basically white wash it with a couple of layers of gesso. I dilute the gesso a little bit with water, brush it on east to west, let it a bit of light sand paper over it...and then brush at least one more (sometimes 2) coat of primer going north to south with my brush strokes....going in a different direction can help you get an even coating.
I hope you enjoy this DIY!! I would love to know if you decide to try this yourself!!


Inkie said...

I really like this DIY! Also very usefull for stretching printed canvasses. Probably a lot cheeper than buying stretched ones too.

AJ said...

Great DIY! You explained everything really well :)

Birds of a feather said...

great DIY hope to make (instead of buy) one soon :)

kate @ undeniable style said...

whoa. this is ambitious. love it!