How to Stretch a Canvas for Your Mixed-Media Art

I'm always on the hunt for sales on pre-stretched and primed canvases. I like square canvases with a 1-1/2"-wide sides, and they're hard to come by at my local art supply stores. Unless I buy them online, I'm at the mercy of what's available.

stretch your own gallery canvas for mixed media art
It's easy to stretch your own canvas for
your mixed-media and fiber art.

So I've been looking into stretching my own canvases. For reference, I dug up an article from the November/December 2011 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.

"At some point, just about every mixed-media artist needs a stretched canvas. Some artists like to work directly on a piece of canvas so that they can stitch and alter it, while others prefer starting with a basic white primed and stretched canvas," it says in the article intro.

"Being able to stretch a canvas allows an artist to work on the canvas first (in its flat stage), save money, and to create a canvas in a custom size."

Save money? Create a custom size? I'm in!

Here are the basics of putting together a stretcher bar frame and covering it with canvas to make your very own gallery-wrapped canvas:

Tools: Hammer, tape measure, staple gun with staples, fabric scissors, Canvas Stretching Pliers (optional)

Supplies:
Canvas (unprimed or already painted), stretcher bars (2 each of the length and width of the finished piece)

tools and supplies for stretching canvas
Above: Tools and supplies you'll need. 
Below: Steps 1-6 for how to stretch a canvas. 
canvas stretcher bars
measuring the stretcher bars
stapling the canvas
stapled canvas on stretcher bars
finishing the stretched canvas corners step 1
finishing the stretched canvas corners step 2
finishing the stretched canvas corners step 3

1. Assemble the frame

Stretcher bars usually have a raised edge on 1 or 2 sides. If the bars only have a raised edge on 1 side, make sure to have all the raised-edge sides facing the same direction. This will be the side that touches the back of the canvas. 

The stretchers have interlocking corners. Slip these together to form a right angle. Sometimes the corners can be a little tight. Use a hammer to lightly tap the corners into place.

2. Square the frame

Use the tape measure to measure from corner to corner, diagonally. Then measure the opposite corners.

If the measurements are the same, the frame is square. If the measurements are different, use the hammer to lightly tap the frame into square and measure again to be sure.

3. Trim the canvas

a. Set the frame, raised-edge side down (these stretcher bars have a raised edge on both sides), on the back side of the canvas (or the back of the finished artwork).

b. Cut the excess canvas off, leaving a 2-1⁄2" perimeter around the frame.

4. Begin to stretch

a. Starting along 1 of the longer sides (unless you frame is square, in which case it doesn't matter where you start), fold the canvas to the back and staple it into place.

b. Move to the opposite side of the frame (or rotate the frame). Pull the canvas taut across from the first staple and staple it in place.

c. Repeat this procedure for the 2 short sides so that you have 1 staple in each side.

Stretching variation: When working on a big piece or when a little extra strength is needed, use the canvas stretching pliers to pull the canvas taut.

5. Stapling around

Continue pulling and stapling around the canvas, working back and forth across all 4 sides. Working around the frame in this method keeps the frame square and the canvas as taut as possible. 

Keep stapling until you reach approximately 2" from the corners.

6. Folding the corners

Folding the corners is much like making a bed.

a. Pull the corner over towards the longer of the 2 sides and staple, trying to avoid the miter.

b. Pleat the remaining fabric so that half of it is over the frame and half of it is hanging off the frame.

c. Carefully fold the pleat in so that the half hanging off of the frame is now over the half that is over the frame. Staple in place and repeat with the other 3 corners.

Ta-da! 

I often overlook gems like this canvas-stretching tutorial when I first get my issue. But Cloth Paper Scissors magazine is full of practical instructions and tips on the nuts and bolts of being an artist–as well as offering inspirations and art how-tos.

P.S. Do you use stretched canvases in your artwork? How do you mount your work? Leave a comment below. 

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