A More Detailed Look at How to Stretch Your Canvas

For many artists, there’s nothing quite like a blank canvas. The sight of a pristine canvas sets the mind on fire with creative possibilities. But how do you put your canvas in a position for you to get to work? We’ve touched on how to stretch your canvas briefly before, but we wanted to take an opportunity to get more in-depth on this important subject.

It’s really not that hard to stretch canvas onto a stretcher bar and frame your own canvas paintings. All you need are a few tools and a little bit of confidence. The key is paying close attention so that your finished product is nice, tight, and looks professional. To get started, you’ll need access to a roll of canvas or pre-cut canvas according to the size of your frame, stretcher bars, canvas pliers, a staple gun, ruler, pencils, and scissors. These essential items will help you to successfully frame a canvas painting and properly stretch your canvas over a frame.

Cutting and Stapling

The rule of thumb for measuring your canvas is to add 3 inches of canvas to each side of your stretcher bars (or frame). That would mean that a canvas meant to fit over a 34 x 40 inch stretcher bar will require the actual canvas size to be cut at 40 x 46 inches. This allows for your canvas to stretch around and behind the edges of your stretcher board to be stapled down from the back.

Stretch the Canvas

Lay your canvas flat on a clean surface and center the stretcher bar on your canvas with the beveled edges facing down toward the canvas. The beveled edges allow for the least amount of contact between the wood and the canvas, as the canvas is meant to be stretched tight over the edges and secured along the backside of the stretcher bars.

Wrap one side of the canvas up around the back of the lower stretcher bar and staple it in place at the center point of each side. Because this is the first staple, you won’t need to pull or stretch out the canvas yet. Make sure you staple about a half inch to an inch inward from the edge of the stretcher bars. Check to see that there isn’t any excess canvas hanging over the edge of the wooden bars. That can cause issues when attempting to hang your artwork.

Staple It Down

From here you take your canvas pliers to gently pull up and over the next side of the canvas and staple it to the bar. Try not to use too much force at this point as two sides of your canvas are still not connected to the stretcher bar. The larger your canvas, the more you should reinforce your anchor points at the center point of each side along the stretcher bars. Once each side is stapled down at the center you can start by working your way outward, adding a new staple on each side of the previous staples working your way out toward the edges, and alternating between sides as you add staples. This process allows for the canvas to stretch evenly from the center out and removes any puckering by slowly stretching the canvas around the bars from the center outward.

Folding Corners

As you work your way outward, toward the corners of the canvas and stretcher bars, you’ll need to decide which side will not have the fold of the canvas. Folding your canvas edges over smoothly is much like tucking in your sheets or wrapping a present, you want to give yourself enough room, or slack, to properly fold the canvas edges under itself and staple it down. If you’re not sure how to fold these edges, you can always stop by your local art supply store and speak with an experienced employee who can show you the process, boost your confidence, or even show you some of their pre-stretched canvas.

Stand at the bottom end of the canvas. You should be able to pull the slack material toward you around the bottom corner and tuck it neatly under the edge of the bottom of the stretcher bars. Imagine that you are tucking in a flat sheet on a bed to make hospital corners. You want to wrap the canvas up around the bottom edge. This creates a triangle of fabric that can then be pulled tight and folded up and over the edge of the stretcher bars, tucking all of the slack canvas behind it. From this point, you staple your corner in place (you can use an extra staple to reinforce the fold) and then move on to the next corner and repeat the same folding process.

Start Your Art

Congratulations! You’ve officially stretched your own canvas and successfully framed it! To test your handiwork, you can flip the finished product over and tap the front of the canvas like a drum. If you don’t hear a hollow drum-like sound, then your canvas isn’t tight enough. If you see any puckering or loose areas you’ll need to flip the canvas over and work backwards to pull that spot tight around the edge again. Working from the center of each side outward helps prevent any puckering or looseness on your canvas surface, so take your time while stretching canvas across your board to avoid any time-consuming mistakes. Now that your surface is ready, you just need some art supplies to use with it!

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