How to Stretch Your Own Canvas (And Why You Should Definitely DIY It)

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Let's be honest: You don't need to stretch your own canvas anymore. You don't need to prime your own canvas . You don't even need to paint your own painting.

No, no, kidding! You do need to paint your own painting. But stretching and priming are optional, since now you can buy a pre-stretched, pre-primed canvas in virtually any size.

Still, there's nothing quite like the feeling of DIY'ing it. Not to mention that if you paint a lot, buying the materials in bulk and doing the stretching and priming yourself is so much more affordable.

Stretching your own canvas is actually pretty easy if you follow these steps! More of a visual learner? We have a video tutorial that shows you how to stretch your own canvas as well.

What You Need

  • Unprimed canvas
  • 2 equal-length pairs of wooden stretcher bars (available at most arts and crafts stores)
  • Staple gun and plenty of staples (T50 or the equivalent work well)
  • Fabric scissors
  • Canvas pliers (optional; available at most arts and craft stores)
  • T-square or carpenter’s square (available at arts and crafts stores and hardware stores)
  • A flat, clean surface to work on

Instructions

1. Assemble Your Stretchers

The first rule: Make sure they're square and snug. Use your carpenter’s square or a T-square to square them just right. If they're too tight to assemble with only your hands, you can lightly sand the tabs (not too much — you want them to stay together) or brace them against the wall and tap them together with a rubber mallet.

The stretcher bars shown above have an outer “lip” on both sides that will keep the stretched canvas suspended away from the wood. Some stretchers only have a lip on one side, so remember to assemble them with the lips facing the same direction.

2. Cut the Canvas

Place your assembled stretcher frame on the canvas (lip-side down if your stretchers have a lip on only one side). Try to orient the edges of your stretchers so they're square with the weave of the fabric. Cut your canvas, leaving enough room on all sides for the canvas to fold over the edge of the stretchers and get stapled on the back.

3. Fold and Staple

 
Fold the canvas over and put your first staple in the center of one side of the stretcher frame. It helps to place the staples at an angle to the weave of the canvas, so they won’t tear through the weave when the stretched canvas is at full tension.

Note: The canvas may still look wrinkled at this point, so you could iron it first if you want, but the wrinkles should disappear once it gets stretched to full tension.

4. Staple Each Side

Rotate your stretcher frame 180 degrees. Pull the canvas taut and place a staple on the opposite side from the first staple.

Do the same for the sides, rotating and pulling the canvas tight each time.

5. Add More Staples

Add staples to each side of the initial staple, pulling tightly across the frame and away from the innermost staple.

6. Maintain Tension

Continue working from the inside staple out, rotating as you go to keep consistent tension on all sides, until your staples are about two inches from the corners. Your canvas should already be nice and taut, except in the corners.

7. Secure the Corners

To fold over the corners, first pinch and pull a bit of canvas from each corner and fold it tightly against the frame at a 45-degree angle.

Then, while holding your first fold down with one hand, pinch and fold the excess fabric so it lines up along the edge of the frame. Now staple it down.

Do the same for all four corners, and you'll have a tightly stretched, wrinkle-free canvas that should spring back when you thump it with your finger.

If you still see wrinkles or the tension isn't high enough, you may have to remove staples with a flat-head screwdriver (starting from the outside in) and re-staple. If you find you have too much canvas hanging over the edge of your stretchers, you can cut it off with scissors.

Also, if you can’t get the tension you want in your canvas just by pulling with your fingers, you can use the canvas pliers to hold your canvas taut against the frame while you staple.

Hot tip: Using the pliers is also easier on your knuckles. This is not a no-pain-no-gain situation. Save those hands of yours for the exciting job you're about to do as soon as you prime the canvas: painting your own spectacular artwork.

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