How to prepare for the process of stretching canvas?


You can stretch the fabric onto the Canvas yourself and it's actually not very difficult if you follow the guide to stretching canvas. You need a suitable stretcher, a primed canvas, a hammer, a stapler, scissors, a tape measure, or a ruler to make stretcher bars.

Being able to stretch the fabric onto the cloth is just as important as being able to paint, so let's get started.

  • Buy stretcher bars or make one yourself. There are special stretchers with ready-made slats that clamp the cloth. This is the fastest and easiest method for which no guide to stretching is needed. Most artists use stretchers.
  • Buy a canvas that is the right size. The cloth must extend at least 6 inches beyond the stretcher (depending on the width of the frame). The cloth must be larger than the stretcher; otherwise, it will not be possible to pull it correctly. Measure the dimensions of the stretcher, or figure out what size painting you need, and buy a canvas a little larger.
  • Buy a canvas without primer. It is much easier to stretch a raw cloth than a prepared one. Your best bet is to buy an unprimed canvas and apply gesso to it later. Buy any other tools you need. You will need some simple tools for this job. Prepare the following:
  1. Spray bottle with clean water. Wet the back of the canvas that you are pulling over the stretcher. When it dries, it will shrink and stretch tighter.
  2. Gesso. This primer is often used to treat the cloth after it has been stretched. Gesso is a white mixture of plaster, chalk, and other substances sold in many painting supply stores.
  3. Special tongs for stretching the canvas. You can buy them in almost all specialized stores. These tongs have a flat surface that allows you to stretch the canvas without leaving holes in it.
  4. Stapler. Conventional staplers are not suitable for this purpose. To securely hold the cloth in place, you need a special furniture stapler.
  • Cut the cloth. Cut an area 3 inches larger than the frame, taking into account the width of the frame. You will need these extra pieces of cloth to hold onto as you pull the canvas. Having purchased all the necessary tools, cut the canvas of the desired size from the canvas using a special sharp knife.

Guide to stretching a canvas

Guide to stretching a canvas

Step-by-step workflow for stretching a canvas:

  • Determine the dimensions of the stretching canvas on the stretcher. You need to cut the canvas 2 inches apart on each side so that the edges of the canvas wrap well onto the back of the stretcher.
  • Place the canvas on the table, place the stretcher bars on top so that the threads of the canvas are parallel to the stretcher bars. This is very important so that the finished canvas does not deform in the future. The stretcher bars need to be placed on the canvas correctly to avoid accidentally confusing the sides. The sides on the stretcher are not the same; we put it with the sawn side inward. So that it is aesthetically beautiful and there is no touch of the canvas with the stretcher, and cuts of the slats are needed.
  • Dampen the canvas. It is more difficult to stretch the primed canvas onto the stretcher, as the fabric no longer stretches under the glue and primer layer. Therefore, some artists slightly wet the canvas from the backside to make it more elastic and flexible. Do not worry; everything will return to its place after drying, and the fabric will stretch even tighter. In this case, it is advisable to make an additional layer of soil, as micro ruptures in the soil may result when wetted.
  • Fold the edges of the canvas and fix them with a stapler. First, work with the long side, starting from the middle of the stretcher bars. Outline the fastening with 3-4 staples and turn the canvas 180 degrees. Secure the fabric on the opposite side. Make sure that the distance between the staples is no more than 1 inch.
  • Now fasten the canvas to the short slats of the stretcher. It is good to stretch the canvas, fix it step by step with a stapler. Work with the corners of the blade last. This is the most important part of the work, and the appearance of the future picture will depend on it. Gently pull the fabric, fold it up and secure with staples.
  • Inspect the result, tap the staples with a hammer, add more fasteners if necessary. Turn the canvas right side up and check the quality of the work.

What you should pay special attention to:

  • the tension should be uniform;
  • folds and creases of the canvas are unacceptable;
  • when tapping with your fingers, you should feel the drum surface.

If the stretching canvas is loosely stretched, there are sags or other flaws, don't worry, all the adjustments are in our hands. We have to be patient, remove the staples and redo the work where there is a need. Every artist knows that under the weight of paints, there is a colossal load on the canvas. This means that it will stretch even more.

If you have to make a stretching canvas for drawing a large size, then it is difficult to do without special pliers. These can be purchased at art stores.

Until the canvas is fully stretched, the nails are not fully hammered.

Additional important tips on stretching perfect canvas

Stages in canvas gluing

Pay attention to some important details that will help you stretch the cloth perfectly.

  • Center the frame. Lay the fabric down on a work surface and place the frame on top. Try to flatten the fabric as much as possible. The fibers of the canvas should be parallel and perpendicular to the rails of the frame. If they lie at an angle, the frame will deform, and the edges will curl upward.
  • Stretch the fabric along the long side first. Take the long side closest to you and tuck it inward. Use three staples to secure the canvas to the frame from the inside (that is, you need to wrap the frame with cloth and secure it from the inside). At the edges of the canvas, you do not need to fix it yet; you will do this later.
  • Rotate the cloth with stretcher bars or go around the work surface on the other side and do the same with the second side. Stretch the cloth tightly, wrap the frame around it, and secure with three staples. You need to fix the canvas from the middle to the edges. Do not start at the edges; otherwise, the cloth will warp and sag.
  • Dampen the cloth. Lightly dampen the canvas if necessary. If you're stretching an untreated canvas, you can spray it with water to tighten it when dry. After securing the long sides of the cloth, slightly dampen the back of the canvas.
  • Stretch the short sides. Take the unsecured side, pull the cloth tightly, tuck it under the frame, and secure it with two brackets to the frame. Do the same for the second side.
  • Stretch the edges of the fabric. You need to go back to the side you started stretching the fabric on and secure the edges. Pull and clamp with a brace. Take your time and try to pull the fabric evenly.
  • Insert the staples near the corners. You can insert staples near the corners and then also between the center and the corner. Continue working until you have about 4 inches of loose cloth from the corners.

Fold and secure the corners. Tuck one corner, pull tight so that there are no waves anywhere. Hold the cloth firmly. This is the final touch and the most important. It is necessary to do everything so that the cloth is flat and tightly stretched.

  • Make a diagonal cut. Sometimes it is helpful to make a small cut diagonally to help the cloth stretch better and lay neatly in the corners. The corners should look even, so trim the cloth if necessary.
  • Finish the canvas. Run a hammer through all the brackets so that they fit snugly against the frame. There should be no sharp protruding edges anywhere. If you think you need to add a few more staples, do so.

Stretcher bars are divided into two types: modular and ready-made. Ready-made can be bought immediately in the store, and the modular will still have to be assembled. Finished ones are best used for small paintings.

The main advantage of the modular stretcher is that if the fabric sags, it can be tightened using the wedges. This will be very useful for most paintings.

Stages in canvas gluing  

It is difficult to paint a picture on unprepared material, and most importantly, not practical because the paints will be absorbed through the holes in the interweaving of the threads. In addition, paints on non-primed canvas tend to crack and shed over time. Therefore, the next stage is gluing it.

Why glue the stretching canvas? Firstly, sizing makes the fabric base stable; secondly, it protects the canvas from passing the binder from paints and soil to its backside. In addition, after gluing, the canvas acquires an elastic, durable film. The primer is better applied to the glued canvas, the gluing prevents the oil from being pulled out of the paints. This means that it increases the durability of the painting and prevents paint fading. Did you know that more than one painted canvas has suffered from improper gluing and primer?

You can buy the gluing or do it yourself. Sizing in the art store is a paste made from natural resins and glue that is water-soluble. As a rule, store-bought ready-made glues contain special substances that prevent the growth of mold and mildew on the canvas. This is also very important since the fabric can suffer from mold over the years if, for example, the room has high humidity.

It is easy and simple to work with it. A wide brush or trowel, table, or other horizontal surface is required to apply the sizing to the canvas:

- Apply a thin layer of paste with a spatula or brush without pushing it through the fabric. 

- Dry for 3-6 hours. 

- Repeat one more layer if necessary. In any case, the jar says how many times to apply the sizing.

For gluing with cloth, many artists themselves cooked wood glue or fish (sturgeon) and casein glue. It is a very time-consuming and time-consuming process. Moreover, this glue is applied only once and in a thin, even layer.  

Today, many artists use edible gelatin for sizing. To do this, fill the gelatin package with water to be completely covered, mix and leave for a couple of hours. After the gelatin has swollen, pour boiling water in the same proportion.

It is applied with a spatula, so it turns out exactly. Dry for a day, and make a second sizing. There are holes on a poorly glued canvas (not glued pores of the fabric). Therefore, to determine the gluing quality, look at the canvas through the light; if it is translucent, glue it again.


  • How to insert wedges into canvas correctly?

To evenly stretch the canvas, tap the wedges on parallel slats, not just two wedges at one corner. It is not necessary to hit the wedges strongly, only as needed.

  • How to align the canvas?

To straighten the primed canvas, you need to take a wet cloth or sponge, moisten only the creases themselves, and then thoroughly evaporate the water with an iron.

  • Why does the canvas sag?

The canvas may sag due to changes in the storage conditions of the painting. Sudden temperature changes, dry air, and sudden change and storage in a humid room can all lead to sagging.

  • How to stretch and prime the canvas?

First, they are afixed with temporary nails in the corners of the stretcher. Then stretch and secure the canvas in the middle of the short sides and the long ones. After that, the fabric is alternately pulled and fixed from the middle of the sides to their corners. Until the canvas is fully stretched, the nails are not fully hammered.

  • What are the ways of stretching canvas?

Start pulling on one side by placing one bracket in the middle. After that, turn the canvas to the opposite side, stretch the canvas and secure it with a staple. Repeat this until all the work is done.

  • Is it difficult to pull the canvas yourself?

No, using the guide to stretching with a detailed description of each step, anyone can stretch the canvas.

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