How to Stretch a Canvas

Easy Step by Step to stretching a canvas for a painting, with detailed photos as a guide (though I suggest reading the text as well). Note: once in a while I'll write a reason WHY you do something (which makes the directions look longer). I'll put these parts in bold italics so you can skip over them if your in a rush, or read them if your interested!

Pair of scissors
Staple gun
Stretching pliers
optional: gardening gloves to protect hands from friction, splinters, and insubordinate staples

Step 1:
If working on floor, cover with paper or tarp to protect canvas from getting dirty. Lay down canvas and place stretcher bars over it, beveled (inwardly slanted) side DOWN, flat side of wood UP.

Step 2:
Measure enough canvas all around the frame to fold over JUST to the inner edge of the bar. Any more will be a waste and be harder to grip when you want to place in staples.

Step 3:
Remove excess canvas by making a straight cut a couple of inches into the canvas.

Hold onto each side and tear in short increments. Because of the weaving of the canvas (I'm using cotton, just to let you know) the tear will be in a straight line without you even having to guide it!

Make sure the fabric is an even length on each side before you start putting in staples.

Step 4:
Find the middle of one of the bars and pull the canvas taught. Place in two staples. Go to the opposite parallel bar and pull until the canvas starts to crease in the middle. This shows you that the canvas is being stretched between the previous stapled area and the one you are stapling now. Staple it in place with two staples.

Do the same for the adjacent bars so that the crease in the middle of the canvas disappears. Instead you'll now see creases at the four corners of the frame (see image left)

Pull each canvas corner lightly until the creases disappear, then fold each flap over the wooden bars corner and staple it in place ONCE. You will be removing this staple later. This will keep the canvas from stapling unevenly as you go along.

Here's where it should look like at this point. You've done the hard part, so keep on going!

Step 5:
Using the stretching pliers, grab hold of the edge of the canvas flap (as shown left) with the jutting clamp side towards the inside and the smooth side towards you.

Pull the canvas away from yourself until you see a tight edge form on the edge of the wooden bar. IF THE AREA NEXT TO YOU STARTS TO WRINKLE AT THE STAPLES, YOUR PULLING TOO HARD, MAKING THE TENSION UNEVEN.

Staple as long as the mouth of the pliers is. For me that was three staples. Do this on both sides equidistant from the previous staples.

Keep on shifting from one bar to its parallel opposite bar so that you spread the tensions evenly as you stretch. If not you'll end up with a lopsided canvas!

TIP: You can keep three finger lengths between each set of staples. It holds the canvas properly without being a pain in the neck to pull out when you want to reuse the stretcher.
A lot of people dread this part, but its really easy to grasp as long as its explained properly. Here's my try!

Think about which way you want the corners to fold. Whether you want to make a landscape or portrait oriented painting, the corner flaps should fold from the top bar and bottom bar towards the middle, and not be from the side bars. This helps with tension (don't ask me why).

Finish stapling the sides of the frame that the corner flap will fold towards (see image) up until three fingerlengths away from the end.

On the adjacent bar, leave around twelve finger lengths of canvas unstapled.

Pull out the corner staple.

Step 7:
Take the small unstapled piece of the side bar and pull inward until the edge is sharply seen. Put a finger or staple to hold it in place.

Pull the under side of the canvas along the thickness of the wooden bar until its equally taught as the previous spot. Hold it with your finger.

Fold down the first piece of the canvas until it shows a smooth corner. Take your time, this may take some readjusting, just don't stress! Staple it down once.

Fold over the second piece of the flap and pull tight until smooth. Staple it with two to three staples.

Yes! You did it!

Finish stapling the rest of the canvas down. Go to the opposite side and repeat, then to the other two remaining corners.
Step 8: Congratulate yourself!
You've done it! All that's left to do it lift up the canvas and admire its drum-like smoothness. DON'T WORRY IF IT FEELS LOOSE. THE MORE YOU DO THIS THE BETTER YOU'LL GET!


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