DIY Stretched canvas

Posted on Sep 25, 2014 in Behind the Art
DIY Stretched canvas

Along with the large canvases I didn’t need. I also bought a bunch of raw canvas. I had the intention of stretching my own canvases in the sizes and dimensions of my choosing. And I did! At least nine of them. This won’t be a real step-by-step tutorial but I’ll give you a general idea.

To stretch canvas you need:

  • canvas (cotton or linen)
  • stretcher bars
  • heavy duty stapler
  • hammer/mallet (optional)
  • scissors
  • gesso

The prep:
First, decide what size your finished canvas will be and get the corresponding stretcher bars. Then you cut a piece of canvas larger than that size — at least 2-3in depending on the thickness of the bars (you need enough material to wrap around the bars and staple on the back).

Slot the stretcher bars together. There’s no need to glue them. You might need a hammer or mallet to nudge them into place.


The stretching:
Next, start wrapping and stapling the canvas to the back of the bars. To get the correct tension start from the center of each side going top > bottom > left > right.

Then work out from the center of each side pulling tightly — still going around top > bottom > left > right. (If you’re using heavy weight canvas you may need special canvas pliers.) This pattern of pulling and stapling will help give even tension around the bars and stop one side from pulling more than another.

For a more in depth explanation Emily Bland has a video on YouTube showing the process. Doing the corners is better shown than told, so definitely check out her video or the numerous others on YouTube.

The surface:
Once the canvas has been stretched can be gessoed. I used regular white acrylic gesso. Acrylic gesso is a good substrate for acrylics and oils. But really fancy oil painters sometimes use traditional gesso (using rabbit-skin glue). You’ll want to do a few coats and possibly sand in between layers depending on the kind of surface you want to paint on.


I already painted one of the nine canvases. Above you can see Alectryon which is based on a Greek myth of that name (and is part of the bird obsession I developed in college).

Have any questions about canvas stretching? Leave them in the comments.