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How to stretch canvas like a framer

Stretching canvas properly is the next best thing to having super powers. There are some pretty sneaky tricks of the trade that I am going to be sharing with you, but I need to start with a bit of a disclaimer: I learnt these tricks while working at a framer. I've been doing it for years and so need to stress that these techniques are best performed by a professional framer, especially if you are stretching canvas that is high value, poor quality or delicate. THIS IS TRICKY STUFF!! But I'll tell you what I know anyway because we go way back, right?

The tools you need:

- Stretcher bars

- Staple gun

- Hammer

- Flat head skrew driver (the smaller the better)

- Canvas stretching clamp

- Framers backing tape

- Scissors

- Canvas

Stretcher bars (can be bought individually from your local art store.) I personally always get the heavy duty stuff. This wears better, is more durable and feels like better value when handling the paiting. The price difference is worth it. Stretcher bars bought from art stores are measured in inches and anything over 40" will require a support bar. The sales assistant will be aware of this and will supply you with the matching bar. The support bar stops the outside stretcher bars from bowing inwards as you stretch the canvas around the outside, which keeps the frame of the picture square. So DON'T IGNORE THE SUPPORT BAR, if you need one, get it. You're welcome. Stretcher bars generally all slot together the same way, so if it's not joining, you are doing it wrong. Re-assess which way your bar is facing and try again. It's meant to work seamlessly - can't blame the tools in this situation :P

Staple guns not only have a particular cool factor to them, but they are going to keep your world in tact. You will use the staple gun and the clamp the most with this task. Make sure you get a good staple gun. Go to your local hardware store and spend $50 on one... or more... what ever works for your budget, but a working staple gun is going to determine whether this project is worth even considering.

Hammer will be used for getting the stretcher bar's corners to join as tight as possible, which will help make it a perfect right angle.

Flat head screw driver is used to pry the staples out of the bars once you have gunned them in - you will have to do this to remove the staples if the stretch in the canvas has gone off center or wavy.

Stretching clamp - Along with the staple gun, this tool will be your best friend. These can generally only be bought from a framer supply store. I bought mine online from Metropolitan Framers and it was delivered within a couple days. Price of this tool is around $50.

Framers Backing tape is also bought through a framer supply store. This is used to tidy up the back of the stretched canvas and protects the staples so they won't go rusty with time.

Scissors to cut the canvas.

Canvas for the clear reason of the entire project. Please do yourself a favor and buy a heavy weight canvas, such as 12oz roll or heavier. This is because the thinner the canvas the more likely (more like the certainty) it is that it will rip as you stretch it. A 10m roll of canvas of a medium to high quality canvas will cost over $350. You don't have to buy the whole roll! Art stores will always have a roll of canvas open available per meter. When buying your canvas per meter, allow yourself around 8cm extra canvas on either side of the size of the stretcher bars. for example, if you are stretching a canvas around bars that are 30" x 30", get canvas cut to at least 32" x 32" (i'd go 33" to be safe). You need the canvas to wrap all the way around the sides of the bars, and if your stretcher bars are 4cm deep and 4cm wide, the canvas needs to wrap around 8cm of wood in order to be stapled securely at the back of the stretcher. I usually allow at least 3 inches excess canvas and then trim the edges after I have finished stretching.

The Process

Are you ready?

Once you have joined the stretcher bars and stapled the corners with at lease 3 staples in each corner to secure it, follow this order of stretching and stapling the canvas to the stretcher:

As you stretched the fabric, the pulling from side to side will cause "wave" like stretch wrinkle in the canvas. This is OK because it means you are stretching it enough. Remember, you want the finished stretch to be as tight as the skin on a drum!

The trick is not to do one side at a time, but distribute the stapling evenly just like how the numbers in the image above illustrate.

To tell whether you have stretched the canvas evenly at the end of your adventure is whether or not it will be seamless and tight along the edges of the stretcher bars (face side). If there are wrinkles on the face of the canvas, you will need to use the flat head screw driver and remove all the staples and start again. HOWEVER - If you have stretched the canvas really tight, and there are creases and/or waves along the edges of the face of the canvas, there is a way that could save it. Spray the back of the canvas evenly with clean water and allow it to dry overnight. If this doesn't work then i'm afraid you will have to start again :(

So that's all folks... Hopefully it made sense...

Thanks for reading!!! I'd love to hear your thoughts, or if you have any questions please don't hesitate to send me a message at

xx lots of love

Carla Grace

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