What is Canvas?

Mary Elizabeth

Canvas is a plain weave fabric formed from cotton, linen, jute, cotton, and hemp. As the word has come to be used as a generic term for heavy, tightly-woven fabric, it can also be made from polyester. Canvas is heavy and dense and has applications in making tents, sails, tarpaulins, awnings, upholstery, umbrellas, shoe uppers, embossed wall coverings that form a substratum for paint or gilding, and totes. Additionally, it serves as the preferred surface for oil paintings, and is the name for the mesh fabric on which embroidery and needlepoint are done. It also is a type of paper used with inkjet printers.

Artists often use a canvas to create oil paintings.
Artists often use a canvas to create oil paintings.

Canvas Fabric. Canvas is used in applications in which a thick, tough, durable fabric is required. Duck, from the Dutch word doek, which originally referred to a particular linen type used for garments for sailors — for instance, their white trousers — is now used for a selection of canvas, including army duck, awning duck, belting duck, boat duck, flat duck, hose duck, linen duck, number duck, ounce duck, sail duck, shoe duck, tent duck, and others.

Canvas may be used for sailmaking.
Canvas may be used for sailmaking.

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Canvas may be obtained untreated or with either flame-retardant treatment, water-resistant treatment, or both. Besides the name of the special type of fabric, if there is one, and the treatment, canvas is identified by its weight in ounces per square yard and by two grading systems based on the weight of a piece of duck 36 by 22 inches (about 92 by 56 cm). The first system, for fabric weighing less than 19 ounces (about 54 decagrams) per square yard (91.4 square cm), runs from 1 to 12, but the highest three odd numbers are not used anymore, so the numbered duck grades are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, and 12, growing progressively lighter in weight. The sizing for fabric weighing 19 or more ounces per square yard is called naught duck and runs 1/0 to 6/0, with the largest number representing 24 ounces (about 68 decagrams) for the measure of duck.

A canvas may also refer to the mesh fabric used for needlepoint.
A canvas may also refer to the mesh fabric used for needlepoint.

Artist’s Canvas. Cotton, linen, or synthetic fibers are stretched onto wooden frames and used as the support for paintings. It is sometimes called kit-cat canvas. Only loomstate canvas, specially stretched during the weaving process, is used as artist’s canvas.

Canvas may be used to make umbrellas.
Canvas may be used to make umbrellas.

Which type is best for a given purpose will depend on several factors. The importance of archiving will determine the make-up of the canvas, be it linen, cotton, blend, or synthetic. The size of the finished painting will guide the choice of an appropriate weight and fiber. Whether oil or acrylic paint will be used also contributes to the choice of fiber and primer. The kinds of paint application techniques to be used will help determine the best choice for surface texture.

Needlework Canvas. Fiber, gauge, freedom from knots and cuts are some considerations in choosing the best material for needlework. In this case, it is sized by the number of mesh per inch (2.54 cm).

There are two main types of canvas. Mono, or single thread, and double thread, or Penelope. Plain mono, also called even weave, is looser with more give. It has single horizontal and vertical threads. Interlock mono, on the other hand, is more stable because it has two vertical threads that interlock with its single horizontal threads.

Penelope or double thread, has two threads in both directions. The double mesh not only strengthens the material, but also allows stitches of different sizes to be worked. Other specialty types, such as plastic canvas for items requiring stiff reinforcement, are available. In addition, craft projects may call for Aida, or Ada, canvas. Hardanger may be ideal for embroidery, while latch hook canvas may be best for rug-making.

Canvas may be used to make durable outdoor hammocks.
Canvas may be used to make durable outdoor hammocks.

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Discussion Comments


I'm trying to make my own canvas backpack! But I don't know any fabric stores near me that carry canvas fabric. I don't want to buy it online because I'm not sure if that's the canvas I want. What should I do?


Canvas sneakers are the bomb! They are easily machine washable, stylish and go with pretty much anything color-wise. Plus, they seem very, very durable. I have a couple of pairs and plan to get two more!


Can i know about the polyester canvas fabric manufacturing procedure?


It's a leathery substance used for paintings.


What kind of canvas does Louis Vuitton use on their trunks? The fabric seems to be really thick, almost like leather.

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