Stretching a Canvas

Mounted upon a stretcher, a canvas should be evenly taught and free of wrinkles. Stretching unprimed canvas is generally easier... While working alone is possible, it is easiest to stretch a canvas if two people together follow these steps:

  1. With scissors, cut a piece of canvas measuring about 3 inches larger on all sides than the size of the stretcher

  2. With a staple gun (or tack hammer and tacks), attache the canvas to the center of one of the two longer sides of the stretcher. Apply the staples diagonally to the bar. Stapling to the uppermost edge of the stretcher bar is easier; stapling to the back looks neater.

  3. Turn the entire stretcher 180 degrees.

  4. While one person pulls the canvas taut across the second of the longer sides from the back of the stretcher (using stretching pliers if necessary), the second person staples the canvas at the center.

  5. In sequence, attache the canvas at the centers of the two shorter sides.

  6. Now return to the first of the longer sides and begin attaching the canvas at points approximately three inches apart, working outward in both directions from the center. Maintaind consistent tautness and keep the canvas smooth as you proceed. Work outward approximately 18 inches in both directions, or stopping about six inches from the corner, whichever comes first.

  7. Turn the stretcher 180 degrees and do the same to the second longer side.

  8. Turn and attach the canvas to the shorter sides, again working out from the center.

  9. Return to the first of the longer sides and continue working outward, attaching the canvas.

  10. Attach the canvas to the stretcher bars all the way to the corners. Tuck in the excess canvas at the corners and attach with staples on the back.

[from Robertson and McDaniel, Painting as a Language, pp.22-23]