Sewing canvas conjures up visions of camp chairs, carry bags and the great outdoors. Rough and ready, you might think. The average sewer may wonder if learning how to sew canvas is a similar experience. A rough, tough ride while your machine drives over some pretty hectic seams and sewing hazards. You may even be wondering if you need a 4x4 type of sewing machine to attempt sewing canvas. This article will go through all the tips and tricks you need to sew canvas successfully.
Sewing Canvas Tutorial
What is Canvas Fabric?
Canvas fabric is a heavy-weight, strong fabric generally made in cotton or a cotton blend. It has a plain weave and can be used around the home for tote bags, cushion covers, kids' play tents, belts, backpacks, or even curtains.
Fortunately, with some advice and a bit of practice, you will be able to venture down the road of sewing canvas. Like any road trip, you need to check a few things first.
Best Tools for Sewing Canvas
Before you start sewing, just check you have the right tools and equipment. Most important are the canvas thread and needles.
- Needle size: Size 90/14, 16/100, or 110/18 universal or denim needles (jeans needles) are best. A topstitch needle may also be used. The heavier the canvas fabric, the heavier the machine sewing needle you will use.
- Thread: Heavy duty thread is needed to sew canvas.
- Presser foot: This may need adjusting to accommodate the thicker material. Use a walking foot or an all-purpose foot. A Teflon foot can be good for canvas fabrics with a sticky print on it.
- Sharp scissors or rotary cutting knives are good tools for cutting canvas.
- Pins or clips.
What Thread Should I Use for Sewing Canvas?
The best thread to sew canvas is a heavy-duty thread, upholstery thread, topstitch thread, polyester, cotton-wrapped polyester, or 100% cotton thread.
Check the bobbin will handle the thicker thread, and consider marine thread for the outside, as it won’t succumb to wind and sun damage so easily. If your bobbin can't take the heavy thread you are using on top, you will need to use a thinner thread for it. This is usually fine with some tension adjustments.
These thicker threads may require you to adjust the normal sewing machine tension so do a test sew on some scrap first.
Can I Sew Canvas on a Regular Sewing Machine?
When sewing canvas fabric, you can just use your regular home sewing machine if it is just an occasional occurrence.
If you want to sew this fabric regularly, then you should purchase a heavy duty sewing machine with a metal interior or, alternatively, a professional machine.
Singer brand of sewing machines makes a heavy duty machine that is designed to sew canvas and includes several decorative stitches that you can use. There are several models of their heavy duty sewing machine, including the 4411, HD6805C, and the 6705. These vary in the number of extra functions. All are a distinctive grey color with red highlights.
How to Sew Canvas, Step by Step Instructions
Here is how to sew canvas with a basic sewing machine.
Step 1 - How to Cut Canvas
Where possible, always prewash your canvas to prevent shrinkage after your sewing. If your final item will not be washed, for example, if you are making a bag, then prewashing is not as important.
It is a good idea to peg or use weights to secure the fabric when cutting canvas. If the canvas slips or is very thick, you may want to cut each piece individually. If this is so, you may need to flip your pattern pieces to make sure you get a left and right or back and front side of everything.
If the article requires some interfacing, then it is advisable to cut the interfacing to fit exactly into the garment, removing any excess from the seam line so that the interfacing is not part of the seam and therefore reducing bulk.
For canvas fabric that frays excessively, increase the size of the seam allowance and press strips of fusible interfacing along the edges.
Step 2 - Sewing Canvas Seams
Before sewing your final canvas item, take a scrap of fabric and test all the machine settings and seams you will use.
How to pin canvas
Pins may not easily go into canvas to hold pieces together. Instead, use quilting clips or even paper clips. A dot of fabric glue is also useful to hold seams temporarily and to stop the fabric moving while sewing.
What are the best settings for sewing canvas?
For most canvas sewing projects, you will just need a long straight stitch to sew through the thicker layers. Canvas is a thick fabric, so you can reduce the pressure on your machine foot. This will enable the canvas fabric to feed through more easily.
If your sewing machine has a slow-speed function, then switch it over before sewing. Canvas is best sewn at a very slow speed. Be especially careful when sewing over intersecting seams. You may even need to get across it by simply turning the hand wheel.
What is the best stitch length for sewing canvas?
When using a sewing machine, set your stitch length between 3.0 – 3.5 is best, but as with any new experience, always try out the stitch and sewing machine tension on a scrap of the fabric first.
Do I need a walking foot for sewing canvas?
A walking foot lifts as it sews so that the layers of canvas feed through evenly. For thin canvas, this is not essential, but for thicker canvas, you will find this presser foot invaluable.
Best seams for sewing canvas
There are three seams that suit canvas, and depending on the amount of outdoor exposure and the article sewn, you may want to choose one of these three seams. Test a scrap first, as you may need to adjust the bobbin tension settings.
- The overlapping seam: This is a simple basic flat seam where the two right sides are put together and sewn on the wrong side. It is not fully water-resistant, and the threads of the seam are exposed to UV rays. However, it is simple and does not use any extra seam width. You can use a straight stitch or a wide zig-zag which will partially seal the edges.
- The semi-flat felled seam: This seam is popular with professional canvas workers. It provides a pro, clean finished look on the outside. The seam is stitched together and then stitched a second time to flatten it. It is water-resistant, and only one stitch line is seen on the outside. The raw edges are not neatened, but it does have a neat finish on the outside and is not too bulky.
- Full flat-felled seam: This version of the basic seam leaves no raw edges as they are turned in. The flat felled seam gives a finished edge on both sides. It offers 100% fabric strength, and it is nearly 100% waterproof. It does take a bit of extra fabric before overlapping the edges to finish the seam. Trim away any excess fabric to eliminate bunching or large bulky seams.
Starting and stopping canvas seams
If your machine does not like backstitching at the beginning or end of canvas seams, then consider using a lockstitch. This stitches several times in the same spot or a very short stitch length. You can also just stitch at the regular stitch length and knot the ends.
Sewing Canvas Hems
- Single hem: Turn up the fabric using double-sided tape to complete the hem and machine stitch down. You can trim the edge using a hot knife. Simple, flat, and neat. Read about sewing single hems.
- Webbing: Cut and trim as before but sew in some webbing if your hem is going to support fasteners or poppers. This will add strength.
- Rolled edge: Roll the edge of the canvas up and neaten on the edge. Use the rolled hem for your neatened edge and turn up and stitch down. Use double-sided tape to secure the hem before you stitch.
- Double hem: Fold once and then a second time using the double-sided tape to secure. Stitch the top and bottom sides of the hem, and the strength of the canvas will provide extra thickness for poppers or fasteners. Read about double fold hems.
Step 3 - Finishing Sewing Canvas
The final stages of the sewing journey lead you to the finish line. How will you finish off sewing canvas neatly? There are several options depending on the item that is being made and its purpose.
Finishing Seams on Canvas
Layers of canvas may need to be graded. This means cutting back the seams in layers so that the seam is not too bulky.
Canvas seams can be finished with a wide zig-zag stitch. Don't use your serger as you will likely do some damage. Alternatives are using pinking shears, or adding some fray stop solution.
Canvas can be ironed after sewing with the highest setting if it is made from pure cotton. Use a water spray to remove any wrinkles while ironing. As you will be using a hot iron, ensure a pressing cloth is placed between your iron and the fabric to prevent scorch marks.
Fasteners for Canvas
Consideration should also be given to fasteners. Will the end process just be a neat hem, or will the finished edge have to support poppers, clasps, hoops, or any other type of finishing fastener?
Snap buttons and Velcro are generally the best fasteners for canvas as they are easy to sew and extremely durable.
Cleaning your machine after sewing canvas
Canvas can leave a lot of lint, so always clean your machine afterward. Pay special attention to the bobbin area.
Sewing Canvas FAQs
Can I hand sew canvas? How to sew canvas by hand
Yes, you can definitely hand-sew canvas. The best stitch to use for hand-sewing canvas is a small backstitch or running stitch for your seams. The smaller your stitch length, the stronger your seam will be.
Heavy canvas may need the holes punched first with a sewing awl. You will want to use a metal thimble to protect your fingertips as it can be hard to pass the needle through a thick canvas.
The best sewing needle to use for hand sewing canvas is an upholstery hand needle or hand denim needle. Jewelry pliers may be used for sewing canvas by hand to get the needle through the stiff canvas.
What is the best stitch for sewing canvas?
If you are using a basic sewing machine to sew canvas, then the best stitch is a simple straight stitch. You can finish the fraying edges with a wide zig-zag stitch since it is best not to use your serger.
What kind of sewing machine to use for canvas?
Light to medium weight canvas can be sewn with a regular sewing machine designed for home use. You may need to use s flat seam type to reduce bulk. For heavy weight canvas, you will need an industrial sewing machine. It can also be sewn by hand.
Does canvas fabric fray?
Canvas fabric is prone to fraying. How much depends on the density of the weave. Tightly woven canvas fabric will fray much less. You can finish the edges of canvas fabric with a wide zig-zag stitch or press fusible interfacing in strips along the edges. A stop fray solution or clear glue can also minimize fraying.
How to store canvas
Canvas wrinkles easily, so it is best to store it either rolled or still on the bolt. This will prevent heavy wrinkles that would form if it was folded and make sewing canvas easier for next time.
What weight of thread should I use to sew canvas?
You will need a heavy duty thread that matches the weight of the canvas. Consider using a size 40 heavy thread that has been strengthened. Upholstery thread, jeans thread, and wool thread can also be used.
Canvas Projects to Sew
Canvas is durable for all kinds of sewing projects. Here are a couple of patterns that you can use canvas as your fabric.
Fabric Basket in Canvas
Light to medium canvas can be used to make these fabric baskets for beginners. Using canvas means you can make larger baskets that will not fall down.
Canvas Tote Pattern
Use canvas for the outside of this tote. Toes are the ideal canvas sewing project for beginners. Use a thinner lining fabric. Learn how to sew a tote with this easy tutorial.
Sewing Canvas - In Conclusion
Always check the suitability of the fabric before purchase and test a fabric sample to ensure your fabric will be able to provide the necessary strength and endurance for any trims.
Now you would have covered all your checkpoints. Hopefully, you are ready to rev those engines and head off confidently onto the road of sewing canvas construction.
SEWING DIFFERENT KINDS OF FABRIC
- CHIFFON – Sewing Chiffon
- BATIK – What is Batik
- CANVAS – Sewing Canvas
- COTTON – Sewing Cotton
- DENIM – Sewing Denim
- FELT – Sewing Felt
- FUR – Sewing Fur
- KNITS – How to Sew Stretch Fabric
- INTERFACING – Types of Interfacing
- LACE – How to Sew Lace
- LEATHER – Sewing Leather
- RAYON – Sewing Rayon
- SHEER – Sewing Sheer Fabrics
- SILK – How to Sew Silk
- THICK – Sewing Thick Fabrics
- VELVET Sewing Velvet
- WOOL – Sewing Wool