Practical | Canvas Stretching with Dean Tercel

Where did you learn to stretch canvases?

Rumour has it that I was trained in the ‘Way of the Canvas’ at a Tibetan monastery, becoming the only Australasian Grand Master of the ‘Golden Lotus Monkey Grip’.  Actually, when I started working at Studio Art Supplies about 12 years ago I was thrown into the canvas stretching deep-end with no experience and a modicum of training. S.A.S. had a nascent system, which I have nurtured and developed while stretching over twenty thousand canvases.

What is the strangest, or hardest, thing someone has asked you make?

Among the many strange requests for stretching are tea-towels, of which I have stretched several as well as patterned bed linen and curtains. One of the most awkward to stretch was a vinyl print as the vinyl has almost no stretch whatsoever. Then there was the 3.9m by 1.9m canvases that had to be lent against the upstairs railing, over which I lent to stretch them and they had to be picked up and turned, by myself alone, for each side to be stapled.

A lot of people learn to stretch with the canvas face down, why do you choose to stand it up?

Stretching canvas over a frame lying face down is a fairly traditional way of stretching that is still taught, but it is inefficient. Using the pliers like a lever can damage the wooden frame, especially cedar, and there is a greater likely-hood of ripping the canvas as you force it forward in an action that requires a lot of effort for any result. Stretching with the frame standing up-right maximises the pliers’ natural grip and downward motion giving you better control over pressure applied and tension – you use your energy more efficiently as the technique does most of the work for you.

What is the main differences in stretching cotton and linen canvases?

Canvas is a somewhat generic term for woven fabric, usually consisting of a cross weave – length of the canvas roll (warp) and across the width (weft). An exception is denim which is a twill (diagonal weave). Cotton canvas comes from the bloom of the cotton flower. Linen comes from the fibres of the flax plant. Cotton threads are more flexible than linen threads, making cotton easier to stretch. However linen threads are longer and stronger giving linen canvas greater strength than cotton canvas and the reputation for greater longevity. For me this is a definite appeal, but more important to me is the aesthetic consideration – linen’s surface is, in my opinion, far more interesting than cotton, as the threads are less uniform because of the mix of line (finer threads) and tow (coarser threads). This leads to surface variety and lovely little ‘bumps’ (slubs).

Dean Tercel

With thanks to Studio Art Supplies.