The first thing you want to do, is to go and get a good quality, white bed sheet. I actually use Egyptian cotton blend at least 240 thread count. If you try to cheat and get a cheaper, poorer quality sheet, you will not like your painting and it will just frustrate you. I have everything from an $8, Wal-Mart, 200 thread count sheet, to a $130, 600 thread count queen size, flat sheet. The cheap one caused me all sorts of problems with pits and little balls coming up on the fabric as I painted. I have found another sheet that works really well that I got at a hotel sale here on Kauai, where the hotel is re-modeling and having a huge inventory sale. I paid $3 for a queen, flat sheet and it is wonderful! It is only a 240 count, but it is Egyptian Cotton and it makes a difference. So, you can either pay the big bucks but know that you are going to get many, many canvases out of it, or go to garage sales looking for high quality sheets…. You need white, good quality to make this work.
The first picture above shows you what I have used for a template to give me the size I need to cut out of the sheet. I had measured the inside of a frame that I had made, and cut a piece of cardboard to fit. I cut around the cardboard, leaving about 2 or more inches on all sides because you are going to be wrapping it around some wood.
Because I keep my sheets in a plastic bag, they are wrinkled, and you don’t want wrinkles on your canvas. You must iron the sheet until it is perfect – do not use starch, but just a water mist to help flatten it out.
When you are finished ironing, you will want to get two boxes like I have in the next picture, and buy some of the small clamps too as you will use these supplies over and over. The smaller of the two boxes will be turned upside down, where you will lay your sheet to put the gesso on it. I use a sponge brush, like I have in the photo, and then put some gesso in a cup with a little water to thin it out. You will put gesso on the sheet taking notice of the size of the canvas, making sure to cover the entire area.
A good way to check to make sure you have gotten enough gesso on the canvas, is to pick it up and look at it in the light. It should be solid with no dark areas (where the gesso isn’t…).
I take the prepared sheet and attach it across the larger box on each side which elevates it off the cardboard surface which is wet with the gesso.
You can either just leave it until it dries, or dry it with a heat gun like I do, making sure to keep the gun moving as to not burn the fabric. I learned that the hard way, so keep it moving back and forth until dry to the touch. I cannot tell you how long it will take to dry if you don’t use a heat gun, because I always use it to dry my canvas after I gesso it. This takes only a few minutes.
While the canvas/sheet cools, I get my wood board prepared by making sure that it is smooth to the touch. I had measured it to fit inside the frame as I had done with the cardboard. You are now probably wondering why we have both a piece of cardboard, and a wood piece the same size. Well, I use the wood over and over again for painting on as the support for the canvas. When I am done with the painting, I take it off of the board and put it on the cardboard to put into the frame – this way, I always have a nice board to use (providing I want this size again, which I often do!). I have tried painting with the cardboard as my backing, and it just doesn’t work. You will end up with lines in your painting from the corrugated surface. Trust me on this one….
I have shown both the front and the back of the frame pictured below, to show how I found the measurements of the wood and the cardboard. You can see that I tried some different stain on the wood on the back of the frame – good place to do this if you make your own frames like I do. The finished product will be covered up with a backing, so nobody will be the wiser….
This next step, you can skip if you like a rougher surface for your canvas. I like my canvases very smooth, so I take some fine grit sandpaper and rub on the gesso’d surface until it is to my liking.
After you get the texture that you like, put the canvas face down and put the board on top, making sure to keep the sides even.
The photo below shows how I have tucked over the material and pulled and stapled it to the board. You don’t need any special tool to do this, just your hands to grab the canvas sheet pulling tightly, and a good stapler. Staple as I have done in the photo.
At this point, I have chosen a photo that I want to do a painting of, and drawn out the outline. When I am doing this, I put the canvas into the frame to see how it is balanced in the frame. See the last two photos below.
That is it! Homemade canvas out of a bed sheet! Have fun!