Skip to Content

What Is Canvas Fabric? (The Complete Guide)

What Is Canvas Fabric

Canvas fabric is a durable, versatile material made from cotton, linen, or synthetic fibers like polyester. It gets its name from the canvas sail cloth used on sailing ships hundreds of years ago. Today canvas is commonly used for crafts, upholstery, tents, backpacks, and more.

What Is Canvas Made Of

The term “canvas” can refer to a few different fabric types:

Cotton Canvas

The most popular and widely used type of canvas fabric is cotton canvas. Cotton canvas contains two tightly woven sets of cotton threads, one running vertically and one horizontally. This creates a thick, sturdy fabric perfect for withstanding daily use and wear.

Cotton canvas comes in different weights. Lighter weight canvas works well for craft projects like tote bags and aprons. Medium to heavy weight canvas is great for upholstery, outdoor furniture/cushions, tarps, awnings, and floor cloths. Very thick heavy duty canvas is used for things like tents, backpacks, and industrial applications.

Linen Canvas

Linen canvas is another traditional canvas textile made from woven flax fibers. Linen canvas has some similarities with cotton canvas, but tends to be more expensive with a distinct textured look and feel. Linen canvas is lightweight yet strong, and is popular for clothing, table linens, tapestries, and oil painting.

Polyester Canvas

Polyester canvas utilizes synthetic polyester fibers instead of natural fibers like cotton or linen. Polyester canvas is generally cheaper in price but also less breathable than natural fiber canvas. It is quick-drying and resistant to rot, mildew, and fading. Common uses include tarps, awnings, waterproof equipment covers, and panoramic photography backdrops.

Key Properties and Uses of Canvas Fabric

Key Properties and Uses of Canvas Fabric

What makes canvas so popular for a wide range of applications comes down to its unique properties:

  • Durable – The tight weave makes canvas very dense and long-lasting. It stands up well to daily use and wear.
  • Versatile – Cotton canvas especially can be made in various weights for different purposes, from delicate crafts to industrial-strength materials.
  • Breathable – Natural fiber canvas like cotton and linen have good airflow and breathability. This makes them comfortable for clothing and upholstery.
  • Easy to clean – Canvas repels dust and dirt. It can be washed or wiped clean repeatedly without falling apart.
  • Mold/mildew resistant – Canvas is naturally resistant to mold and mildew growth, which is why it’s good for outdoor furniture, tents, tarps, and awnings.
  • Great base for painting – Canvas has an absorbent, grippy texture that holds acrylic or oil paints well. This has made it the preferred surface for painting canvas art.

Let’s look closer at some of the main uses and applications for canvas fabric:


From tote bags to aprons to pillow covers, light and medium weight cotton canvas is perfect for all types of sewing and craft projects. It’s affordable, comes in lots of colors, and holds up well to repeated use and washing. Canvas is also very easy to sew and cut.

See also  How to Get Playdough Out of Clothes (Ultimate Guide)


Medium to heavyweight cotton canvas works extremely well for upholstering furniture like sofas, chairs, headboards, ottomans, etc. It’s very durable against daily wear and resists pilling. Canvas upholstery looks tidy for years and is easy to clean.

Tents & Outdoor Gear

Thick, sturdy heavy duty cotton canvas helps tents stand up to weather exposure and hold their shape. Canvas backpacks and bags are also tough and reliable for outdoor activities. Polyester canvas is sometimes used for waterproof tent fly sheets or tarps.

Painting Canvas

Primed cotton artist’s canvas with a close weave provides the ideal painting surface for oils or acrylics. Canvas has just the right amount of absorbency and texture for painting. It holds paint well and is easy to transport rolled up.

Sails & Industrial Uses

The thick canvas sail cloth used on old sailing ships inspired the name of this fabric. Today, very dense heavy canvas is useful for industrial covers, tarps, work gear, concrete curing covers, drop cloths for painting, and more. It’s water and abrasion resistant in demanding environments.

Canvas Fabric Types

There are a few key ways that cotton canvas fabrics can be distinguished:

By Weight

Canvas weight is measured in ounces per square yard (oz/sq yd or oz). Heavier canvas is thicker and more durable. Some common canvas weights are:

  • Lightweight – 3 to 7 oz
  • Midweight – 7 to 10 oz
  • Heavyweight – 10 to 16 oz
  • Very heavyweight – 18+ oz

Lighter canvas is suitable for crafts and apparel. Midweight and heavyweight are best for upholstery, bags, outdoor furniture, tents, etc. Very heavyweight canvas is for sails, tarps, industrial uses.

By Thread Count

Thread count refers to the number of threads woven per square inch of fabric. The higher the thread count, the denser and more durable the canvas. Common thread counts are:

  • Low – 80 to 170 threads/in<sup>2</sup>
  • Medium – 200 to 300 threads/in<sup>2</sup>
  • High – Over 300 threads/in<sup>2</sup>

Low thread count works for basic crafts. High thread count is best for upholstery, painting canvas, outdoor gear, etc.

By Weave Style

The two main weave styles for canvas fabric are plain weave and twill weave:

  • Plain weave – Threads alternate over and under evenly for a square grid pattern. More affordable but less durable.
  • Twill weave – Threads alternate over two, under two in a diagonal pattern for extra strength. Twill canvas costs more but lasts longer.

Twill weave canvas is recommended for upholstery, paint canvas, tents, and heavy-duty uses where durability is key.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Canvas

Canvas has many benefits that make it a go-to choice for many different applications:


  • Very durable and long-lasting
  • Maintains structure; resists stretching and sagging
  • Mold/mildew resistant; good for outdoor use
  • Breathable and comfortable for apparel
  • Affordable compared to leather, microfiber, etc.
  • Easy care; machine washable and dryable
  • Can be painted, printed, embroidered, etc.
  • Versatile for wide range of uses


  • Prone to stains/dirt if uncoated
  • Can shrink if dried improperly
  • Not as smooth or supple as suede, leather
  • Vulnerable to UV damage if uncoated
  • Natural fibers less water resistant than synthetic
  • Coated canvas contains PVC/plasticizers

Choosing the right canvas weight and weave can help minimize the disadvantages. Proper care and maintenance makes a big difference as well.

See also  How to Wash Clothes in Bathtub: 11 Steps (With Pictures)

Common Canvas Fabric Finishes

There are a number of treatments and coatings that can be applied to cotton canvas to change its look, feel, and performance:

  • Wax coating – Makes canvas water resistant for outdoor use while maintaining breathability
  • Acrylic coating – Adds a smooth, slightly shiny finish and water/stain resistance
  • Vinyl coating – Gives canvas a leather-like look and makes it super durable
  • Flame retardant – Treatment to meet flammability standards for public/commercial use
  • Antimicrobial – Prevents mold and mildew growth; good for medical settings
  • Oil primed – Prepares canvas for oil painting by preventing the paint from sinking in

Uncoated canvas will retain the most natural look and feel. But coatings can be helpful for specific applications.

How Is Canvas Fabric Made

The main steps to manufacturing canvas fabric include:

  1. Raw material preparation – Cotton bales are processed and spun into yarn. Synthetic fibers like polyester are extruded into filaments.
  2. Yarn preparation – Spun yarns are twisted and wound onto large spools in preparation for weaving.
  3. Warp preparation – The yarn is wound onto a warp beam in the orientation needed for the weaving pattern.
  4. Weaving – The warp beam unspools hundreds of yarns which are interlaced with the weft yarn by the weaving machine.
  5. Inspection – The woven fabric is visually checked for any flaws and tested to ensure it meets quality specifications.
  6. Finishing – The canvas may go through treatments like singeing, calendaring, sanforizing, or coating.
  7. Roll slitting – Large rolls of canvas are cut into smaller rolls of specific widths needed by manufacturers and buyers.

Heavy duty canvas goes through additional steps like warp strengthening and reinforced selvage edges. This gives it the toughness to withstand extreme force.

Weave Type Description Uses
Plain Simple over-under grid pattern Crafts, apparel, paint canvas
Twill Diagonal ribbed pattern, very durable Upholstery, outdoor gear, heavy duty canvas
Duck Heavy, durable plain weave Tents, sails, workwear
Panama Fine, plain weave basketweave Hats, upholstery

Canvas Fabric Care & Cleaning Tips

Caring properly for canvas helps it last longer and look its best:

  • Vacuum regularly using a brush or upholstery attachment to remove surface dust and dirt.
  • Spot clean spills and stains immediately with a damp cloth. Avoid harsh cleaners.
  • Wash in cold water on gentle cycle. Air dry only. Do not place in dryer.
  • Protect outdoor canvas from sun damage with UV inhibiting treatments.
  • Waterproof outdoor canvas gear by re-treating with wax or water repellent spray.
  • Avoid excessive heat. Iron on medium if needed using a cloth barrier.
  • Check for holes, mildew, or damage. Patch and repair issues promptly.
  • Roll up paint canvas tightly for storage. Keep in cool, dry place away from direct sun.

With proper care, high quality cotton canvas can last for many years and maintain its shape, structure, and appearance. It’s a long-lasting fabric that adds beauty and durability to many household items and accessories.

Where to Buy Canvas Fabric

When purchasing canvas, look for these signs of quality construction:

  • Fabric is tightly woven with smooth, sturdy edges that won’t fray.
  • Corners form right angles without bunching or rippling.
  • No irregularities like thin spots, tears, or uneven coloring.
  • Canvas maintains structure without drooping or sagging.
  • Fabric has been pre-shrunk and colorfastness tested.

Here are some excellent places to buy good quality canvas material for your next project:

  • Local fabric and craft stores – Inspect and feel samples before you buy. Purchase rolls, cuts, kits.
  • Specialty online stores – Sites like Joann, Michaels, Hobby Lobby sell canvas fabric. Offer conveniences like custom cuts.
  • Amazon – Search key phrases like “cotton canvas fabric by the yard”. Check seller ratings.
  • Etsy – Handmade canvas plus vintage, reclaimed, and upcycled canvas fabric.
  • Manufacturers & distributors – For bulk canvas purchases, buy wholesale direct from textile companies.
See also  10 Ways to Get Acrylic Paint Out of Clothes

No matter where you source it, look for durable, high-density canvas that suits your specific craft, upholstery, or industrial needs. With proper construction and care, canvas fabric will provide many years of service.


Canvas has earned its reputation as one of the most useful, long-lasting fabrics thanks to its strength, breathability, mold resistance, easy care, and versatility across many applications. Understanding the different types of canvas and best uses helps choose the right canvas weight, weave, and finish for your next project. With proper sewing, construction, and care routines, a canvas item will outlive other fabrics and maintain its good looks. If you keep in mind the advantages, disadvantages, and best practices for canvas, you’ll see why it has been trusted for everything from ship sails to painting masterpieces for hundreds of years.


What is canvas fabric most commonly used for?

The most popular uses of canvas fabric are craft projects like tote bags and upholstery for furniture like sofas and headboards. Its durability and structure also make it ideal for outdoor gear including tents, awnings, and backpacks. Canvas is also the preferred material for artist canvases used for oil or acrylic painting.

Is canvas fabric good for making clothes?

Yes, canvas works well for certain clothing like tops, jackets, pants, hats, and bags. Lightweight canvas is flexible and breathable enough for apparel. The fabric will last a long time without stretching out or pilling. Canvas has a casual, rustic look that fits with outdoor, workwear, and military-inspired styles.

Why is cotton canvas better than polyester canvas?

100% cotton canvas is generally preferred over polyester canvas because cotton is more breathable, comfortable, and better at absorbing sweat and moisture. Cotton canvas is also anti-bacterial, hypoallergenic, and environmentally friendly as a natural plant-based fiber. Polyester canvas is cheaper but more prone to odor retention.

Should canvas be washed before first use?

Pre-washing canvas is recommended to preshrink the material so it holds its shape without future shrinking. Wash in cold water with mild detergent, air dry. This initial wash also removes sizing and finishes from manufacturing for a softer handfeel. Check the canvas bolt end for specific washing guidelines.

Can you put canvas in the dryer?

Avoid putting canvas fabric in the dryer, as heat exposure can cause canvas to shrink excessively. Air dry canvas instead. Lay flat or hang to maintain the structural shape of the canvas. If needed, tumble dry briefly on cool, low heat setting. Taking canvas out of the dryer while still slightly damp minimizes shrinkage issues.

Rate this post