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Introduction to Plastic Canvas

Updated on March 17, 2013
Teapot and teacup
Teapot and teacup

What's plastic canvas?

Plastic canvas, or plastic canvas needlework, is a type of sewing that involves stitching various weights of yarn or thread onto various sizes and meshes of sturdy plastic mesh. The most common elements used are worsted weight acrylic yarn, such as Red Heart, a sewing implement such as a blunt ended tapestry needle, and 7-mesh sheets of canvas cut to size. Next, we'll discuss the different materials available.

Materials Needed

As mentioned above, the most commonly used materials are worsted-weight acrylic yarn, a tapestry needle, scissors, and 7-mesh canvas. These are perfect for an adult beginner who wants to try a simple project, such as a box or tissue cover.

Canvas: The mesh size of canvas refers to how many holes there are per inch, and mesh sizes range from 14-mesh (very small, equivalent to aida cloth used in cross-stitching), to 5-mesh (very large, usually requiring 2-3 strands of yarn for coverage, and perfect for small hands.)

Yarn: My personal preference is Red Heart acrylic worsted-weight, but what brand to buy depends on budgeting and personal preference. I mostly make toys, so I need something durable, that won't get fuzzy with repeated use, such as wool or cotton yarn. Acrylic yarn is also durable enough to be washed repeatedly in warm soapy water (by hand! Never in the washing machine or dishwasher, as the mesh will melt!), whereas wool or cotton yarn should be used for projects that will only need occasional dusting. If you decide to make a project with a smaller mesh than 7, use the following mediums for coverage:

10-mesh: sport yarn. Again, acrylic vs. wool or cotton is up to you.

12 and 14-mesh: Cross-stitching floss. Six strands for 12 and two-three for 14.

Scissors: A good pair of scissors off the shelf will cut yarn just fine. For the little ones, Fiskars will work, but they may have to cut the yarn a few times.

Needles: Like yarn, which needle to use is going to come down to personal preference. The eye of the needle needs to be large enough to fold the yarn over the end of the needle, then push into the eye, but not so large that it can't go through the hole easily. For 7-mesh canvas, I use a blunt-end tapestry needle, for 14-mesh, I use a cross-stitch needle.

Please please please don't give a small child a metal sewing needle. There are large plastic ones available for little crafters! They are blunt ended and bright blue so they are easier to find when dropped. And because I'm guilty of this myself, I also offer this warning to adults and children alike: Please use a pincushion rather than holding it with your teeth!Both Wal-Mart and craft stores have pincushions for sale, or you can make your own with a sock and some moss. Put a couple of handfuls of moss in the toe of a sock, push it into a ball at the end, tie it tightly and trim the top. Voila! You now have your very own pincushion.

Common materials used for plastic canvas crafting.
Common materials used for plastic canvas crafting.

Getting Started

For our purposes, I'll assume we're making a project that involves acrylic yarn and 7-mesh canvas. The first thing to do is measure out your yarn. The way I learned, is that the tip of your finger to your elbow is roughly a foot,and for each round (for each time you begin and end stitches) you'll want about a yard of yarn. So, I grab the end of the yarn and measure out two and a half to three feet of yarn, and cut.

Next, thread your needle. Fold about six inches of the end of your yarn over the end of your needle. Then, push the folded bit through the eye. It takes a couple of tries to get it just right, but you'll never feel compelled to buy a needle threader.

To start your line of stitches (we'll start with a line of Continental stitches), pull your yarn into the first hole, leaving 2-3 inches of yarn, holding it down with your non-dominant hand. It will feel awkward, especially on large pieces. The back of the first few stitches will need to go over the end of your yarn to "lock" it in place." I rarely knot the end of the yarn, because the knot can usually be seen from the front of the canvas.

The most common beginner stitch is the Continental, or tent stitch. I'm not sure how it got either name, but the Continental stitch makes a diagonal stitch across the back of the canvas (Versus a half-cross stitch, but we'll get into different stitches in a different Hub), and gives awesome coverage (the bars of canvas don't show through between stitches.)

Start at whichever end is more comfortable for you. I'm right handed so I generally start on the left side of my canvas and work my way across each line right to left. (I find most lefties I know start the other way). Refer to the picture, but the general idea is to keep the back of the stitches diagonal. To do this, if you're going bottom-to-top on the first row, you'll need to go to-to-bottom on the second row, then keep going in the same vein.

When you get down to the last couple of inches of yarn, it's time to end. After completing your last stitch, flip the canvas over, and run your needle behind the last four or five stitches. Trim the end of the yarn. Cut your next piece of yarn and start again!

Starting a line of stitches
Starting a line of stitches
Finished piece done with continental stitches.
Finished piece done with continental stitches.

Next Time...

If you've made it this far into my loquacious Hub, thank you so much! I'm new to this site, and I tend to be wordy, but I hope to share some of my hobbies and crafts with the HubPages community. Next time, I plan on walking through anyone interested in how to dimension and put together a box with a lid.

There are lots and lots of free plastic canvas patterns on the internet if you're feeling adventurous and want to give one a try. Most importantly, have fun!


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    • courdorygirl profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago from Little Rock, AR

      Nancy - I personally just count the holes as I'm cutting, but I've read that you can also mark out on your canvas with a grease pencil, then follow the lines with your scissors. I hope that answers your question!

      Sharon - I skip the holes for the different color and continue on until my yarn is done. Then, when doing the in-between color I go over the backs of the stitches. I hope that helps!

      I apologize for the delay in response, I haven't been online much lately, as I'm trying to get my business off the ground. Hope to have a new Hub up soon.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      When your pattern has one or two stitches of one color, then one or two of another, etc - do you continually keep cutting your yarn and starting again?

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Hi there, great site, what do you find as the best way to count your holes, when using ahole scaler ruler, great job, like your items, thanks so much for your help...nancy

    • Amber Sluiter profile image

      Amber Sluiter 

      4 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      This is very interesting. I didn't realize plastic canvas was still available.

    • courdorygirl profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Little Rock, AR

      Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you! I use a large pair of craft or kitchen scissors. I probably should have mentioned I always buys "soft" canvas. There is a "stiff" canvas also (the colored ones are usually considered stiff) that's a bit tougher to cut through. I've tried using an exacto knife, especially with diagonal edges, but have never liked doing it that way much.

    • profile image

      5 years ago

      How do you cut the canvas? I've tried craft scissors/craft knives, even tried breaking it after bending, nothing works!


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