Updated June 18, 2019
A reader wrote to me with a question. She had found some vintage needlepoint and had taken it to a shop to be stretched and mounted onto stretcher bars. It wasn’t done very tightly and she wondered about the quality of the canvas and if low quality had anything to do with the problems.
Since I work on painted canvases this old all the time, I knew age wasn’t entirely the problem. However, older canvases do have some differences. This is what I told her:
There are many factors that affect the quality of a needlepoint canvas. The three biggest ones are: weave, fiber length, and age. I suspect all three were working in the canvases you brought in.
1. Weave: Interlock canvas is always of lower quality than Mono or Penelope canvas, If you took one piece of each and examined it, you would see that the Interlock has thinner threads and weighed less than the Mono. Even the best quality of Interlock won’t be as high quality as Mono. All Interlock canvas is woven with shorter fibers than Mono canvas and that contributes to its lower quality.
2. Fiber length: The technical term for this in cotton is staple length. In all cotton cloth, the longer the fibers, the higher quality the cloth. If you look at Zweigart Orange Line (their Deluxe Mono) you can see that the threads are thick and smooth. For this canvas they use a fairly long staple cotton.
But there are lower quality mono canvases (though I don’t see them often anymore) which have thinner threads and are lighter in weight. They are also kind of frizzy if you look at the holes, a sure sign of shorter fibers.
3. Age: The sizing that makes canvas stiff softens with age, being stretched, and with stitching. If your canvas was old, or had been stretched before, it will be softer.
However, none of this should have made it impossible to stretch to a workable tightness, it’s just a bit harder to do. I regularly stitch vintage (20+ years) canvas and have no problems. Interlock will not stretch as tight as mono, especially if it is old, but you could mitigate this somewhat by using Evertite stretcher bars, where you can increase the tension.
If a person isn’t willing to stretch the canvas properly (diagonally opposite, starting at the center of each side), you will get a bad result with any canvas, old or new, no matter the quality.