Canvassing 201: preparing the canvas

For the intro to canvassing, complete with an outline of the different canvassing styles, click here.

Finally, it is here: an in-depth canvassing guide! I’m making this guide in the context of a heavy flannel winter jacket, so I decided to use the British style of canvassing. This is the most canvassing you are ever going to do, so I figured it could be useful to start with. The amount of padding makes a stiffer coat that is easier to fit and is more forgiving so ideal for beginners in my opinion.

Now first things first: you should have at this point you have acquired the horsehair canvas, body canvas, and French canvas, along with twill tape. In my Love To Sew interview I said that tape is probably the only item you should not skimp on or avoid for a reason.

The first part you are going to canvas it the floating chest piece (also called plastron) to the body canvas. Horsehair has actual horse hair and is therefore quite prickly, and for that reason domette/flannel is used to cover the horsehair side toward the body.

If your pattern doesn’t come with a plastron piece, you can very easily draft it yourself as follows.

Now use that length to cut a piece of horsehair as shown below: find the middle, and then mark 2.5 cm at either side of the midline. Draw a line and cut along it.

You will now have a funny shaped piece like below. Cut it to shape as described and mark the dart as well.

Close the dart and trim as desired.

Use the plastron as a pattern piece to cut your flannel or domette with no dart and also making sure it’s about 1 cm larger than the horsehair.

At this point you want your place your horsehair on top of the pattern piece of the from to cut out additional areas as follows:

  1. place plastron 1.3 cm from roll line
  2. mark 5 cm from the shoulder line on the plastron
  3. cut at marking above so that the plastron edge is parallel to the shoulder edge
  4. trim canvas flush with the armhole

At this point we want to cut our body canvas, for real! Cutting the body canvas is very easy: take your front pattern piece and cut the body canvas based on that. Make a rounded curve starting from the arm tapering at the waist, and include the darts. Make the darts 2.5 cm longer at both ends, and transfer all markings, especially the roll line.

(Addendum: technically there’s a difference between a three-piece jacket and a two-piece jacket when it comes to cutting the fabric, which I’m not covering here for simplicity. I’m using a two piece jacket here. If your pattern has a side piece, then use the front piece as a model and extend the canvas at the armscye by 5 cm, to the center of the armhole)

Now put the horsehair on the canvas, as you did before, 1.3 cm removed from the roll line. Take your flannel/domette and place it on top of the horsehair, 6 mm from the roll line (now you see why you cut it larger?) as below. You’ll have to trim the domette a bit, so it’s flush with all the edges.

Baste all of the pieces together as indicated in the diagram above and trace a line 6.5 cm below the shoulder and 7.6 cm from the armscye as shown below.

Now you can padstitch the domette+horsehair combo to the canvas, along the line you just drew and down to the edge of the horsehair. Importantly, the padstitching is done on the side that will face the outer fabric, not your body. This is because the padding motion will give the correct shape to the canvas. Also, once you are done padstitching the horsehair, slipstitch the flannel/domette to the canvas.

The important thing in padding is not the length of the stitch, but consistency. Ideally, the diagonal lines should be 1 cm but don’t sweat it and, for the love of Scott, don’t measure your stitches! Make what feels right, just be consistent about it (what in science we call the systematic error, haha!).

Image from Classic Tailoring Techniques by Roberto Cabrera

Here’s a video of me padding to give you an idea.

This concludes the canvas preparation! Next time you’ll learn how to attach the canvas to the jacket body. Exciting!

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