Canvas is woven with a single weft yarn over a double warp and has a slightly ribbed texture. Traditionally made from coarse cotton and linen yarns, the fabric was used for tents and boat sails and later became popular in workwear.
The name canvas originates from ‘cannabis’, the Latin word for ‘hemp’, from which earlier canvas-like fabrics were woven. A durable and tear-resistant fabric with considerable strength, usually of unbleached cotton or linen, canvas was traditionally used for utilitarian items such as tents and boat sails and became popular in workwear, for shoes and for bags and packs in the post-war era.
Canvas is sometimes used interchangeably with cotton duck – from the Dutch word ‘doek’, meaning ‘linen canvas’ – which is a similar but more heavyweight fabric made from coarser yarns and, like canvas, traditionally used in sails and sailor’s clothing.
Plainly woven with a single weft yarn over a double warp (horizontal and vertical, respectively), canvas has a slightly ribbed textured surface. If the fabric becomes wet, the fibres will swell and fill any gaps in the firm weave, making it naturally resistant to water.
During the Renaissance period, Italian artists began replacing wooden panels with Venetian sailcloth and, stretched onto a wooden frame, canvas remains the most common support medium for oil painting.