Monday, October 01, 2012

Easy Burlap Art for the Play Room -- A Sort-of How-to

The empty space above the nursery shelf has been irking me for some time. So has the 16x20 in-need-of-an-overhaul canvas that I salvaged from a yard sale a few months back. As it turns out, in this case two wrongs actually made a right! Linen, burlap, muslin, and a few vintage graphics have dressed up the nursery and emptied our garage of one more piece of "junk."

Here's how:

  • Old, junky canvas (okay, the old/junky part is optional) -- mine was 16x20
  • A piece of background fabric slightly larger than your canvas 
  • Four pieces of burlap, each roughly 1/4 the size of your canvas (so about 8x10 in my case)
  • Four graphics ( is a great resource -- you can find the wagon here and the other toys here)
  • Freezer paper
  • 8 one-inch strips of muslin OR pre-made 1/2" single fold bias tape OR 1/2" ribbon/twill tape/etc. You'll need 4 times the length of your canvas and 4 times the width, plus an extra 2 feet for wrapping over the edges. If you're using a 16x20 canvas, that comes out to 4 2/3 yards. 
  • Fabric glue 
  • 16 upholstery tacks
  • a few scrap pieces of cardboard
  • Picture hangers (or 2 upholstery tacks and some picture hanging wire, if you're lazy like me.)

  • Printer
  • Staple gun with staples
  • Iron and bias tape maker (if you're using muslin to make your own bias tape)

1. Start with a canvas of any size. Mine was 16" by 20".  

The original canvas in all of its fabric paint glory -- with a gash on the right
side, to boot.

2. Lay the canvas on your fabric and trim around the edge, leaving several inches for overlap.

Depending on what fabric you plan to cover your canvas with (and the condition of your canvas), you may need a base layer of fabric. I was originally going to cover my canvas with burlap, so I definitely needed a "lining" for that. 

The underside of this fabric is a neutral brown

3. Staple your fabric to the back of the canvas, using plenty of staples. I found that it was good to staple one long edge first, since I was able to keep the grain of the fabric straight; then I stapled the opposite side, pulling the fabric taut. I'm not the one to give instructions on doing corners, since I usually just fiddle around until I get a sharp corner! But there are plenty of internet sources for that if you need one. Repeat with your second layer of fabric (if you have one) -- my second layer of fabric was cream linen salvaged from a hand-me-down skirt. Trim your fabric close to the edge of the wood frame.

Why was this picture taken outside? Let's just say the staple gun is loud,
and I have a "NEVER wake the toddler up from his nap" policy.

4. Print your graphics onto your burlap. Here's the tutorial I used: Domestically Speaking -- Burlap Laundry Sign. I saved my graphics to the computer, opened them with paint, and then copied them into a Microsoft Word Document (I set the page size to 8x10, landscape orientation, and 1.75" margins). When I pasted the images, they automatically resized to fit the Word page, so I knew they would all come out sized proportionally. Hopefully that makes sense -- I would highly recommend test printing your graphics on plain paper to make sure they're the right size.

Note: I mirrored my scooter image, so that I'd have two toys facing right and two toys facing left. I just did that in Word after I pasted it in.

5. Make your bias tape strips -- actually, I didn't cut my fabric on the bias, since I didn't want it to stretch! I would have probably used twill tape instead of single-fold bias, if I'd had any on hand in the right color. 

6. Cut your trim (bias tape, ribbon, whatever) into 8 strips. 4 should be the length of your canvas (plus enough to wrap around the edges and staple to the back), and 4 should be the width of your canvas (again, with extra for overhang).

7. Trim your burlap pieces to the right size -- I wanted about an inch of border along the edges and between the pieces, so my final burlap sizes were about 6 1/2" by 8 1/2"

8. Lay out your images on your canvas. Affix with fabric glue or an adhesive method of your choice (okay, I used double-stick tape strips cut in half. Please don't tell on me...). Allow to dry, making sure that your images are square and flat (no bubbles, please!). Burlap is kind of a pain because the loose weave makes it kind of "stretchy."

9. Weave your trim strips over the edges of your images. This is just like making a lattice-top pie! If your strip goes over one piece, it will go under the next piece. Hopefully the image below will be enough explanation.

10. Glue your trim strips down, pulling taut at the edges and keeping them "level". Make sure they cover the edges of your burlap, and keep the same size border around the outer edge. Allow to dry. 

(Confession: I used thin strips of wonder-under, which adhered beautifully to my bias tape, but was only partly successful on the burlap/linen. It turned out fine, but I think I'd use glue in the future)

11. Turn your canvas upside down and staple the trim pieces down to the wooden frame, pulling taut. Almost done!

12. Take your upholstery tacks and insert them wherever your trim intersects. They'll hold nicely around the edge because they'll be stuck in the frame, but the center tacks are just going through fabric and canvas. I used two scraps of cardboard in the back to give them a little extra hold -- you could always use a dab of glue to make them more secure.

11. I majorly cheated for the hanger, because I was way too impatient to wait for a trip to Lowes to buy picture hangers (which is really a sad reflection on me, considering that our Lowes is about 5 minutes away. *hem*). So I used two leftover upholstery tacks and a piece of picture hanging wire from one of those cheap dollar store nail kits. I put the tacks in part-way, wrapped the wire around several times, and then pushed the tacks all the way in. Voila! The canvas is so light that I'm not at all concerned that the wire/tack combination will be a problem, but follow your own type-A compulsion to do it the *right* way if you feel so led.

Not pretty, but certainly functional

12. Now hang your creation on the wall, and admire your vintage crafty goodness! Remember, I did warn you that this was a sort-of how-to. But hopefully there will enough in the way of helpful tips or ideas should you decide to try one for yourself.


  1. Shannon it's so charming! Lovely and vintage...and darling there above the little stuffed animals. :) And, I think I'd be tempted to be lazy about the hanger for it as well.


  2. Very cute! Great job. ;-)

  3. This is lovely! I'm a little confused though... how do you get the graphics onto the burlap after you've resized, etc on the computer?


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