What Is Canvas Fabric?

Canvas is an incredibly durable fabric with myriad uses. The fabric itself dates back to the thirteenth century and remains an integral part of both the fashion and art worlds.


Canvas is a plain-woven fabric known and utilized for its sturdiness. The origin for the word canvas is actually derived from the Latin and Greek words for hemp. The thirteenth-century French words “canevas” and “canevaz” are derivatives of the Latin “cannapaceus.”


Canvas was originally made from hemp but is now predominantly made of cotton. There are two types of canvas, duck canvas and plain canvas. Duck canvas is woven more tightly than plain canvas. Canvas is divided into categories based on its weight, measured in ounces per square yard.

Canvas and Art

Canvas began being used for oil paintings in the early fifteenth century in Germany, sixteenth century in Italy, and seventeenth century throughout the rest of Europe. Canvas at this time was made out of linen and stretched over a wooden frame and primed before painting. The primer prevented the canvas from deteriorating. Cotton canvas became popular later on, but linen is still the canvas of choice among professional artists.

Canvas and Canoes

Waterproof canvas is stretched over wooden canoe bodies to create more durable boats. This method of construction became popular in the late nineteenth century. Maine was the first state to commercially produce canvas and wood canoes.

Other Canvas Uses

Aside from aiding artists and boaters, canvas is used in almost every area of life. Canvas is used to make tents, backpacks, sails, shoes, purses, trampolines, and even signs. Canvas is also a major part of crafts, often used in scrapbooking, needlepoint, and decoupage.