Mending a canvas

Jun 21, 2011 No Comments by

Tears or holes in canvas paintings can be repaired using a number of different techniques and materials. One of the methods involves thread-by-thread reweaving of the torn area, and is described in the following section.

Threads attached to torn edges

The strainer of a painting had been attacked by insects, which had eaten through one of the wooden members. In the process, the woodborers also ate through the canvas on the tacking margin, leaving a small hole in the support. The paint layers were protected by applying a facing using Japanese tissue paper and an aqueous adhesive. Subsequently, the painting was removed from its damaged auxiliary support in order to replace it with a stretcher. This provided the opportunity for repairing the hole in the canvas.

Reweaving of the damaged area

The painting was placed face down and the tacking margin with the hole humidified and weighted for flattening prior to tear repair. Once this had been achieved, the torn and frayed fibres of the damaged area were sized using an animal glue. Loose threads were cut from the tacking margins of the painting – these would be used to reweave the damaged area. An adhesive in powder form commonly used in tear mending was used to attach the loose threads to the torn thread ends around the hole. The adhesive was applied with a hot needle to the join. An overlapping join was employed as this provides greater strength than a butt or end-to-end join. Since each thread in the canvas consisted of three individual strands, attachment of the new threads involved a considerable amount of time.

The hole after mending

Once all new threads had been attached to the edges of the hole, they were rewoven in order to make up for the missing canvas section. This involved the use of two fine tweezers, one in each hand, and a large amount of patience. The entire process would not have been possible without the aid of the stereo-binocular microscope. After weaving, the excess thread ends were cut off and adhered to the respective ends of the damaged threads, thus sealing the hole.


About the author

Bettina is a professional paintings conservator, who is also qualified in art history. She set up the paintings conservation unit for Asiarta Foundation. Her specialist field of knowledge and research is Southeast Asian paintings, particularly art works from Vietnam.
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