Substrate Series: Cotton/Linen Canvas

Cotton+Steel is partnering with Colette Patterns for a fun and informative Substrate Series! Learn all about a specific fabric substrate here on the Cotton+Steel blog, then pop over to the Colette Patterns blog to see how it sews up into garments. Yay knowledge!

So what's a substrate? A substrate refers to the type of fabric a design is printed on. This can refer to fiber content (cotton? rayon? silk?) but also involves weight and weave structure.

Today’s featured substrate is canvas.

Canvas is the fabric that carried the ships of explorers across the oceans, brought the anonymous gaze of the Girl With A Pearl Earring through the centuries. It can also make a pretty cute pencil skirt. The word “canvas” actually comes from an old Latin word for cannabis, as early renditions of the textile were woven from hemp fibers. Today, that word can encompass a fairly wide range of fabrics. So, what exactly is canvas?


Canvas is a durable, plain-weave fabric. Its plain weave structure is what differentiates it from other heavy duty fabrics like denim, which are usually twill weave. In a plain weave, the warp and weft threads are set up in a simple criss cross pattern, each alternatively going over and under the other. (To contrast, in a twill weave, threads go over/under two threads, then one; this is staggered from row to row to create the visual diagonal lines we associate with twill.)

 super magnified view!

super magnified view!

Cotton+Steel canvas is much lighter weight than what you would imagine a rugged utilitarian duffle - it’s more of a light home decor weight - and it’s made from a combination of 80% cotton and 20% linen fibers. This blend lends the best qualities of each fiber to the fabric - the cotton makes it firmer and more stable, while the linen offers more texture, drape and a slightly deeper off-white color.

 umbrella made of a canvas from Rashida Coleman-Hale's new collection, Raindrop

umbrella made of a canvas from Rashida Coleman-Hale's new collection, Raindrop

Designing a print for our canvas substrate is a little different than designing a print for plain white cotton. The nubby texture of linen means that the fabric has a slightly uneven surface, which makes it harder for very small, intricate designs to be screen printed - their tiny details can get lost in the texture of the fabric. Cotton+Steel canvas is also unbleached, meaning the warm, natural color of the linen and cotton is preserved. This warmth shows through the ink in the final design, changing the color slightly. Our designers consider all these factors (as they do with every substrate) when deciding which of their designs will be printed on canvas.

If want to see an awesome behind-the-scenes look into how our fabric is manufactured and printed in our Japanese facility, check out this video:

working with our canvas

Cotton+Steel canvas is awesome for projects that call for a bottom weight fabric: skirts, structured dresses, pants, shorts, lightweight jackets. It is also great for totes, backpacks, purses, zipper cases, and any other bag project. You can use it to make throw pillows and even for upholstery!

This Colette Zinnia skirt is stitched up with a canvas from Cotton+Steel’s Black and White 2016 collection. Black and White is a collaborative group of fabrics contributed to by all the designers. This particular print was created by Melody Miller. She painted the design with a wide paint brush and india ink, and then scanned it into the computer and inverted the colors.

Because it’s cotton and linen, Cotton+Steel canvas is perfectly fine to machine wash and tumble dry. It will shrink a little the first time you wash it, so we definitely recommend prewashing. It can really handle some heat when pressing, and it responds beautifully to steam to create crisp, clean hems and seams.

To learn more about sewing and working with our canvas (and to see more photos of that awesome Zinnia skirt) head over to the Colette Patterns blog to see their sister post!