Covered in Canvas

I was beyond excited when I saw that Ron had listed Carhartt canvas in some 20 (20!!) colors on the Cali Fabrics site.  If you aren’t familiar with the brand, Carhartt is known for high-quality, premium-yet-affordable workwear in sturdy fabrics like denim and duck (aka, canvas). You may have seen their recent feature in Threads magazine, with a tutorial for the Detroit cuff. I knew this would be fantastic quality canvas and Cali Fabrics has it at a great price and it’s 69” wide!

So, the fabric: the description online is very accurate. It is a 12 oz. heavyweight but it has a softer hand than you would expect – it isn’t stiff.  I washed it in cold water and tumble dried on low – this fabric really responds to a hot steamy iron especially when it is just a bit damp.  I recommend serging or pinking the edges pre-wash because it will fray a bit. The color didn’t fade or bleed at all and was very saturated and vibrant.  There are a lot of colors to choose from, and since some of the shades are subtle in their variation you might want to order a swatch.

If you’re not as excited about heavyweight canvas as I am, or aren’t sure what you can do with this awesome fabric, I made a few different projects this month to show off its potential! I ordered 2 yards of the black, 2 yards of the empire blue and a yard of the bright red.  First up, the black canvas. When I first heard Cali Fabrics was carrying Carhartt canvas I thought “I’m making Carhartt pants!” I don’t know about you but I love a man in Carhartt pants. These pants are one of their iconic garments, and Cali Fabrics is selling the same fabric and shades, so you can make your own.  The plan was to make some geologist field pants for Tim using one of my TNT patterns, KwikSew 3504.  I used a 100/16 needle, adjusted my tension as needed, used a 3.0 mm stitch length where I would usually use 2.5 mm stitch, and I took my time, especially when sewing thru multiple layers of fabric.  I should have left these a little roomier than I usually do, since it is a heavier fabric, so I made a note for next time (and there will be a next time because I already bought about 6-7 yards in rust, tan, and a sage green). I even offered to put in the leg-hammer loop, but apparently that isn’t practical for hiking with rock hammers.

Next up – the empire blue.  The color is great, it works as a neutral despite being blue.  I had been wanting a casual, oversized/boyfriend army jacket. Something in a solid color that I could use as a (wait for it) canvas (!!) for my patches and pins.  I searched in vain for the right pattern, and eventually I found something on Etsy.  Just look at these two:


I sewed view B, I cut a size M but ended up taking it in around the waist and shortening the sleeves.  This fabric was a perfect choice for this kind of garment.  It even turns out a pretty sharp corner.  I serged all of my seam allowances and pressed them open (although I wish I’d topstitched them and next time I will) and drafted a facing instead of lining it – but it would be amazing lined in a faux shearling or something similarly cozy.  I experimented with snaps, but 2 layers of this canvas was just too much for my hand held snap tool, so I just sewed on some metal buttons to the pockets.  I just added extra pin flair and I love it!


Finally – a bag. The Desmond roll-top backpack by Taylor Tailor, which I’ve made before and which is specifically designed for heavyweight canvas.  This or any duffel bag pattern would be a great project for this canvas, especially if you have doubts about using it in a garment, since they’re intended for sturdy fabrics. And there are so many gorgeous colors to choose from (I’m already trying to justify the need for a second backpack in green).  I am a big fan of this pattern and highly recommend it – they also sell fantastic hardware kits.  Since this fabric is extra wide, I could make the entire bag out of 1 yard of the red using a small piece of leftover black for the lining.


Here it is, in action!! At San Francisco’s cat café, Kit Tea (this cat approves):

At Cali Fabrics brick-and-mortar home, Fabric Outlet:



Tips for sewing heavyweight canvas:

Choose your pattern carefully. Don’t try to force this into a garment or project that you know deep down is wrong.  We’ve all made this mistake, but this is probably not the fabric with which to get real experimental.

Keep finishes simple and avoid anything that adds extra bulk. For example, I serged instead of flat-felling.

Use a 100/16 needle.  I even changed my needle halfway thru each project.

Take your time and adjust your stitch length and tension as necessary. Experiment on some scraps.

Use two hands – sometimes you need to muscle your fabric along, like when going thru several layers, and it helps to use your left hand to gently pull.  I also swear a lot but I’m not sure if that helps or just makes me feel better.

I think each of these projects was a success and I’m very happy with how they turned out. I hope you have a newfound passion for Carhartt canvas and feel inspired to find a project that suits this great fabric!

Leslie lives in the SF Bay Area where she hangs out at cat cafes when she isn’t sewing and blogging at

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5 thoughts on “Covered in Canvas”

  1. Thank you for all the advice you offer here and your bag! Gorgeous! I haven’t ventured into the world of making bags but I find myself dreaming more and more about that – seeing you bag was so inspiring – red with black straps really set off the bags lines.

    1. Bags can be a nice change of pace. You don’t have to worry about fit, just construction!

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