How to Sew Boat Canvas by Hand

The sound of sewing canvas can be quite frightening and intimidating. The fabric is heavy and relatively thick. What tool do you need? Is there a needle that can handle canvas? What thread should you use? Most significantly, can you ever sew canvas by hand? Yes, it is, however, a more tiresome task when compared to regular fabric.

You know you’d enjoy some shade on your boat. Why not try to make one for yourself? Get a roll of canvas fabric and get your fingers to some work. The process is easy to follow, and I am here to walk with you through every step of the way. From the blank fabric to some nice boat top with well-finished edges.

How to Sew Boat Canvas by Hand?

To begin sewing your boat canvas, ensure you have a fabric covering your whole boat. Besides, leave the excess fabric for seams and edges. You’ll use straight stitches for the entire project, so there is no need to worry about zigzag patterns. You must do a lot of practice before the actual project, as it requires a lot of skills to go through multiple layers of thick fabric.

Select the Right Boat Canvas Before Sewing

Your boat has canvas everywhere you look. Your Bimini top, steering station, and cockpit curtains are all canvas. At some point, they will need replacement or repair. Here is what to look out for when you go to buy canvas:

1. Fabrics

There is a variety of fabric from which to choose. These include:

  1. Sunbrella: Its advantages include holding color, resisting shrinking, and stretching, and it cleans relatively easily. It resists ultraviolet light and comes in a variety of colors. However, it is not entirely waterproof and is less abrasion resistant when compared to other materials.
  2. Stamoid: It is waterproof, abrasion-resistant, and cleans easily. Also, it is resistant to UV light and comes in a variety of colors. It is, however, not colorfast.
  3. SeaMark: This is 100 percent waterproof, resists abrasion, and cleans easily. It is, however, bulkier than other types of boat canvas.

2. Color

Some colors are more likely to fade than others from ultraviolet rays. These include red, burgundy, yellow, and orange.

Prepare Tools and Hardware for Boat Canvas

After you have selected the preferred canvas, you now need to collect the tools you’ll need for the job. Canvas is a heavy material and, therefore, demands more hand strength when sewing by hand. Consequently, it would require that you have the right sewing needles and threads so that you don’t go too hard on your fingers.

1. Thread

A robust thread is more suited for this purpose than a regular thread. The most recommended one is the V-69 sail-maker’s thread. It resists the effect of UV rays, saltwater, and mildew. It is also abrasion-resistant and comes in a colossal spool that holds slightly over 3600 feet. You could also use cotton wrapped polyester or upholstery thread.

2. Needle

You are going to need a thick needle for thick fabric. The 18-inch needle will serve you well for up to 6-ounce materials. Even so, you may want to buy extra needles as you may end up breaking a few as you sharpen your skills. Other needles that you can use are the jeans needle and the universal woven needle. When you are adding topstitching or decorative stitching to your canvas, use a topstitch needle and a topstitch thread for a neater finish.

3. Shears

To prevent your fabric from unraveling when cutting it, you’ll need a sharp pair of pinking shears to do the job.

4. Chalk

Pencil marks last for a very long time on the fabric, and they do not look pleasant. Buy white chalk instead that you will use to mark your fabric.

5. Seamstick basting tape

Canvas, being a thick material, makes pushing sewing pins into it very difficult. Basting tape will significantly help you with this. It holds thick fabrics in place. The drawback to this is that it could make the needle sticky. If this happens, clean with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol.

6. Stitch reaper

This tool comes in handy when you need to remove some stitches.

Steps to Sewing Boat Canvas by Hand

Step 1: Cutting the Canvas

Secure the canvas before cutting by using weights or pegs. If the fabric is too thick, cut one piece at a time. When you do this, you’ll also have to flip your pattern pieces to ensure you get opposite sides of everything, i.e., left and right and back and front side.

Step 2: Sewing Canvas

Use your 18-inch sewing needle with strong thread to sew through the canvas. Ensure that you wear a metallic thimble to protect your thumb as you push the needle through the thick fabric. Pull the needle from the other side of the canvas fabric using jewelry pliers.

While choosing a seam for your canvas, consider the type of fabric and the amount of exposure to UV rays. The seams that you can use for canvas are:

Overlapping Seam

It is a flat seam. The right sides are placed together and sewn on the wrong side. The process of making it is quite simple, and you don’t require extra seam width. This option, however, is not entirely water-resistant, and the threads remain exposed. You could use a wide zigzag stitch or straight stitch to seal them partially.

Semi-Flat Felled Seam

This seam is stitched together and repeated a second time to flatten the seam. It gives a professional look on the outside and is not surprisingly popular among skilled canvas workers. Only one stitch will be visible on the outside. The main advantage of this seam is that it is water-resistant.

Full Flat-Felled Seam

This seam leaves no raw edges. Therefore both sides have finished edges. It has excellent strength and is completely waterproof. It requires extra fabric to overlap the edges, avoid bulky seams, and cut off any excess canvas.

Step 3: Finishing

The hems you can use for your canvas include:

Single Hem

Use a double-sided tape to turn up the fabric, stitch down, and then trim the edge.


If your hem is supporting fasteners, sew in the webbing to add strength to the hem.

Rolled Edge

Roll up the edge of the fabric and neaten it. Turn it and secure with double-sided tape, then stitch it down.

Double Hem

Fold the edge twice and stitch both the top and the bottom sides. Since canvas is a strong fabric, a double fold will have enough strength to hold fasteners.

And you are done! If you are not using your canvas immediately, you may want to store it well until you need to use it.

Canvas is a heavy fabric. That makes it difficult to fold for storage. It is rolled instead, and this comes with the advantage of preventing fold lines and creases. It could be problematic to iron them out later on, and well, isn’t prevention better than cure?

However, spray your fabric lightly with water or press with a damp cloth if it comes to that. Set the iron to cotton/linen and press the iron firmly to the canvas.

Can a Standard Sewing Machine Sew Canvas?

If you are sewing canvas occasionally, then you can use your sewing machine without overworking it. However, if it is regular and for commercial purposes, your sewing machine may not serve you well. It would be best if you instead get yourself a heavy-duty sewing machine, preferably with a metal interior. Another option would be a professional machine for sewing canvas.

Can You Make Punch Needle Stitches on Canvas?

No. Punch needle stitches require a specific fabric to achieve the right tension to allow for the stitches to be made. With canvas, that cannot be achieved; hence punch needling on canvas is just not possible. The material often used for punch needling is monk’s cloth, which is 100% cotton.



I'm Jessica Flores, a professional fashion designer and an expert seamstress. Crafting has always been a deep-seated passion of mine, one that has flourished and evolved over the years. I've dedicated considerable time to both studying and practicing in the realm of fashion and sewing, amassing a wealth of experience and skills. It brings me great joy to share these insights and experiences with you all, hoping to inspire and foster a similar passion for the art of sewing.

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