Framed! When DIY turns NQR

How to recover from a DIY disaster!

I've been on a mission to redecorate one of my Airbnb apartments this week in preparation for an inspection by the Select program photographer. I was tired of the mundane artwork on the walls that I had inherited from the previous owner, and wanted to inject a Melbourne vibe into the space. In my opinion, a property should always speak to its location and environment, so for instance if it's by the seaside, decorate it accordingly, with coastal colours and elements.


This 2 bedroom apartment is close to Melbourne City, so a bit of quirky laneway style was called for. I found some wonderful street art canvases on an online site and decided to buy them and frame them myself. How hard can it be? (Famous last words!). I'm pretty handy with a staple gun, and not afraid to give it a red hot go. I did some research and found that the perfect solution was to buy pre-cut canvas stretcher bars. They come in a variety of standard lengths with mitred corners which you just need to tap together with a rubber mallet. Easy! Then you buy a pair of canvas stretching pliers, stretch & staple the canvas over the frame and Hey Presto, you have a museum-quality canvas artwork ready to hang on your walls.

Well dear reader, that was the dream... the reality was somewhat different. Here is my tale of woe.

I had already purchased the canvas art online from 3 different sellers: One large graffiti-style canvas, a sweet matching set of Hosier Lane images, and a set of 3 stag heads.

The online sites all promised that there was sufficient blank margin around the images to allow them to be stretched over a frame, and gave the image dimensions. I confidently went online to the framing site to order the appropriate lengths of stretcher bars and canvas pliers. So far, so good.

Then the canvases arrived, followed soon after by the stretcher bars. I gleefully set to work, confident that I would have 3 finished lots of art to hang by the afternoon.


First, I tackled the stag heads and soon realised that there was a problem... There was virtually no margin between the top of the image (the antlers) and the edge of the canvas, so wrapping them around a frame would have resulted in a cropped image. How annoying! If I had more time I would have returned them to the supplier, but the pressure was on with the photo-shoot scheduled in a few days. The only option then became to mount them in a picture-frame. Finding a frame to fit those exact dimensions was not easy but after spending a day going to all the frame retailers I could think of, I finally found the perfect match. Tip: Always take a tape-measure with you on these excursions. Most packaged picture frames show dimensions (ie: 30cm x 40cm) but when millimetres matter, you might find that the critical inside measurement of the frame can be up to 2cm out. This was certainly the case on many I measured - many frames were closer to 41cm, which would have left the edge of the canvas exposed - not a good look. I did finally find the perfect fit, so all's well that ended well.

Then... the stretcher bar debacle.

You know when you buy something you need to assemble but you can't for the life of you work it out? (IKEA enthusiasts, you know what I'm talking about!).

When constructing a square or rectangular frame with mitred corners, all of the pieces should have mitred ends you would think, correct? In this case, the sets of bars had one mitred end and the other cut square. For the life of me, I couldn't figure it out, nor could the retailer that I returned them to a few days later. It was like a practical joke. Luckily the retailer was just as perplexed as I was and offered a full refund. Here's a little plug for them - Art Store Online - fantastic, friendly service (but be careful when buying stretcher bars!).

So now I was in a pickle... I had canvases but no frames to stretch them onto, and only a day to come up with a solution before the photographer came - eek!

Time to think outside the square... literally.

First I dealt with the twin Hosier Lane canvases. In the end I thought the quickest solution would be to find blank canvases of the right size and simply stretch them over, which I did. They worked out quite well although it took a bit of running around to find the right sizes.

The print on the canvas did not quite extend around the edges of the frame so I got the paints out and did a touch-up to cover the very obvious white edges. Worked out fine.

Last was the rather challenging large canvas. At 1200 x 900mm, I was never going to find a ready-made canvas to stretch that big boy over, so there was nothing else for it but to build my own frame. It turned out to be so easy that I wondered why I had agonised over the other canvases and not simply built them from scratch too! So here is a little DIY lesson if you want to do the same.

You will need:

  • 18 x 18mm quad pine timber (I bought them in 1.2m lengths and cut them to size).

  • Zinc corner brackets, enough for each joint on the frame

  • Tape measure

  • Hand saw

  • Power drill

  • Staple gun

  • Canvas stretching pliers are handy, but not essential

  1. Start by determining the size for the finished frame. Take the canvas and measure the dimensions of the print. If you want the colour to wrap around the sides of the frame, you will need to take that into account in the measurement. If not, you will have to deal with the edges in some other way. Exposed white edges are not a good look, so you could paint the edges black, which also gives the print a "floating" appearance like a shadow-line.

  2. As my artwork was pretty large, I decided to add a stabiliser bar to the frame so that it wouldn't warp. This is just an extra bar used as a cross-brace within the frame.

  3. Cut the timbers to length (remember to measure twice, cut once!). The pine is pretty soft so this is easily done with a small hand saw.

  1. Next, join it all together. Lay them out on a flat surface in the configuration they need to be in. Place a zinc angle bracket on each junction and screw into place to join the pieces.

  1. Once the frame is made, it is simply a case of stretching the canvas over it and stapling it to the back of the frame. To help you position the frame on the reverse side of the print, mark the corners of the printed design and outline the printed area with a pencil. You should be able to see the outline of the printing if you place it on a light surface or hold the print up to the light and just dot the corner with a pencil. This helps enormously with getting the frame positioning right.

  2. Make sure you place the corners of the frame inside the corner markings on the back of the canvas.

  1. Then staple tack the canvas to the frame in one place in the centre of each side, to anchor the canvas and make sure it is properly aligned before fixing it securely. Nothing worse than doing a thorough job of it, only to find it is crooked and you have to remove 100 staples! Remember when attaching the canvas, that the zinc brackets stick out a bit so you want to have these facing the wall, not the canvas.

  1. Happy? Lock it in! Once you are happy with it, work from the centres out to the corners, stapling along the edges until you are within about 15cm of the corners.

  2. Hold it & fold it. The corners can be a bit tricky so it's worth taking your time. When looking at the canvas from the front, you should have the folded edges facing in a consistent direction. For instance, when viewing the canvas from the side, the top and bottom corners should both be tucked over the top and under the bottom of the frame so the side appears smooth (if that is your preference). Fold the canvas from the corner in towards the centre, then tuck the excess in and under, and fold the rest square ontop and secure with a few staples. Then do the same with the canvas on the other side of the corner, producing a square finish.

  1. To finish off, attach a picture hanging bracket to the centre edge of the print.

So, crisis averted in the end:

I finished framing the new artwork and got it all up on the walls just in the nick of time for the photographer's visit. Nothing like a bit of pressure to get you into problem-solving mode! But I learnt a new skill so it was worth the stress.

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Regards, Veronica

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