How to use waste canvas

Here’s a step by step guide to using waste canvas for sewing a cross stitch design onto a garment or any close-weave fabric. I was asked to make a personalised cross stitch Christmas tree ornament for a friend’s baby. In this article I will show how I did it. 

Before we go any further, I will mention that you can buy the threads and waste canvas you need for a project like this from my web shop, see the menu on the right, or click here

Noah’s Christmas Tree Ornament

Waste canvas is a fabric grid, like aida, which we use to cross stitch onto garments and fabrics which don’t have a clear grid pattern. The waste fabric is temporary, and is removed after stitching. The fibres are held together by a starchy glue, which softens when wet. When your design is finished, you wet the waste canvas, and pull the threads out one by one.

Here’s what to do…

Gather your materials
Gather your materials

I will be using dark green cotton, 14hpi* waste canvas and an embroidery hoop. You don’t necessarily need to use the hoop, I use one if the work is big enough, I find it makes it easier to handle. Make sure you are using enough waste canvas to cover your design, count up the holes on the chart or measure. Use enough waste canvas to leave at least a one inch/2.5 cm border around the work.

*14hpi refers to the size of the grid pattern, it means there are 14 holes per inch. An inch is around 2.5cm.

Pin the waste canvas to the fabric
Pin and tack the waste fabric to your main fabric.

If you are cross stitching your design onto a garment you will need to be very careful with positioning, on a piece of fabric like this, it’s less of an issue. However, in both cases you need to be careful to line up your waste canvas with the grain of the fabric. If you don’t, your design may not lay nice and flat, and could look wonky. This is tricky to see from the front of the fabric, generally I put in one careful row of tacking following a line of holes in the waste canvas, then turn the work over to see if it runs along the grain. I sometimes have to do this more than once.

Is it straight? Look at the back. A good reason for using contrasting thread to tack.

Once I am satisfied it’s straight enough  – and it can take more than one attempt – I go ahead and complete the tacking, making sure to cover the whole area. I usually start with the diagonals.

Once the tacking’s done, I put it in the hoop.

Now I am ready to sew. I have used quite a lot more waste canvas than I need for my design, partly because I tend to over estimate to “be on the safe side”, and partly so that it’s big enough for the corners to be caught down by the hoop.

While sewing take care not to split the waste canvas threads with your needle. Split and trapped threads will be really hard to pull out later. The same goes for your tacking stitches. For this reason I really keep three-quarter stitches to a minimum when I am creating my design, using mainly whole cross stitches only. I find it very hard to create a neat three-quarter stitch using waste canvas. When sewing using waste canvas I use a sharp hand-sewing needle, and not the size 26/28 tapestry needle I normally use for cross stitch.

fast forward to…

The stitching is done

I wasn’t kidding when I said I used too much waste canvas! You really don’t need to use this much.

The next thing to do is trim away the excess, making sure you leave enough to grab with your tweezers. Then wet the waste canvas. You can do this by simply running your work under a cold tap, or by immersing it in clean, cold water. If you are stitching onto a garment you can keep most of it dry by just holding the part you are working on under the tap.

Waste canvas wetted and ready to be removed

Give it a few moments for the starchy glue to melt and then pull the threads out one by one with a pair of tweezers. When there is a lot of stitching this can be tricky – pull firmly but slowly, and hold your fabric down flat with the other hand to stop it stretching and warping as you pull.

Use a firm, slow, gentle pulling action

Some time and lots of careful tweezer action later…

All threads pulled
All waste canvas pulled out, ready to be pressed and made into a Christmas tree ornament

And here’s the finished ornament


Have a look in my web-shop for PDF cross stitch charts to download, and stitch them wherever you like! 



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