I used to make a ton of plastic canvas cross stitch items. Despite the fact I haven’t done so in a while I still get a lot of questions on how it can be used effectively. I’ve been itching to make some more anyway, so I figured I’d take this opportunity to make a little bit of a tutorial! There’s quite a lot you can make with plastic canvas, really. I can’t possibly cover them all, but I’ll try.
I’ve written a similar tutorial for this before over on CrossStitch.Live, but this one will be going into much more detail than that old one.
The importance of fabric count
The first thing we should discuss is ‘count’. If you’re not familiar, this is a number used to identify the size of stitches on fabric and plastic canvas alike. Whether you’re in the US or overseas it is typically translated as stitches per inch.
So 10 count is 10 stitches per inch, and so forth.
You can kind of see the comparison here. On the right is one of my bow hairclips using 2 strands on 14 count plastic canvas.
To the left is a very sweet shy guy my partner made in secret as a gift for me. Since he didn’t ask me anything, he ended up with 10 count canvas from the store, a poorly generated pattern from a free converter online, and he used 6 strands of thread. The 6 strands of thread ended up working pretty well for 10 count, so that’s good. You can see some missing stitches and some that face different ways, but not bad for a beginner! xD
Regardless, you can see the difference in size of each stitch between the two sizes of canvas. You can make a design smaller or larger just by changing fabric count.
Where to buy plastic canvas
Sadly, there’s not any real go-to places for plastic canvas. Your craft store will probably have some, but chances are it will be 10 count or lower. You can certainly cross stitch on this, using more strands or even yarn. But your design will turn out larger than you may have expected.
The most common size you’ll probably see in the cross stitch community is 14 count. Aka, 14 stitches an inch. This is very rarely found in stores, if ever. For this we take to the internet.
My go-to for this is Amazon. Mainly because you can usually find a listing for a 12 pack of plastic canvas, and I like to buy them in bulk. (I told you I used to make a ton…) The downside of this is that the listings and prices are constantly changing. You’ll also want to pay attention as to whether the listing is for clear canvas, or white canvas. Most seem to prefer clear, but white can definitely have its uses.
For more stable prices (and not supporting Amazon…) I found a few options for you. I haven’t purchased plastic canvas from them myself, but it’s Darice brand canvas and what I usually buy.
- 123Stitch (Ships to most countries at a reasonable rate)
- EverythingCrossStitch (Ships to most, but higher shipping)
- Herrschners (US/CA)
- Lakeside Needlecraft (UK)
- Enchanted Needle (UK)
- Cross Stitch Corner (DE)
- OzStitch (AU)
- Etsy – There’s lots of different shops that carry it, and many are kind of overpriced, so shop around a bit first.
…you get the idea. Just have a look around at your local (online) stores and see if they carry it!
Coverage – How many strands to use?
Another super common question, but it doesn’t really have an answer. This one’s pretty subjective, and only you can answer that for yourself by experimenting. I’ve tried stitching with a number of different strands. I prefer 2 strands myself, but some feel that too much of the canvas shows through.
I’ll be using 310 for my tests, as that’s the thread that is most commonly complained about regarding coverage. And I used white plastic canvas for max contrast, so you can easily see what is covered and what isn’t.
While I’ve demonstrated what each strand count looks like, keep in mind you may not enjoy the feel of stitching with higher thread counts. At 3 strands I was already having to put more effort to pull the thread through where 4 stitches meet, but doable. 4 and 5 strands made my fingers sore due to how hard the needle was to push through. The backstitch on 5 strands required pliers to be able to pull the needle through. All the stitches that overlapped on 6 required pliers. This might be okay for small projects, but your hands will be pretty sore with a larger one.
The best thing I can recommend is to try it yourself. Do your own swatch tests like I did, and decide from there what you like best.
Cutting Plastic Canvas
You can cut your plastic canvas before or after you’ve stitched it. Again, this is personal preference. However, if you’re a beginner I recommend waiting until after you stitch. Mainly so you don’t accidentally cut it too small and miss a row. But also because it’s just plain easier to hold. Even my hands get a bit crampy when stitching on a smaller piece of canvas (usually when I’m using leftover bits from a previous sheet).
As to how to cut it, I usually use an old pair of craft scissors that I don’t care that much about. Cutting plastic can dull them pretty fast, but they don’t need to be especially sharp. I’ve also used embroidery scissors, which work well when having to cut around tight corners and smaller details.
I’d recommend cutting out general shapes to get them off the sheet. Then try to cut as close to the edge of your stitches without cutting through to the stitches. If that makes sense. It’s hard to describe, so look at the photos:
click the image to zoom in — you’ll see the orange, tomato, and some of the hearts have been cut close. You’ll also notice a little triangle of holes left on the orange – that’s to make it easier to attach keychains and the like.
Occasionally I’ll want to cut out plastic in the middle of my design, to create a hole. It doesn’t happen that often, but for this I would recommend a hobby knife, or ‘exacto knife’. Lately I’ve been using this retractable ceramic knife by Slice. You can of course use your hobby knife for the whole thing if you find it easier to control.
If you’re using a craft knife, make sure you’re cutting on some sort of cutting mat to avoid cutting up your table!
Backing Your Finished Piece
Hey look, it’s one of those subjective questions again! Should you back your finished cross stitch? Well that all depends on what you’re planning to use it for and whether it’ll be seen from behind.
I’ll go over finishing suggestions later, but here are some examples:
- If you’re making a magnet, you probably won’t see the back that much. You could glue it directly to your work. Or you could back it with felt and just tuck in a magnet before closing it up.
- If you’re making a coaster, you might instead glue some cork fabric to the back of it so it doesn’t slide.
- If you’re making a keychain, you might opt to stitch a reversed image of your pattern and stitch the two together so that it is double sided.
The way I finish mine most often is by backing it with felt. For keychains, earrings, and the like I even put a bit of stuffing between the canvas and felt to give it a bit more weight and dimension. For pins and hairclips, this isn’t needed.
What Kind of Felt I Use
I still haven’t found a good online source for felt. One time I bought one of those variety packs of felt, so that I’d have different colors and could match them to my project. However, I found them to be a bit too thin and stiff, though. It’s still sitting on my shelf waiting for me to find another use for it.
The felt sheets from Michaels is what I tend to use personally. I pick up a stack in black, and a couple sheets in white and that usually has me covered for a while.
Lately though I’ve been using their peel and stick felt. It makes it a bit easier to just stick to the back of your project. You could just trim the excess and leave it like that, but I generally still backstitch it on. Just in case. But that leads me to another common question.
Attaching Felt To Plastic Canvas
If you’ve decided to cover the back of your project with felt, there’s a few different ways to do it. We’ve just covered that peel and stick felt is a thing, so that’s definitely an option. But you can use just regular felt too!
First, put your plastic canvas on your felt sheet, and cut roughly around it, leaving a extra around the edges just in case. We’ll trim that after it’s been attached! If you trim the felt first, you’ll have a hard time attaching it cleanly.
The option I use most is the running stitch. Get a color from the ‘border’ of your design (or one that matches your felt). And holding the felt behind your project, stitch around the border of your design going up one hole and down the next, while piecing through the felt. This will create a sort of dashed line. If you’re planning to stuff it or put a magnet in it, make sure you do that before stitching the last side!
Once it’s secure, cut away the excess felt in much the same way you cut your canvas.
If the edges of your stitch are not the same color, it will stand out a bit, as you can see in these hairclips. Had I done it in 3799 you wouldn’t really be able to tell, but I wanted it to match the felt instead.
If you do a in the same color as your project, it’ll hardly be noticeable.
If you don’t like that dashed look or simply have a multicolor design with no real ‘border’, you could stitch it with a contrasting color to make it pop. But instead, use backstitch to make sure it’s a solid line rather than a dashed one.
You could also start with a running stitch, and then do a second round of running stitch in the opposite holes. Either way, this can create a nice solid border around your piece.
Trimming Excess Felt
Once you’ve stitched the felt on, you’ll want to cut off the extra felt. Again you can use the same methods you used to cut the plastic earlier.
Once your backing is securely attached, some stitchers opt to whip stitch the entire border to cover up that plastic canvas edge. I personally have never tried this, but it does look quite nice. You can once again use a border color or a contrasting color depending on your preferences.
Any time I see this technique used, I think of @oddsnamys. It’s pretty much her go-to finishing technique and she practically has it mastered. When asked, she stated that she uses two threads and just stitches in and out until it’s all covered, while trying to keep it as tight as possible.
You might have to do your own experimenting to get this technique down, but if you like the look it is well worth it!
So you’ve got this plastic canvas sprite… now what do you do with it? Well I’ve already shown you a few examples of what I’ve done with mine, but let’s list off some other things I’ve tried. I’ll include links to products I’ve used, but most of this stuff will also be available at your craft store.
- Keychains – Simply attach a chain and keyring. You might want to leave a corner of plastic canvas uncut so it’s a bit sturdier.
- Cell phone fob – cell phone straps come with a lobster clasp, making it real easy to attach. I’ve also bought braided straps from aliexpress. I like the look of these better, but they may take a while to get to you. I also like attaching small charms to these for an added touch.
- Coasters – Rather than attaching felt to the back, you can stick some adhesive cork to the back to keep it from sliding around. it also comes in rolls if you need it for a bigger project, like making a pin board out of a picture frame. 😉
- Thread swatches – A cute idea I’ve seen around lately is to make little thread swatches of all your colors. This is especially helpful for designers so you can find a color and put it next to another and see how it interacts. Plus, colors look a bit different stitched than they do on the bobbin.
- Magnets – Before finishing up attaching the felt you could tuck a magnet into it. I used 8x3mm magnets for all the Stardew crop magnets featured in my book!
- Pins – To make it sturdier, I glue the ‘back’ of the pin onto the back of my canvas before attaching felt. Then I just stab it through the felt and proceed to finishing. That way the felt helps hold the backing in place! I use these butterfly clutch pins. If you don’t like those, you could also use bar pins, which are specifically designed to be stitched onto things through the holes.
- Earrings – I like using these pinch bail earring hooks so you can just squeeze it onto the top of your project. If you’ve got a pretty small project, you could also use stud earring backs in the same way as the pins. It’d have to be pretty small though to sit right on your ear.
- Hair clips – For smaller pieces I use snap barrettes. I’ll just stitch the ‘leg’ of the barrette to the felt. If the hole at the tip is open, you can stitch through that as well for extra security. For larger pieces I use french barrettes. These also have holes at either end making it easy to attach them to your project.
- Necklaces – If you’d like to wear your piece as a necklace, you’ll want to attach a jump ring to it. That ring makes it real easy to open and close the rings, too! You can then thread a cord or chain through the ring.
3D Projects – Wired projects
Another fun thing to make with plastic canvas are 3D items! So let’s go over some of your options for 3D designs;
One project I did fairly recently was make a 3D butterfly with a wire center so that it could be bent into different positions. I have a full tutorial for this project here on this site, so I won’t break it down here again; just follow the link. 😉
3D Projects – Boxes
You can also make little boxes! I made this adorable box for a swap back in 2019! One of their favorites was Starbound so I stitched this Mooshi Painting (it’s a free pattern!). But… then I didn’t know what to DO with it. After some deliberating I decided to make it into a small trinket box.
So I cut another piece the same size as the painting to use as the bottom. After arbitrarily deciding on a height for the sides, I cut out pieces that matched each length of the painting’s edges. To make the sides/bottom stitch up faster, I just used long stitches to make diagonal squares. Unfortunately I didn’t take a good photo of the sides before sending it off, but you can see the pattern in this coaster tutorial.
I actually backed each piece with felt first, then whip stitched the thin bits to the ‘bottom’ along the edges. After that I whip stitched the edges of the thing pieces together. Finally, the ‘lid’ was attached, but only on one side.
It’s not a particularly large box. It can hold maaaybe 4 bobbins, tops. But it kept opening up, making it not very useful for traveling. I then decided to stitch a button to the front of the box.
Braiding some floss in similar colors, I attached the long braid to the middle of the edge of the ‘lid’. Make that braid a bit longer than you would expect. To close it, you need to be able to wrap the braid around the button a couple times until secure.
3D Projects – Closed shapes
I also have a free pattern for a small minecraft cake! You could use the same technique to make it into a trinket box as well. But I just made a cute closed shape that can sit on my friend’s desk. If I had filled it with something heavy-ish like maybe he could have used it as a paperweight. Maybe a small bag of dry rice, or stitching a heavy washer to the bottom on the inside.
Speaking of cake, this month I also released a new free design for Pride month, inspired by writing this article! It combines these box methods as well as the layered design options described below. Get the 3D Pride Cake pattern free on my Patreon. Comes with 10 pride flag options, and 5 icing/topping options! Again you could choose to only attach the top on the back side and have it be a trinket box you could open. Get creative with it!
I will note that at this point I had already done my coverage test stitch stars, and yet for some reason I still decided to do 2 strands on white canvas. I never learn, do I?
3D Projects – Curves
Kind of adding on to the boxes part here, but an interesting feature of plastic canvas is that you can make use of curves without it falling in on itself. For example, @rikizou113 used this to their advantage and made a small treasure chest pin cushion!
They actually put a tutorial of sorts up on their blog, so if you want to make your own 3D treasure chest, be sure to check it out. It is in Japanese, but the pictures are probably enough to figure it out. If not, google translate might get you the rest of the way there. 😉
3D Projects – Layering
The first person I think of regarding 3D plastic canvas projects is @doomedcrossstitch. They just get super creative with their stitches! If you’re at all interested in 3D plastic canvas, be sure to give them a follow! It seems like they’re always coming up with new creative uses for plastic canvas, from dicebox wraps and dioramas to tiny spellbooks with actual flippable pages!
But the technique I’m most fond off is their use of layering. By stitching another piece of canvas on top of your project you can make subtle 3D effects. A good example of the technique is this small pixel art frame.
Similarly, by using this technique but only attaching the middle section, they were able to create this interactive book! You can do all sorts of creative things with plastic canvas, really.
Plastic Canvas Pattern Books
Plastic canvas certainly isn’t a new technique. It’s been around for ages, albeit with lower count canvas and yarn. If your grandma had one of those needlepoint tissue box covers, you’ll know what I mean. But there’s lots of super creative designs out there from how to build yourself a small victorian style house, to gift boxes and purses.
The good news, is that means there’s a lot of patterns and design ideas that can be pulled from old pattern books. The downside is that they’re old and mostly out of print. However, there’s still a few plastic canvas books available! Your best bet though is to check local thrift stores, or online thrift stores like GoodwillBooks. Plus they’ll be cheaper there!
Just remember that most of these books will be based on 7 count and you may want to double the size of everything if you’re stitching on 14 count. Just make a square of 4 stitches for every 1 stitch in the book. Unless you want a half sized version of the thing, of course.
At the very least, these books can give you some creative ideas on how to use your plastic canvas to design other projects!
Prefer video tutorials? I did a video on plastic canvas a while ago! Not everything is covered over there, but you can watch me stitch, cut, back, and stuff a small cellphone charm!
Hope you found all this helpful! It took forever to write, lol. Please do reach out if you’ve still got questions, I’ll do my best to answer them!Found this post useful? Share it with others!