Product Profiles: Canvas Weave Terminology

Ask the Expert: "The supply list for paintingclass says we need to get "numbered duckor double fill canvas". I've looked online andhave found conflicting explanations for whatthese terms mean. Is there a differencebetween what my teacher wants us to getand just plain cotton duck?"

A: “Numbered duck” and “double fill” are textileindustry terms borrowed by artists and artmaterials dealers. The terms themselves don'thave the same precise meaning or gradingsystems associated with them as they once did,but we still use them to describe different gradesof canvas.

Artists became more broadly aware of terms like“numbered duck” at a time when heavy cottoncanvas wasn't always as easily available as it istoday. In the first half of the 20th century whenthe Abstract Expressionists in New York beganseeking out large-scale, heavy fabric supports,cotton duck was still primarily a utility fabric, notexpressly sold for painting. Artists learned thatcertain weights and weaves performed betterthan others and began using the traditionalnumbering systems and weave terminologyalready in place for the heavy utility cloth theyhad adapted for use in the studio.

Today, canvas is mainly graded by weight persquare yard and weave. Artist's cotton duck isavailable in three weaves:

Single Weave: Single ply weft and warp.Balanced, open weave. Generally lighter andmore porous; good for small sketches and formaking canvas panels.

Combination Weave: Multi ply weft and singleplywarp. Passing the weft across 2 warp yarnshelps balance the difference in gauge betweenwarp and weft yarns when the weft issignificantly heavier. Good, all-purpose fabric forpaintings of average scale.

Double Weave: Multi-ply warp and weft. Strongand balanced in both dimensions, good forlarge-scale work. Resists sagging on thestretchers and is tightly woven, preventingstrike-through of the primer.

Warp, Weft and Fill

Warp yarns run the long dimension of fabric, andweft threads run left to right (Remember: ‘weft toright’). "Fill threads" are the same as "weftthreads" so "double fill" doesn't necessarily sayanything about the warp yarns.

Ounce Fabrics and Number Weaves: Termslike "ounce-fabric" and "number duck" are relicsfrom past systems, and while the meaning ofthese terms may not be as precise as it oncewas, sometimes this language is still used todayfor a general classification of lighter weight vsheavier, more densely woven canvases. Someartists still refer to single-weave canvas madeusing lighter yarns with only a single weft threadas “ounce fabrics”, and refer to all heavier typesof canvas as “number weaves”.

Traditionally, "Numbered Ducks" would have allhad multi-ply warp and weft. Numbers wereorganized in descending order as weight wentup, from #12 to 0. Fabric heavier than 0 was 00,000, etc. The difference in weight betweennumbers was 1 ounce per yard 22" wide.

Historical "Ounce-Ducks" weighed 6 to 15oz/ydfrom a 28-30" wide bolt. "Double fill ounce duck”used 2-ply weft and single-ply warp yarns, and"single fill ounce duck” was made using 1-plywarp and weft. The heaviest double-weaveounce-duck was called "Army Duck".

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