CONSTRUCTING CANVAS LABYRINTHS

This section is for those wanting to make their own labyrinth, or to understand the concepts of canvas labyrinth making.

Material

Portable labyrinths have been made out of everything from tarps to bedsheets. While there are some more exotic fabrics, such as polycanvas or acrylic duck, the friendliest material and the best result comes from #12 100% untreated cotton duck. This is the lightest of the cotton ducks, weighing 11.4 ounces per square yard. (Duck is a particularly dense type of weave.) It is the same material usually sold in art supply stores for art canvas.

Sewing

If you want to take on your own sewing, you should get a commercial grade machine and a large table. Canvas generally comes in widths of 60, 72, 84, 96, and 144" widths. A 100-yard roll of 144" canvas weighs about 400 pounds. You would want to buy it from a source that can sell a smaller amount, preferably pre-cut to your specified length. The narrower the canvas the more seams you will need to make. Large labyrinths are generally made in several panels, with Velcro along the edges for connecting them together. If there are three sections, make sure the middle section has one edge with hook and one edge with loop. That way, the outer pieces will only fit tugether in one configuration. While there are a number of fancy ways to butt together the canvas, a simple overlap works the best as far as lying flat Have the Velcro on both sides of the center section face upward, so it can go down first and the side panels easily attach to it.

Seams will almost certainly need to be French-style, as lapped seams require much more sophisticated equipment. A French seam is self neatening, hiding the raw edge of the fabric by enclosing the seam allowance. French seams are actually meant for sheer fabric, as they end up with five layers of cloth which, with canvas, can be very bulky. Most instructions for French seams demand ironing to make it lay flat, which is rather impractical for a labyrinth. If you want to try it, put the two pieces of canvas face to face, with the back of the material outward. To hold it in place you may want to use pins. Sew a straight line about 1/4-inch from the edge, and then trim back to 1/8 inch. Now fold over both pieces together in one direction so that the first line of thread folds inward about 1/4-inch. Then sew another line, about 3/8-inch in from the fold, which will sew together the folded portion, leaving the fold as the finished edge. This is considered to be a very elegant finished look. The advantage is that it can be sewn from one side.

Other possibilities would require the canvas to be folded in long, tight sections so as to l fit under the arm of the sewing machine. To do that would require a table almost as long as your fabric. An alternative might be to just do one line of sewing, like the first step of the French seam, using very strong thread and call it a day. Stop there. If you want to fold the material in long strips so as to sew down the middle rather than from the edge, you can make a type of flat felled seam. Sew the first line like a French seam, but about 1/2-inch from the edge. Then, iron the seam open, with one piece going to the left and the other to the right. It will look as if each piece of canvas simply has a fold at the end, with the two pieces attached exactly at the fold. Now, sew two more lines, each 3/8- inch out from the first line, sewing down the two loose folded edges. This will result in only two layers of fabric and a very strong seam.

A lapped seam is done with a single pass of a special two-needle machine, not a process available for most do-it-yourself projects. You may wish to have the sewing done professionally. If you go to a tarp-making shop, sail-makers or awning makers, they should have the large tables and commercial equipment. They can probably get the fabric, too. Our suppliers in St. Louis, Missouri, can sew and hem the panels and ship anywhere in the U.S.. Ask us for a referal.

Drawing

There is no room in this brief account to give instruction sufficient to draw the labyrinth. There are a number of possibilities. You can buy an instruction manual written by Robert Ferre: Canvas Labyrinths. Secondly, you can attend a labyrinth "summer school" class given Veriditas and Lars Howlett (see www.verditas.org/calendar or www.discoverlabyrinths.com). Finally, you can buy the pattern already drawn, and simply paint it yourself. Several labyrinch makers can do that. Ask us for a referal.

Painting

CANVAS PREPARATION
There is no need for gesso or basecoat or sealer of any kind. A single coat of latex paint should suffice. The paint rarely seeps through the canvas unless it is thinned considerably or concentrated in one spot. However, it may be best to protect the surface beneath the fabric. If you have a large labyrinth that is divided into sections, you may find it necessary to paint one section at a time.

PAINT
Use indoor, flat, latex house paint, like you would use to paint a room inside your home. Flat is important because semi-gloss or high-gloss paints get the gloss by having harder surfaces, which would be more brittle and prone to cracking. Indoor is better than outdoor paint, as the latter has extra chemicals and is designed to flake slightly to endure weather.

To paint a 35-foot Chartres pattern takes about one and one-half gallons of paint. For a 24-foot canvas, two to three quarts. This may not seem like very much paint, but remember that you are painting the lines, not the paths, and giving them only one coat. Therefore, you want to paint carefully and make sure you are covering the canvas evenly, without holidays (missed spots) or streaks. Painting in rainbow colors can add a certain pizazz to the labyrinth. The rainbow can be six or seven colors. The center can be colored a different color.

If the paint seems thick and it is hard to get a straight and accurate edge, consider adding some Flowtrol. This is a paint additive used for spray painting latex paint. Latex cannot be thinned with water. Use Flowtrol instead. It breaks down the surface tension and allows the paint to flow more smoothly. At The Home Depot it is found on a shelf underneath the spray painting equipment, or at least nearby. The color that you choose can also have an effect on the ease of painting. For some reason, red seems to be a difficult color. In general, the darker the color the better. Light colors not only don't cover as well, they may not be opaque enough to cover the pencil lines. Further, they increase the noticeable appearance of lapping. Lapping occurs when you stop painting long enough for the paint to dry. When you resume, taking up where you left off, you are obliged to overlap the dry paint slightly with the new, wet paint, so there is no gap. This gives that small area of overlap two coats of paint, which has a slightly different color or appearance than a single coat. Flowtrol helps retard the drying time a little.

Most of all, when you stop painting, stop in a line rather than in the middle of a petal or labrys (the wider area around a turn). This will minimize the lapping as much as possible. When stopping, put a piece of masking tape across the line and paint up to it. When you return, remove the tape, exposing the straight line at the end of your painted area. Place a new piece of tape across the dry paint leaving only the tiniest bit of color showing. This will minimize lapping.

TOOLS
Ultimately, the best tool is the ordinary paint brush. It holds the most paint, is easiest to control, gives a good line. Some labyrinth makers use rollers or foam brushes, but these take a lot of practice. If you have no volunteers who can paint a steady line, you may want to consider masking off the pattern. If will take quite a while to do (several days, perhaps), but then the painting will go quickly. Once the tape is in place, use a foam roller and go back and forth a few times to assure even coverage.

When you draw the pattern, make two parallel lines that enclose the painted lines. For example, if the line is 2 1/2 inches wide, make two parallel pencil lines 2 1/2 inches apart, and then paint between them. If you paint over the line, just leave it. A small error will hardly be noticed. If you keep trying to smooth it out, going further and further out, it will begin to look like a boa constrictor that just had lunch.

Be careful of picture framing. If you turn your brush the narrow way to paint one edge of the line, then go back and do the other edge, and finally, fill in the middle, you will find that the edges will dry and then when you paint the middle, you will get lapping, which will make the picture framing very evident, with the lines light in the middle and dark along the edges. Better to just paint a foot or two at a time, keeping a wet edge.

SHRINKAGE

When you paint the labyrinth pattern onto the canvas, the paint makes the canvas wet, which will cause it to pucker up. The paint dries quickly, but the puckering takes a while to go down (when the canvas stabalizes with the surrounding environment). One way to lesson the amount of puckering is to stretch the canvas. This photo shows a labyrinth with stretchy Bungee cords attached to 35-pound dumbells. Or it could be tied to table legs or heavy furniture. You could put sand bags in the corners. Taping it to the floor is likely to damage both the floor and the labyrinth, leaving a sticky goo. Hardware and paint stores often have tarp clamps, which you can attach to one end of the Bungee cordsin order to attach it to the edge of the canvas.

SET-UP
Use a plastic shoe box or similar container to hold your paint can and brush. Put the paint into empty plastic sorbet cans, which have tight-fitting lids (holding about a cup of paint). A Tupperware container or refrigerator storage container would also work well. Put that container inside the shoe box. Thus, if you drip or spill, it will be inside the shoe box. You can also put your paint brush down inside the box. NEVER balance your brush across the top of your paint can when you want to stop painting for a moment. It is easily knocked off, perhaps onto the canvas. Just stand it up in the corner of the plastic shoe box. You can also keep a rag in the container for wiping your fingers. When you are finished painting, you can wash out the plastic shoe box with no difficulty. If using a foam roller, use a small half-size tray for paint, resting on a larger, flat serving tray. Be sure to avoid getting paint on the bottom of your container by getting too close to the line you are painting, which would leave marks on the canvas.

MISTAKES
If you have some small little drips or bobbles, leave them alone until they dry. Mark them with a piece of colored masking tape so you can find them again. If you try to remove them, you will spread the paint and push it into the canvas. Once it is dry, scrape the bloop off of the canvas with the point of a razor knife and use an eraser on what is left. For really big mistakes, get some canvas-colored paint and paint over them. It isn't a perfect solution, because matching the color of canvas is impossible. But it helps.

WHERE TO START
After practicing on paper or scrap canvas, start in an obscure place on the labyrinth, such as the fifth or sixth line on the upper right-hand side, away from the entrance. As you gain expertise, work your way to the more visible areas. You can almost assume that your worst painter will head right for the entrance or the petals. Consider that some people may be more suited to preparing lunch. You can paint the Chartres labyrinth in a smaller room by painting one section at a time (or even one half of a section). In order for the labyrinth to line up correctly when you assemble it, be sure to stay within the lines at the edge of the canvas (which is somewhat difficult, due to the bump made by the Velcro). If you have several people working, you can start with the fifth or sixth circle and have one person work outward while another works inward. Doing this in each quadrant, you can get as many as eight people painting at the same time without interfering with each other. Four or five people might be more manageable, however.

PAINTING TABLE
First making sure the back of the canvas is clean, roll up the canvas you are about to paint, either alone or with a core (such as 4" pvc pipe). Put together several tables end to end and pull the canvas up onto the table.

Use spring clamps to hold it iin place. After painting one table's worth, pull the canvas forward and do the next section. This may be easier on the back, although there is a lot of starting and stopping, which can lead to lapping. Professional painting counters have lights, music, and more.

ADDITIONAL ITEMS
During labyrinth walks, it is helpful to have a runner at the entrance to the labyrinth, along which you place chairs on each side. People can sit there, remove their shoes, and then walk to the entrance. Labyrinths are often carried in canvas bags. You can paint patterns on the runner or the bags or other items used with the labyrinth to match the color(s) being used in the labyrinth itself. Good luck.