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