Introduction: Muslin Photography Background

Picture of Muslin Photography Background

This is my first instructable but not my first DIY project. This project had the website in mind and strives to help develop it into a vibrent online community. This backdrop is simmilar to those sold online for a couple hundred dollers! But guess what? for arround 20 bucks and about an hours time I've made one myself, and now I'll show YOU how!

Step 1: Parts List

1. 9X9 feet of muslin fabric.
2. RIT dye and salt
3. 18 Gallon Plastic "tote"
4. Twine to tye up fabric
5. Pot to boil water

Step 2: Wash the Fabric and Prepare Dye Mix

Picture of Wash the Fabric and Prepare Dye Mix

Pre wash by hand the muslin fabric. I did this in the shower with a little detergent. Basicly, just swish it arround in soapy water and rinse out untill its not bubbly.

Step 3: Prepare the Dye

Picture of Prepare the Dye

The box of RIT has all the instructions. The hotter the water the better this dye will absorb. Disolve RIT and salt in pot with water.

Step 4: Bunch Up Fabric--this Is Where It Happens!

Picture of Bunch Up Fabric--this Is Where It Happens!

This is where you get to be creative! the pattern you make in this step is what will influance the overall look of your backdrop. What you must do is take that damp, clean pice of fabric, lay it on a large waterproof surfice. flat, and crunch handfulls of the matirial towards the center. Then, once its in a ball, take cheap twine (got mine at the dollar strore) and randomly wrap arround the fabric ball. dont get too crazy at this point with the tightness of the string. you're trying to keep your design together, not bucle it up or make the ball too dense to absorb the dye.

Step 5: DyeBath

Picture of DyeBath

Fill your 18 gallon plastic bin a little under half-way with as hot of water as you can get out of the tap and make sure you're doing this in a place that will survive getting dye spaters arround. No matter how carefull you are, there will be some contamination of the surrounding area.

Carefully pour in your dye mixture. I actually put some more water in the mix then the instructiuons so that the hot boiling water would bring up the temp of the bath overall. REMEMBER with RIT, hotter is better (within reason).

Keep the fabric down in the bath with a stick. I used a pice of PCV pipe. The max absorbtion time seems to be a half hour according to the RIT box. I fliped the fabric ball, which was realativly flat on the oposing sides, every 5 min or so, for a half hour.

Step 6: Cut the Cord

Picture of Cut the Cord

Whatever color it is on the outside is the color the darkest part will be. This is the fun part, when you'll un-doo all the tyes and see how it ended up. If you think the parts restricted from dye are "too white", after untying dunk the whole thing in the dye again for a min to overdye the fabric. Keep in mind, if you overdye, the variations in the color will not be as obvious.
Dry the backdrop flat, you'll notice it will be a couple shades lighter when its dry. You dont really have to rinse it out unless you want, since it will just be hanging up anyway, and probbly wouldnt need to be washed. You'll also notice this nice crumpled texture that makes it a great backdrop!
This project had photography in mind, but this could be used as decoration in a room as well!

Step 7: USE IT !!

Picture of USE IT !!

After it was dry I took 4 binder clips and clamped them evenly acrooss the top of the fabric. I 'm going to put little white hook-screws in the wall to hook through the holes in the binder clips but for the photo below I just used clear package tape to hang by the clips (be carefull when removing tape, the paint may come with it!).

This is somthing you can do *really* easy takedowns and setups with and you can use any wall in your house and there is no need for a "blank wall". This is in front of my closet.

When its not up, leave it balled up in a corner somware so you dont loose all the cool wrinkely texture.

I hope you ernjoyed reading this and it helps you out. Now make your own!


akbly1 (author)2011-04-06

I stumbled across your DIY photography website as I was searching for cheap backgrounds. I am an ameteur photographer and enjoy taking our family photos as a hobby. I also enjoy DIY projects so was excited to give the backdrop a try. I followed your instructions and the first one I made was more or less trial and error. (I ended up spray painting over it later to create a marbled effect). The second one I did in cocoa brown and dark brown turned out much better. Thanks so much for the great tutorial and for sharing your talented ideas and creativity!

northerncanada (author)2008-02-25

sorry I should have said that the piece of cotton drop cloth I dyed was 12 feet by 16 feet and I dyed it in the bathtub, only using the hot water from the tap :)

Where abouts are you? I'm in Inuvik and wondering where to get dye from...

camscam (author)Frank_the_Bunny2010-08-26

Do you guys have Walmart there?

Frank_the_Bunny (author)camscam2010-08-26

no. sigh, I wish.

I got my rit dye in the grocery store. They don't have as many colors as Walmart or a craft store, but they usually carry 3 or 4 basic colors. Here in the us they keep them in the laundry section, with fabric softener, stain remover, stuff like that

fauxreal (author)2009-06-18

I've just purchased a king-size white sheet from the thrift store ($1) and plan on doing this... will post results when finished. Granted, it won't be as large as a commercial backdrop, but it'll fit in just fine in my stair landing where I do a lot of setups. Thanks for the step-by-step tut.

GreigBery (author)2009-06-07

I ended up using a bedsheet because Walmart didn't have enough muslin fabric left on the bolt. I decided to grab a light blue King size flat sheet (108" x 102"). I figured that if I got the light blue sheet it would ensure that the over all colour was the darker blue that I wanted. Plus I didn't have to redunk the sheet after taking off the twine as the colours weren't too contrasting.

My photos are bad for showing, but my husband is the photographer and he was away, (this is a surprise for him) and our stand is put away at the moment. Check it out here: <a href="">GreigBery</a>

But here it is. I know some people were curious how it would work on a bed sheet. I'm going to try the muslin next when they have more in stock.

Thanks so much for the tutorial!

camscam (author)GreigBery2009-06-08

Well that's nice. Checked out your instructions on your blog too. I'm so happy this has ended up helping so many people. When I originally wrote this a few years ago I was blown away there was no instructions online for something so simple and practical. I hope your husband enjoys the great results you got!

kyle1234 (author)2008-06-20

Great backdrops used in your photography! I found similar kind of muslin backdrops here at

LSRPhoto (author)2007-04-20

Wow, Thats pretty cool, I was thinking about doing somthing similar, but I have had the guts. I think you convinced me. I went to college for Photography and they were always thinking of "inovative" cheaper ways to do things. We used a PVC Pipe and drilled holes 1/2 way through about an inch from the ends. We then put this over two stand. This mad a nice middle support Piece for a background. We got a smaller diameter pole, but thicker plastic so it wouldnt sag to bad. Good job man!

fredso (author)LSRPhoto2008-03-25

I once made an entire convention backdrop out of PVC and cheap dropcloth. You can put the whole thing together using the PVC pipe, t-fittings and/or elbow joints available in the plumbing section (like and erector set). No glue, easy to break down (all my sections were 4 feet so as to fit in the car). Admittedly, you have to get creative with the base, but it's somewhat cheap and quick to set-up and breakdown.

camscam (author)LSRPhoto2007-04-20

You shold write instructions and post them. I want to make what you're talking about.

northerncanada (author)2008-02-25

Turned out great! I bought 'drop cloth' made from 100% cotton as where I live I am very limited in choice. The first one I did I bunched up as the instructions say. Worked great. BUT, I used Rit dye cocoa brown color and it turned out way too red. So, I took the color out and redyed it Pearl Grey and it is wonderful. The second one I made I didn't bother with the bunching up... I just threw it on the floor and then gathered it up in my arms and put a string around it to hold it. Either way makes a very good pattern!!

humphrey7 (author)2008-02-23

This is exactly what I was looking for. The binder clips are a great idea! What color dye did you use on the one in the photo?

portmancharlie (author)2008-02-07

There's bunches of ways to do this....probably best way I found without commercial dyes...wet material with water with ice cream salt.....rinse then put dry dye on it...sorta scatterred may use many different colors if you want....roll the material or just wad it up...put it in a plastic bag and add some water...not too much....then flip it over every so ofter....I like to let this go on for a few days....when I think it's ripe i put more water in the bag...let it swish around a little while the hang it to drip should get a pretty good dominant pattern from the dyes you put in first...they should basicall blend as you flip the material and then hopefully there's enough dye in the final mix to subdue all the white....

paddda (author)2007-02-06

Nice one, I tried it today but it dint turn out to good. I think I made my bunch thingies too small and to tight. The dye I used was like cactus or something I will try again when I get my hands on some more dye. I think I will use blue this time and make a new one, this time bigger bunch. Maybe I will try and dip the cactus one in the blue as well just to make it darker.

Shadyman (author)paddda2007-11-25

Bunch that one up again (Maybe not so small and tight), and use it in the blue dye! That would look awesome.

camscam (author)paddda2007-02-06

That looks fine man! May not have been what you had planed but it looks good. You do have alot of white space and that probbly is from being too tight in that area, or the dye didnt get hot enough, or it wasn't soaked long enough to really take. But this will work as a backdrop. The idea is just to get that varying tone. IF you want to even it out dip it for a very short time in the other color. On mine, the diffrence between the picture on the grass and the closeup is I diped the whole thing in the left over dye for a few seconds giving it less contrast between light and dark.

paddda (author)camscam2007-02-08

2nd try. Works like a charm, will try som portraits later and see how it goes. cheers

camscam (author)paddda2007-02-08

Hey that looks good.

michaelknj (author)2007-10-28

Great tutorial. I did a couple of backdrops this weekend. I used a canvas drop cloth from walmart for one, and muslin from Joanne Fabrics for the other. The cashier at Joanne Fabrics scanned a sale flyer to save me some $$'s on a piece of muslin 10' by 15' (Total price $22.00).
I also found some other links for dying techniques and what dyes to use: great site for in depth technique and what types of dye to use, author suggests staying away from rit type dyes.
For a great variety of vibrant washable colors try:

punkyelle (author)2007-10-04

well i never would have even thought of this.. im trying to start up my business again i have the lighting but the money is tight and i need backgrounds and this looks like a great way to do it.... could you do it with white sheets as well as muslin? do you think it would be just as effective?

camscam (author)punkyelle2007-10-05

I think you would find that the muslin at the fabric store is cheaper then nice new sheets. If you have old ones that would be pretty good DIY. I think it would work fine. Post your results when you're done :)

Bicyclette (author)2007-07-29

I love you.

Shutterbug (author)2007-03-03

Just wanted to thank camscam for the tutorial on making a backdrop. I too shopped on line for a backdrop but found it very expensive for a beginner so when I found your HOW TO I was very excited to give it a try and I love the results. Can't wait to make more. My next try is going to be with 2 colors. Can't wait to see how it comes out.

camscam (author)Shutterbug2007-03-05

Wow that turned out great! I can't wait to see the 2-color version. Please post results :)

MrWiz (author)2007-02-19

I worked for a door-to-door photographer once. We carried everything to make a temp photo studio in your house. Lights, camera, backdrop. Our backdrops were made from old light colored blankets; white, beige, pale yellow, etc. We would use three colors of spray paint; gray, light blue, dark blue. Any three colors would work I guess. We would spray the blankets with the 3 colors randomly until we had covered the entire blanket and had a pattern we liked. Splotchy was good. To use, we attached them to a wooden bar at the top. The bar had a v-shaped chunk of wire in the middle. We would use a tripod with a long extension. Hook the wire onto the tripod, extend it so the top of the backdrop was 6 or 7 feet off the floor, more or less. When it was time to pack up we just lowered the tripod and wrapped the backdrop around the wood pole and tucked it under the arm. Worked like a charm.

NickH (author)2007-02-12

If you need a busier background, spread a large sheet of plastic on the garage or the basement floor, or out in the yard, and lay your backdrop on top. Dilute some wall paint with water in a plastic quart container. Dip a brush in the paint and splatter some paint on your backgdrop. Do this with two or three more colors. If you end up overdoing it, don't despair. You can still use your backdrop. Just place it farther away behind your subject and make sure to keep it out of focus, by using the Portrait setting on your digital camera, or a wide iris opening on your film camera. Now that you have experimented with paint spatter -- spatter some more paint on the plastic sheeting you used under your backdrop and use that as a backdrop or in front of the fabric backdrop. The possibilities are endless. P.S. Who knows? Maybe that's how Jackson Pollock started out.

camscam (author)NickH2007-02-12

interesting comment. You should make an instructable! One thing to note is that this only takes about and hour from start to finnish. I imagine what you just mentioned is alot more complex, logisticaly.

Andrew546 (author)2007-02-03

wow, I never knew how expensive those photography backdrops were! I just looked around at a couple websites selling muslin backdrops and was shocked by the prices. Something roughly equivalent to what you made could be $70-$90!! thats insane. If you want to learn patterns, check out tie-dying resources, as this is basically what this is.

Sgt.Waffles (author)2006-11-07

Thats pretty inovative. thats better than me just using a blue sheet. good job

Myself (author)2006-08-31

This looks great! I suppose it would take a lot of fabric and a bit of experimentation to learn how to create patterns, or at least make the design a bit more even, rather than having light regions and dark regions. That's half the fun, isn't it? Folding and scrunching techniques should be documented somewhere on the web, but I'll be darned if I can find them.

camscam (author)Myself2006-09-05

well you want the variation in tone. One of the reasons I made this tut. is because its hard to get a good description. but think about it this way. If you want the middle lighter and get darker as it goes out just make the crunched areas tighter in the center so its harder for the dye to pennitrate. Experiment and post your results!

stuporglue (author)2006-08-10

Cool. My wife does outdoor and on site wedding/engagement/family photography, We've been looking at getting some backdrops, but this might do the trick.

camscam (author)stuporglue2006-08-11

keep in mind the backdrop will be kinda thin so you dont want any light source behind it or it. Go to the diy photography website ( for tips on making a backdrop stand too!

dharms (author)2006-07-31

Very nice. RIT dye are a bit on the dull side, which may be just what you want. But for a greater selection of colors, including brighter/richer colors, find yourself some Veniards dye, which is what fly tyers use. DISCLAIMER: I've never tried Veniards with muslin, but if it takes RIT, Veniard's *should* work fine.

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