A professional quality background is often one of the most noticeable differences between professional portraits and home snapshots. A cluttered wall behind your subject can ruin an otherwise great image. One of the most popular backgrounds called an "old master". An old master style background is one that appears to be a painted surface of mixed colors without any sharply defined shapes that could distract from the subject. These types of backgrounds are among the simplest to make.
Time Required: About 2 hours
Select Your FabricBefore you can begin, you must know the size backdrop you need. A good general size is 9' x 12'. Keep in mind that if you are taking full-length photographs of standing subjects or large group shots you will need a considerably larger piece of material. Once you have determined what size background you need you will purchase a piece of unbleached, 100 percent cotton muslin fabric slightly larger than your desired size. If need to sew two or more pieces together for the right size, keep in mind this seam may show in your photographs.
Hem the FabricOnce you have your fabric in the desired size you will need to hem the fabric to prevent unraveling. The easiest way to do this is to use fusible web iron-on hem. Fold the fabric over the bias tape and iron to adhere the fabric together. Then use another piece of bias tape to fold that seam over and iron again. This puts the edge of the fabric inside the hem and prevents the edges from fraying up to the hem. A single hem will work but the double hem leaves a much nicer edge.
Wash the FabricWash your fabric in cold water with a small amount of detergent. This will remove any stiffening agents in the fabric and help the dye later on. Do NOT dry the fabric.
Prepare the DyeThere are many different fabric dyes on the market. Feel free to use your favorite one, just follow the instructions carefully. For these instructions, I used Rit brand dye. Use a container large enough to cover your fabric in liquid. Pour in the dye power and add very hot water to fill about half of your container. Mix completely using a broomstick or a large wooden dowel.
Tie the FabricWad up your fabric and use the yarn pieces to tie it so that it will remain bunched up. Any areas you can see or that are only loosely tied will be died. There is no specific pattern to tying the fabric and randomness is a plus. Just remember that you will need spots free of dye for your remaining colors to adhere.
Dye the FabricCarefully place your fabric in the dye container and use the dowel to push the fabric into the mixture. Allow the fabric to remain in the pot 30 seconds and then begin carefully stirring the fabric so that every part has had at least 2 minutes under the dye. If you want a darker color you can replace the fabric in the dye a few more minutes.
Rinse the FabricBe sure to wear gloves for this step. Carefully remove the fabric from the dye and remove the yarn. Spread the fabric across a clothesline or a bar set across the top of your shower. Rinse the fabric until the water runs clear. The fabric may be much darker than you wanted when you first remove it from the dye but it will lighten as you rinse out the excess dye. Once the water runs clear, wring out the excess water.
Additional ColorsTo add the additional colors of your background, retie the fabric so that new white areas show and the already dyed areas are hidden. Then return to step four and repeat with each color, moving from lightest to darkest. When you have completed all the colors, continue to step nine.
Dry the FabricDry the fabric in your dryer on hot to help set the dye. Be aware that some dye may transfer to the inside of your dryer drum. However, it will eventually wear off and I have never had a problem with it transferring to any clothing.
Care of Your New BackgroundYour new background is ready for use. To care for it simply wash it in cold water with mild detergent and dry on medium or low.
What You Need
- Fabric dye
- Bucket or other container for dye
- Rubber gloves
- Large dowel or broom handle for stiring
- Fusible web