Don’t buy it… dye it!

As a dance teacher on a limited budget for recital productions, I’m always looking for do-it-yourself projects to lessen some of the standard costs.  This year I’m not hiring a photographer to do pictures, so the backdrop is up to me.  This was definitely one time I was glad for online resources- I found great instructions for creating a photo backdrop that sounded like a somewhat easy process.  Plus, it was fairly cheap. I decided to post my project, and the results, for anyone who might take an interest.

First of all, I was agonizing over where to find cheap material.  Anything from Hancock’s (my most frequented store!) is going to be $3 a yard, and I also needed a pretty wide piece. A fellow dance teacher suggested using straight bedsheets, but after descending on nearly every Goodwill store in the area and coming up with nothing, I went to the world wide web for help and found the idea of using dropcloths.  Granted, before that point I didn’t even know what a dropcloth even was… but when I found out that I could get a 9’X12′ piece at Menards for $20, I was pretty excited.

The only catch with using dropcloths is that the fiber content and weave varies- even if you buy the same brand they can have different textures and colors.  Though I tried my hardest to get two of the same kind, I ended up with one much heavier type of canvas material, and one that was more similar to  muslin and better suited for this project as you’ll see in the pictures.


  • Two pieces of 9′ X 12′ canvas dropcloth ($40 from Menards)
  • 1 bottle of Rit dye ($4 from Michael’s)
  • Cleaning gloves (thicker the better)
  • Twine (borrowed from Dad 🙂
  • 18 gallon plastic tote (stolen from my material stash in the sewing room)

Step 1

I started my water boiling on the stove while I washed the material in the bathtub.  The canvas was very heavy and hard to swish around when wet… again, I’m not sure about the exact content of the material, and I do believe that when it was all said and done they had shrunk somewhat. You can also see from the picture the difference in color and size- though they have the same dimensions the material on the left is thinner and darker, while the piece on the right is heavier and lighter.  I did use some detergent while washing, but I know I didn’t get all the soap out, and in hindsight I’m not sure it was necessary to use soap.  Basically, you just need it soaked through to do the next step.



Step 2- Scrunch and tie

I ran the dripping wet, very heavy pieces of material to the basement where I could lay them out flat.  I scrunched it up handful by handful until it ended up in a crumpled ball like the instructions said. The thinner, more lightweight piece of material was definitely easier to work with.

I just realized that I didn’t take a photo of it all tied up.  So after you get the material all scrunched up into a ball, you randomly wrap the twine around it to hold it together.  The instructions said not to do this really tightly, but since I did mine somewhat loosely the twine was actually too loose in the dying process.


Step 3- Dye!


I had dyed something a dark wine color the day before and had kept about a gallon of the remaining dye in the tub.  So I decided to just mix it with my full bottle of brown Rit dye and see what happens, since I hate to just pour the stuff out. 😉 I poured the two large pots of steaming water into the 18 gallon plastic tote and stirred it up with the dye before placing in the still-wet balls of material. The instructions said to flip the ball, but I had two pretty large pieces in one tote and they were pretty well packed in, so I flipped them a few times but mostly just held them under the water. I kept them both in for 30 minutes.   I was expecting the bottle of dark brown dye to dominate the smaller amount of wine color, so I was surprised  when it still came out to be more of a dark wine.  That’s okay- brown does accommodate more colors, but the wine is still a pretty shade.


Step 4- Lay out to dry

After 30 minutes of holding the balls in the dye I let them drip for a minute before laying them out on the grass. I’m pretty sure they did shrink after all- but maybe after I let it hang it will stretch out more. The first piece of lighter material turned out perfectly- I was thrilled!  The tie dye effect wasn’t too much but it also created a nice texture instead of a solid color, which was what I was hoping for.


The second piece was pretty disappointing.  Since it was more of a heavy, water-resistant material, it all just soaked right through and is pretty much a solid, darker, almost purple-ish color.  There goes the idea of hanging them side by side!  My plan right now is to have the tie-dye piece hanging as the backdrop and the dark one on the floor.  It won’t blend in perfectly, but hopefully with some chiffon and accessories I can hide any obvious differences.

Also, just know that with a dropcloth, it’s not going to be perfect material.  I don’t have to worry about the edges because the long edges are hemmed, so that’s nice.  But there tend to be random pen marks, and there is a noticeable seam down the middle.  However, I think that the texture (if you make sure to get the right one) is perfect and the price is still better than all my other options (buying it by the yard, buying sheets, etc.).

All in all, since it was my first large dying project I’m pretty happy with the outcome- and the possibilities for future backdrops. It’s worth the time and investment because I know we’ll have lots of opportunities to re-use these. So there you go!  Less than a week before recital and I managed to take on something new.

I’ll be sure to post pictures of the final hanging product after the performance.  Or, you could just stop by and see the whole event yourself! 🙂  Visit for more information on my studio and our upcoming event on June 10th.

One Response

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  1. Anna Lofgren
    Anna Lofgren June 4, 2011 at 6:11 pm |

    Beautiful! Wow! So neat!! I’m glad it worked out for you! I’ll have to try this in the future… I like the tie die effect! And, though it’s disappointing that the backdrops turned out different colors for you, I think it will work well to have the more solid one on the floor. That one’s not really noticed anyway, but having a similar solid color as the backdrop on the floor definitely contributes to the overall professional look. I’m so excited for you! Good job tackling this project – it turned out amazing!

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