Washing muslin backgrounds?

Discussion in 'Photographic Discussions' started by tirediron, Sep 30, 2015.

  1. tirediron

    tirediron Watch the Birdy! Staff Member Supporting Member

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    It occurred to me that I might need, at some point to wash one or more of them, but I'm not sure how to do it. They seem a bit large for a regular home washing machine, and dry-cleaning would be horrendously expensive. Have you, and if so, how?


     
  2. Designer

    Designer Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    Check with the local coin-op laundromats. I've seen some extra-large machines.
     
  3. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    A coin-op laundromat I used to pass by in the city had a window sign that said, "We have comforter-capable Xtr-High cap. machines, $3.25 load".

    I dunno...maybe Woolite and a big ole' Grandma Tirediron-era type wash basin?
     
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  4. soufiej

    soufiej No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Un-sized muslin will shrink when it's exposed to water and then allowed to dry.

    painting muslin
     
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  5. sm4him

    sm4him In memoriam Supporting Member

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    Yeah, around here at least, there are almost always large-capacity washers and dryers at most of the laundromats. And some of our laundromats also have drop-off service that's not much more expensive.
    You'd definitely want to know whether the muslin has been sized or not, though. Otherwise, you might take a nice 10' x 12' backdrop in to be washed, and end up with an 8' x 10'! :D
     
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  6. astroNikon

    astroNikon 'ya all Bananas I tell 'ya Supporting Member

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    Did I read correctly that "6. size the drop" is essentially painting the muslin with latex paint after you stapled a backing on it ?
    Wouldn't that defeat the purpose of using it as a backdrop, and having it easily portable?
     
  7. tirediron

    tirediron Watch the Birdy! Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Shrinkage is a concern... any way to tell if it's been sized or not?
     
  8. sm4him

    sm4him In memoriam Supporting Member

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    No way I know of, from just looking at them. Do you know where you bought them, or who the manufacturer is? I'd check with them to see if they say they are washable or not.
    If you don't know that--I think I'd probably try washing them but NOT machine-drying them. The drying is what would really cause them to shrink, so if you're not sure, air drying might be the best option.
     
  9. soufiej

    soufiej No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    "Did I read correctly that "6. size the drop" is essentially painting the muslin with latex paint after you stapled a backing on it ?
    Wouldn't that defeat the purpose of using it as a backdrop, and having it easily portable?"



    That article was referring to painting a piece of theatrical scenery which is normally described as a "flat". If the flat is to be painted to represent a scene, it must first be sized so it will evenly accept paint.

    Muslin is similar to canvas in most ways; Canvas Vs Muslin: Studio and Lighting Technique Forum: Digital Photography Review Canvas is typically of a heavier weight (and thread count) than muslin.

    Otherwise, if an artist were going to paint on canvas, they would first size the canvas. This serves two functions; 1) it shrinks the material which removes any wrinkles and sags and, 2) it essentially primes the material making it easier to apply paint or dye to a specific area. Without the sizing the raw pigment or dye material would wick into the fibres of the fabric and it would be impossible to create a sharp edge to a line.

    What you use for the sizing is up to you. Theatrical scene painters most often use a watered down white glue mixture. Some may use some left over white latex paint if they have it around the scene shop.

    The glue is plentiful in a scene shop, dries quickly and is lightweight in application. You could simply use water but that wouldn't prep the material for painting unless you wanted to simply use washes of color for, say, a backdrop. A "artistic" painter would typically prep their canvas with water based gesso, mostly again as a convenience since it's what's at hand and they are working on a much smaller area than would be a scene painter.

    Muslin tends to be lighter weight than canvas which also means it is a bit more translucent than is canvas. Scrim is basically a very open weave, very light weight muslin. You choose your sizing based on how opaque you want the final product to be. Unless we were going to create a painted backdrop I never saw a scene painter size a scrim. But it was normally hemmed at the bottom and a chain would be inserted into the sleeve which made it easier to hang and stay in place.

    Painting a scrim or a muslin backdrop normally would require you tack it down to a floor and then size the material before applying any color. Once the sizing has been applied and allowed to dry, the material will not continue to shrink. If you wanted a finished product that is reasonably flexible, then you'd probably do a very thinned down sizing coat and apply color with dyes rather than pigmented paints.

    Therefore, weight and portability depend upon selecting the correct materials for the purpose.


    "Shrinkage is a concern... any way to tell if it's been sized or not?"

    If you're buying from a theatrical or photographic materials supplier, they should inform you of the product you are buying. Most higher quality fabric shops can tell you whether the material has been sized as it comes from the factory. Though, if you just walked into, say, JoAnn's Fabrics and bought a piece of muslin off a roll, I'd assume it to not be pre-sized.

    Otherwise, you can sort of guess by the feel of the material. Or you could take a marker and try to draw a clean line on one small corner of the material. Sizing should make it easy to create sharp edges. Un-sized material will show the inks wicking up into the fibres.

    You could then take the chance on wetting the material if you so choose. Or simply take a brush or a vacuum cleaner to any loose dirt on the material and never allow it to get wet. That's your safest bet.
     
  10. Designer

    Designer Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    Any sizing that was on it could be washed out in the laundry.

    Are you SURE you want to launder your backdrops?
     
  11. tirediron

    tirediron Watch the Birdy! Staff Member Supporting Member

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    No, not yet, but I figure at some point I will....
     
  12. soufiej

    soufiej No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Canvas, muslin and linen are all made from natural fibres. Linen is more typically made from flax while canvas and muslin are more likely a less expensive and more abundantly available plant source.

    It is the "natural fibre" quality of these materials which you must deal with. Sizing is the most common form of creating a workable product. If you don't want to work with the product, then you have no need for sizing. Hanging a muslin backdrop is not "working with" the material.

    While it may remove some or even most of the sizing by placing the muslin in a water based laundry system, there are other things to consider. Wetting the muslin after sizing has been applied wouldn't matter much to shrinkage. The shrinkage has occurred as a result of the moisture being applied and secondary shrinkage would be minimal. Not totally non-existent but certainly far less than the initial go 'round. Sort of on the order of washing a pair of pure cotton blue jeans for the second time.

    Of course, once you have the muslin washed, how would you dry the material? Have you ever placed a 100% cotton dress shirt into a dryer? It comes out completely wrinkled. This is largely a matter of the natural fibre reaction again. Maybe a wrinkled backdrop doesn't bother you. Otherwise, think about ironing a 10' x 12' backdrop.

    You could hang the muslin and weigh it down while it air dries but think about handling a large, wet piece of muslin.

    If you have ever owned a pair of linen pants or a linen sports coat, you should know the care instructions are to "dry clean only". Check your local dry cleaners for an estimate of cost given the size of the muslin.
     
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