Cosplay Do-It-Yourself: Dye Your Own Fabric

Cosplay DIY: Dye Your Own Fabric

Surprisingly, one of the toughest problems you can run into when making the perfect cosplay is the right fabric. I’m sure we’ve all seen those costumes that would be amazing if it weren’t for the color being completely off or the seamstress deciding to use the dreaded cheap-costume-satin-of-doom-that-frays-like-a-bitch (DUN DUN DUUUN!!). Color, texture, and weight can all be big issues when it comes to fabric and too often are well made costumes ruined by the wrong fabric. This tutorial won’t solve all your problems when looking for the right fabric, but it will solve an issue that can be a huge snag in any cosplay process; the right color.

So today we’re going to learn how to dye fabric ourselves! This is a much better method then ordering online and praying that the color in the merchant’s photo matches the real fabric . Keep in mind that for this process we’re going to be using MX dye, so that means NO synthetic fabrics! MX dye will only work on natural fibers like cotton, rayon, linen, and silk. Make sure that your fabric is 100% cotton/rayon/etc. because even a small percentage of a synthetic fabric is going to mess your color up bigtime!

Today we will be using Kim Eichler-Messmer’s method for solid colors!

So here is what you will need to get started:

Cosplay DIY: Materials needed to dye your own fabric

  • Measuring cups/spoons
  • Kitchen gloves
  • Dust mask
  • Soda Ash
  • Salt
  • MX Dye (Procion is my favorite brand)
  • Synthrapol detergent
  • 1 small plastic container
  • 2 large containers that can hold all of your fabric and liquid with some space
  • Your fabric
  • Optional: One extra yard of fabric to use as a sample

Now I know what some of you are thinking; where on earth can I get soda ash and synthrawhatever? The answer is any art/craft store you can pretty much imagine as well as Wal-Mart. These items (along with the MX dyes) can be found anywhere sewing supplies are sold. Synthrapol comes in a range of sizes from tiny little bottles to huge jugs and soda ash is sold in a similar fashion. If you choose to get Procion MX dyes they actually sell kits that include soda ash, synthrapol, and dye altogether as well. Now let’s get on to the process!!

Step 1: Always wash your fabric before you start!

If your fabric has not been pre-washed it can resist the dye which will cause you to waste a whole lotta time and ingredients, so always wash your fabric first before this process!

Step 2: Soak your fabric in Soda Soak!

Cosplay DIY: Step 1. Wash your fabric.

Take your first large container and fill it about 3/4 of the way with warm water. Take 1 tbsp of soda ash and let it dissolve in your water. This is your soda soak! Add your fabric to the water and let it soak for about 10-15 minutes before you start dying it. Make sure to wring out as much soda soak as you can from it before you put it in the dye bath.


Step 3: Dissolve dye!

Cosplay DIY Step 2 Soda Soak

Before doing this you’ll need to do a little math. In order to understand how much dye you need you’ll need  to first decide how dark or light you want your color! I suggest making a few seperate dye baths with different colors to see how they will all turn out on your extra sample fabric before dying the real fabric. Here are the measurements for light and dark colors:

Dye Powder Guidelines:

1/4 yard fabric

Pale: 1/16 – 1/8 tsp
Medium: 1/4 tsp
Dark: 1/2 tsp

1/2 yard fabric

Pale:  1/8 – 1/4 tsp
Medium: 1/2 tsp
Dark:  1 tsp

1 yard fabric

Pale:  1/4 – 1/2 tsp
Medium:  1 – 2 tsp
Dark: 2-3 tsp

I’m using one yard of fabric and making a medium color tone, so I’ll need 2 teaspoons of my dye powder. During this process always stay in a well ventilated area and always wear a dust mask and gloves! The dye is bad for your lungs and if it touches your skin it will stain it!

Next up fill a small plastic container with normal warm water. Add your dye to the water and stir well. The dye is no longer dangerous to your lungs once it is mixed with the water so you can go ahead and take your mask off at this point.


Step 4: Combine salt and water

Cosplay DIY: Step 3 Dissolve dye

For this step we’ll need to do some measuring again. This mixture of salt and water is the main water for the dye bath so we’ll need to measure it according to your fabric. Below is a chart we can use to determine the amount of water and salt we will need for the dye bath.

1/4 yard fabric
Water: 1 cup
Salt: 1 tsp

1/2 yard fabric
Water: 2 cups
Salt: 1 Tbsp

1 yard fabric
Water: 1 quart
Salt: 1/4 cup

Mix your water and salt together in your second large plastic container. Once your salt and water are measured into the container add your dissolved dye from the small container  and stir well. You now have a dye bath!


Step 5: Add your fabric!

Cosplay DIY: Add fabric to dye

Take your fabric from the soda soak and add it to the dye bath. Make sure to squeeze out as much water and soda soak from your fabric as you can before adding it to the bath.

For an even color, stir your fabric in the dye bath for 10 minutes.


Step 6: Add a little more soda ash!

Cosplay DIY: Add more soda

To help the dye set in the fabric we’ll need to add a little more soda ash! Here is a chart to determine the amount to add in this step.

1/4 yard fabric
Soda ash: 1/4 tsp

1/2 yard fabric
Soda ash: 1/2 tsp

1 yard fabric
Soda ash: 1 tsp

When you are ready to add the soda ash, push your fabric to the side of the container first and drop the soda ash into the water. Stir the soda ash around away from the fabric until it is dissolved before letting the fabric touch it. If soda ash settles on your fabric in clumps it will make white spots, so I try to avoid this by not letting the soda ash touch it until it has been dissolved.

Once you are done with this stir your fabric in the dye bath for 30 minutes consistently. That stirrin’ arm is gonna get tired!


Step 7: Wash out your fabric!

Cosplay DIY: Step 6 Rinse your fabric

Take your fabric from the dye bath and begin to wash the dye out with cold water until the water washing off of the fabric runs clear. After the water coming from the fabric is clear repeat this process using hot water until your water running is clear again.

Add a few drops of synthrapol to the fabric and knead it through the fabric thoroughly for a few minutes. Repeat this step until there is no more color coming from the rinse water.

Wring out your fabric and either hang it up to dry or pop it in the dryer and voila! You’re done!

Cosplay DIY: Finished Fabric

Keep in mind that during this entire process, the color you see your fabric taking while it is in the dye bath is going to be lighter after it dries, so never judge a wet color. Remember to make samples of extra fabric before dying your main fabric and you WON’T regret it. Color sampling can save you a lot of time and money. Hopefully this tutorial will encourage you to go out and try to make your own colors rather than going crazy looking for one on your own. There is a lot of trial and error involved in this process so make lots of samples! Happy color concocting!


Written by Guest Contributor: KerryBerry