Design, Photography, & Fashion

Fabric 101: What Is Muslin? How to Use and Care for Muslin

Written by MasterClass

May 22, 2019 • 3 min read

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Lightweight and breathable, muslin is a loose plain weave cotton material that dates back to Ancient India. Today, muslin’s value is in its versatility and it is used in everything from photography backdrops to cooking to surgical procedures.

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What Is Muslin?

Muslin is a loosely woven cotton fabric. It’s made using the plain weave technique, which means that a single weft thread alternates over and under a single warp thread. Muslin is known as the material used in fashion prototypes to test patterns before cutting and stitching the final product.

What Is the History of Muslin?

Muslin originated in what is now Dhaka, Bangladesh, with the first references to muslin dating back to the prehistoric period. Muslin was a valuable commodity, often worth the same as gold, and has been traded around the world throughout human history. European traders first discovered the muslin in Mosul, Iraq, however, hence the name muslin.

During British colonial rule in India and Bangladesh, muslin weavers were brutally treated and forced to weave other fabrics, while muslin was imported from Europe. Gandhi, the leader of the Indian independence movement, started spinning yarn himself to make khadi, a type of muslin, as a way to promote self-reliance and to peacefully resist British rule.

What Are the Different Types of Muslin?

Muslin comes in a variety of different forms and weights. High-quality muslins are soft, smooth, and are woven from evenly-spun yarns, which means the thread maintains the same width throughout. Coarser, lower quality muslins are woven with uneven yarns that can be bleached or unbleached.

There are four main grades of muslin:

  1. Gauze. Gauze is an ultra-lightweight, sheer form of muslin used for clothes, as a filter in the kitchen, and to dress wounds.
  2. Mull. Mull is a lightweight, plain muslin usually made from cotton and silk, but sometimes viscose as well. Mull is usually used for dress underlining, to help provide more weight and structure to a garment, or for pattern testing garments.
  3. Swiss muslin. Swiss muslin is a sheer, lightweight form of muslin with raised patterns or dots that is used frequently for warm-weather clothes.
  4. Sheeting. Sheeting is the thickest and coarsest form of muslin and is used in clothing and homewares.

What Is Muslin Used For?

Muslin is an extremely versatile fabric used for everything from clothing to science to theater. Here are some functions of the fabric.

  • Dressmaking. Designers use muslin most frequently in sewing and pattern-making to test new patterns. Even if a different fabric is used to make the prototype, it is still referred to as a “muslin.”
  • Quilting. Muslin fabric is often as the backing for a quilt.
  • Home decor. Muslin is used in home decor when a lightweight, sheer fabric is needed to create an airy space, and is used for items like curtains, lightweight bed sheets, and towels.
  • Cleaning. Muslin clothes are popular for multi-use cloths for cleaning everything from the face to the kitchen countertop, as the material can be easily washed and reusing for environmental cleaning purposes.
  • Arts. Muslin holds dye well and is a great option for theater scrims backdrops, and sets. Muslin is light and is a good portable seamless for photographers.
  • Cheesemaking - At-home cheesemakers pour curdled milk, through a muslin bag to separate the liquid whey from the cheese curd.
  • Surgery. Doctors wrap muslin gauze around aneurysms. This helps make the artery stronger and prevent rupture.

Fabric Care Guide: How to Care for Muslin

Muslin should be treated gently when washing. Here are some steps to follow when caring for a muslin item.

  • Machine wash or hand wash muslin using cold water.
  • Use gentle laundry detergent.
  • Hang the item or lay muslin flat to dry. You can also tumble dry on low, but make sure to remove the item from the dryer before it’s completely dry.

What Is the Difference Between Cotton and Muslin?

Muslin fabric is made from cotton, but certain forms can also incorporate silk and viscose. Muslin differs from other cotton weaves used for items like shirts and dresses because it has a much looser, more open weave.

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