What Is Muslin Fabric?

Written by kelli nottingham
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What Is Muslin Fabric?
(Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

Muslin is a thin cotton fabric that has continued to be used ever since its introduction to Europe in the 1600s. Its simple weave and multiplicity of uses has cemented its position as a staple in the sewing trade, and this usefulness has translated into a starring role in the theatre and other industries.

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Significance

Muslin is a thin cotton fabric, often bleached white or left an unbleached off-white colour, that is used for a variety of purposes in sewing and other industries. Muslin originated in Bangladesh and made its way to Europe through 17th century trade routes to become one of the most ubiquitous of fabrics in the world today. Because it is a plain, unadorned fabric, its cost is low, making it an attractive choice for many sewing and craft projects.

Construction

Muslin is a cotton fabric with a plain weave, meaning that the warp threads (those running vertically on the loom) and weft threads (those running horizontally, from selvedge to selvedge) are arranged in a one by one pattern: each weft thread passes over or under each successive warp thread. Muslin comes in a limited colour palette: bleached (white), unbleached (off-white), and tea-dyed (brown). It is woven in a variety of widths, the most common being 36, 45, 90, 108 and 120 inches.

Sewing Uses

Muslin is a popular choice for sewing projects, as it is inexpensive. Because of its limited colour palette, however, it is most often used for linings, interlinings, or quilt backings. Muslin is also a popular choice for curtain linings and as an under layer for upholstery projects. The practice of making a sample garment out of muslin to test the design and fit is referred to as “making a muslin,” and sample garments of any type are referred to as “muslins,” even if they are made of a different type of fabric.

Additional Uses

Because of its low cost and tight weave, muslin is used in photography studios, where it can be painted to create portrait backdrops. Its ability to hold paint and dye also make it highly useful in theatres, where it can be used for backdrops and costumes. Its fine weave makes it a good choice for filtering sediment out of wine during decanting, and for draining the curd when making cheese.

Care Instructions

Muslin, because it is woven of cotton, has a tendency to shrink when washed and dried. It can lose up to 4 inches of length for every yard of fabric when shrunk. For this reason, if the muslin is to be used in any type of garment or item that will be washed and dried, it should be preshrunk before the item or garment is made. This is not necessary when sewing a sample garment, as that type of garment is not intended for actual wear.

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