Muslin is a lightweight fabric that is used in numerous ways, including articles of clothing and even as a filter, much the same as cheesecloth is used. It is a very breathable fabric, and if you’re wondering, what is muslin fabric and what is muslin fabric used for, read on to learn more.
The truth is that muslin is a fabric made out of cotton with plain weave. While most people think of it as being very delicate, it ranges from very delicate sheers to coarse sheeting. It was first manufactured in Iraq in a city called Mosul, which is where it gets its name.
The History of Muslin Fabric
In the beginning, muslin fabric was called either malmal or mulmul. It is always handwoven and made with only the very best handspun yarns. Some early references to muslin claim that it had a thread count of 2425, but this is unlikely since that number is hard to reach even with today’s advances in technology.
The thing that sets muslin fabric apart is the fact that it is so fine and sheer. Different muslin fabrics were differentiated by the weight, texture, yarn count, thread count, and origin, as well as what they were used for. In East India, muslin was particularly popular and was made out of locally grown cotton.
Muslin grew in popularity so fast that Marco Polo even described it in his book The Travels in 1298 CE. In the 18th century in France, muslin became so popular that it began to spread across many different parts of the Western world.
Originally, all muslins were made out of cotton and nothing else. They were not only breathable but very thin and transparent. It is said that muslin at that time could pass through the opening between a ring and the finger it was worn on.
In fact, muslin fabric was so transparent and thin that you could often see the person’s body through the fabric. These days, the fabric comes in different thicknesses but is still a lightweight, breathable fabric.
What Is Muslin Fabric Used for?
If you’ve ever asked yourself, what is muslin fabric used for, you might be surprised by the answer. Muslin, in fact, is used in various sewing projects. Because muslin is made in different thicknesses and thread counts, it can be either expensive or inexpensive.
In fact, many sewists use the inexpensive type of muslin fabric to test whether a particular garment will fit properly. The word “muslin” even sometimes refers specifically to testing or fitting a garment. If they “practice,” so to speak, with the inexpensive muslin fabric, it helps them avoid costly mistakes during the process.
Here are a few of the many items made out of muslin fabric:
- Throughout Asia, most noticeably in Bangladesh, sewists use muslin to make sarees for women. Since sarees are always made out of thin, breathable fabric, muslin is the perfect fabric to use.
- Quilt lining. Muslin is perfect to use as a lining or backing for quilts, which is why you see so many wide widths of muslin in a lot of fabric stores.
- People use muslin as a filter when they decant fine wine or to separate liquid from mush when making cheese, apple juice, and other foods. Beekeepers even use the fabric to filter melted beeswax in order to get rid of all debris and particles in the wax.
- For wrapping foods. Muslin is often used to wrap Christmas pudding and around items found in barmbrack, which is a fruitcake eaten in Ireland around Halloween time. In fact, you can use muslin as gift wrap for just about anything!
- For first aid use. In World War I, surgeons often used muslin gauze for conditions such as aneurysms and cerebrovascular neurosurgery, among others.
- For photography and set design. Muslin has been used as backdrops in certain movie scenes, to create nighttime scenes, and even by photographers as a background when taking formal portrait photographs.
- Baby blankets. Muslin is perfect for a baby’s sensitive skin because it is comfortable, soft, and breathable. It is even used to make covers for moms who want to breastfeed discreetly.
- Household chores. The inexpensive muslin can be used to clean and dust everyday items. It is even a lint-free fabric, making it perfect for giving windows and mirrors a streak-free shine.
In addition to baby blankets, there are also other baby items made out of muslin fabric, including baby mittens to prevent them from scratching themselves, booties, hats, and all types of clothing.
So as you can see, the answer to the question, what is muslin fabric and what is muslin fabric used for, is very easy to answer because you can use muslin fabric for dozens of projects both at home and in the business world.
How Should You Care for Your Muslin Fabric?
As you can likely tell by now, there are different types of muslin fabric, including the flame-retardant type and the fire-retardant type. Before we get into the proper care for your muslin, here are some pros and cons associated with this very versatile fabric.
- Very lightweight
- Very soft to the touch
- “Pulls” are fairly common since the fabric is so delicate
- Loose yarns mean a potential variance in color and intensity
- Due to a wavy appearance, the shape of the garment may vary some
To take care of anything made out of muslin, you need to first check to see what type of muslin it is. Fire-retardant muslin, for example, should never go into the washing machine or dryer because the fire-retardant properties can be eliminated.
The exception to this rule is flame-retardant poly muslin, which is a polyester and muslin blend; therefore, you can wash it without any worries.
If it isn’t fire- or flame-retardant, you can wash it in a washing machine but you’ll need to use a gentle detergent. You can also hand-wash muslin if you’re concerned about what type it is, and some experts recommend hand-washing muslin anyway. After washing it, either hang it on a clothesline or dry it flat.
You can also use a clothes dryer, but make sure that you use the lowest heat setting and remove it before it gets completely dry. Removing it while it’s still damp can prevent it from wrinkling.
Storing muslin fabric properly is also important. For one thing, it should be clean and dry before storing it somewhere. If you fold muslin items and store them in some type of container or storage bag, it will prevent moths and even mice from chewing on the fabric, which they often do.
Should you accidentally wash a fire-retardant type of muslin, there’s nothing you can do to make it fire- or flame-retardant again. Your only options are to purchase more muslin or spray the muslin you have with a fire-retardant spray, which you can get at a hardware or home-improvement store.
If you choose the latter and you’re planning to use the muslin on a theater or film set, you’ll have to make sure that the spray you purchase meets fire codes. Your local fire department can help you determine what those codes specify.
Are There Different Types of Muslin Fabric?
There are, in fact, many types of muslin fabric, so when trying to determine, what is muslin fabric, you should first learn what these types are. They include four main types, described below:
- Gauze muslin. As you likely already guessed, this type of muslin is used mostly to dress wounds, but it can also be used to make clothes and as a filter in the kitchen. Gauze muslin is very lightweight and sheer.
- Swiss muslin. This type of muslin is lightweight and sheer, but it has raised dots or patterns on it. You’ll find this type of muslin often in clothes made for warm weather.
- Sheeting muslin. This is very thick, coarse muslin and is used mostly for clothes and in homewares.
- Mull muslin. Usually made out of cotton and silk, this type of muslin is very lightweight and plain. Sometimes viscose is added to the blend, and it is used to line dresses, give a certain article of clothing some extra weight, and to test patterns as mentioned above.
When you buy your muslin fabric, it will come with a set of care instructions. Always pay close attention to these instructions and follow them to the letter so you can get the most out of your muslin fabric.
The answer to the question, what is muslin fabric and what is muslin fabric used for, is multifaceted because this is indeed a very versatile fabric. It is soft, easy to care for, easy to wear, and as comfortable as you want any fabric to be.
If you’re a sewist, you’ll love working with muslin fabric, especially once you learn about all of the things you can make with it. It is just that good of a fabric.