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What is Muslin?

Niki Acker
Updated May 17, 2024
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Muslin is a light cotton fabric, finely woven and typically white, that was first imported from the Middle East to Europe in the 17th century. It is named after Mosul in modern-day Iraq, the city through which it made its way to Europe, but Dhaka in modern-day Bangladesh is the fabric's true place of origin. Muslin is a popular choice for clothing and curtains, particularly in hot, dry climates. It may also be used as padding for furniture.

There are many other uses for muslin. Because it is a relatively cheap fabric, it is not always used for clothing or upholstery, as more expensive fabrics often are. In sewing, it is often used to make a test garment before expensive fabric is used. This practice is so widespread that a test garment made with synthetic fabric is also referred to as "a muslin."

Muslin can be used to filter wine of impurities during the decanting process. A funnel with fabric stretched over the narrow end may be used to transfer wine or port into a decanter, keeping any sediment out.

Due to its versatility, muslin is used widely in the theater. Myriad staging effects can be created with it, as it can be painted with any scene that can be imagined, hung straight or draped, and even treated to appear semi-translucent, similar to a scrim. Being lightweight and inexpensive are significant assets for a fabric used in set design.

In addition to the stage, muslin is useful in television and film. When painted in a uniform color, the fabric can be used as an inexpensive greenscreen. It may be bought pre-colored for this purpose, but it is also relatively easy to make with diluted latex paint.

The word muslin may not always refer to the cotton fabric described above. In Britain, any gauzy cotton fabric may go by the name, while in the United States, it may be used for any firm, sturdy, inexpensive cloth. In nautical slang, a ship's sails are referred to as muslin.

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Niki Acker
By Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "
Discussion Comments
By anon317723 — On Feb 04, 2013

Is there any African country manufacturing muslin?

By anon154410 — On Feb 20, 2011

I have used it for window coverings for the reason mentioned above - lets the light in and it's inexpensive. - Otto B.

By Kamchatka — On Sep 28, 2010

@gameaddicted - You can use it for Photography and muslin can be used in theatrical situations. Muslin is a very versatile fabric and many people just don't understand how to use it since it's such a thin textile, but you have to look further and think outside of the box when it comes to textiles. I'm a designer so it's an acquired knowledge for me.

By gameaddicted — On Sep 28, 2010

@Kamchatka - Use Muslin as backgrounds for what? Can't you paint on them as well, like you can paint on a canvas?

By Kamchatka — On Sep 28, 2010

@Pimiento - You can also use Muslin material for things like beach cover ups. It really is very cheap and you can even get it wholesale if you are planning on doing big projects or using large sheets for backgrounds.

By leiliahrune — On Sep 28, 2010

@Pimiento - You can actually use Muslin fabric for things like decorating and window treatments. Since it's such a low cost option, many people choose Muslin over things like cotton or lace. It gives you that same airy feeling and lets the light in without having to give up your privacy... which is why so many people like it.

By Pimiento — On Sep 28, 2010

White muslin is often used as a lining in clothing because it's so see through. You can typically find it in any fabric store, but beyond that use I'm sort of stumped. Are there other uses for the fabric?

Niki Acker
Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of...
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