Muslin is one of history’s older fabrics. It’s a woven cotton material that dates back thousands of years to Mosul (Iraq). Golden threads were woven into the material in some regions to be used in the fashions of royalty. As its popularity caught on, mills in Scotland began producing it in larger quantities, reducing the reliance on merchants.
Today, muslin is used in theaters, clothing manufacturers, and by hobbyists looking for an affordable, soft, natural material. It’s a great fabric for backing handmade quilts and light, summery clothing. It does have its downfall, however. Muslin is known to fray and pill with use.
How many times have you had clothing or home décor items like pillows or curtains start fraying or pilling and become frustrated? You don’t want to throw things out, but you also like natural materials for household items and clothing. For that reason, 100% cotton muslin is preferred, but how do you stop it from fraying and pilling?
What Causes Fraying or Pilling?
Start by understanding what makes fabric pill or fray. It’s the result of normal wear from regular use. As an item gets worn, used, or washed, the fibers break down. As they break, they tangle together, forming the fabric pills.
Pilling is something you may see on your flannel bed sheets, a sweater, or knit cotton pants. They form little balls of threads that you have to shave off if you want your sheets or clothing items to look as new as they can.
Fraying is a similar problem, only the broken fibers don’t tangle together. Instead, the material unravels and forms frayed edges. Fraying is something you’ll see on the cuffs of jeans that are too long for you. You’ll also see fraying on the sleeves of a regularly used cotton jacket.
Tips for Preventing Fraying and Pilling
How do you prevent fraying and pilling in cotton muslin? Properly caring for the material is important. When you choose muslin, start by getting a material with the tightest possible weave. The tighter the weave, the more resistant the fibers are to wear. When you wash them, use a fabric softener to add a level of protection to the fibers.
When you’re shopping for muslin, you want a tight weave. Woven fabrics like cotton muslin are made on a loom by crossing threads horizontally and vertically together. A plain weave is done where threads are interlaced to form the solid fabric. This is the most common weave, and it’s also one of the strongest.
Muslin is made using the plain weave technique. It’s designed to be a loose, airy material that’s perfect for summer clothing and theater curtains. To lower the incidence of pilling, choose natural heavy cotton muslin as it has a tight weave. It’s going to be durable, but it’s not as likely to pill as a lighter cotton knit or weave.
It can, however, fray. Any material can fray when you cut it, but natural cotton is known for fraying. You’ve broken the woven cotton fibers, so it’s going to start to unravel. The more it unravels. Learning how to cut the material properly helps lower the chances of it fraying.
Tips For Properly Cutting Muslin to Prevent Fraying
Don’t use normal fabric scissors on woven material like muslin. They cut in a straight line, which increases the chance of excessive fraying. You don’t want to cut the fabric straight across. Instead, invest in a quality pair of pinking scissors. Patented in 1893, pinking shears have a zigzag pattern on the blade that varies the length of the cut threads. This prevents the excessive damage that leads to fraying.
To use pinking scissors, cut the fabric in a straight line. The edges of the scissors create the zigzag automatically with each snip. If you want to keep the fabric from bunching while you cut, put down masking tape on top of the line where you’ll be using pinking shears.
Consider Sealing the Edges
It might be helpful to seal the edges. This method is best when the edges are on items that won’t be rubbing on your body, such as the hem of a skirt or curtains. It’s not ideal for areas where the stiffer edge will constantly rub on skin, such as the sleeve of a shirt.
While pinking scissors help prevent fraying, they won’t stop it completely. That’s when fabric glue or clear nail polish can help. The liquid seals the freshly-cut threads to prevent further unraveling that leads to fraying. The problem with this trick is that it will wash out over time, requiring additional applications.
Invest in fabric tape. Use heat-sealed fabric tape to finish a hem that prevents further fraying. But, if you do opt to use this method, the hemmed edge is going to be stiff and unyielding. It’s best used on items like curtains where the stiffness doesn’t matter as much.
Use chemical applications to secure the end of the threads to prevent fraying. If you need to avoid stiffness, look for products like Sullivans Fray Stop that reduces fraying without creating a sticky or stiff feel. There are also liquid applicants like Dritz Fray Check that are machine washable, which is ideal for clothing that gets washed regularly.
Choosing the Best Muslin for Your Project
When you’re looking to avoid fraying, make sure your 100% cotton muslin has the tightest weave possible. Muslin usually comes in lightweight, medium weight, and heavyweight options.
Typically, you’ll find that lightweight muslin has a weight of no more than 4 ounces per yard. It’s often used as an interior lining for dresses, jackets, and skirts. Some designers use lightweight muslin for patterning new designs.
Medium weight muslin is in the 4 and 5 ounce-per-yard range. It’s frequently used to cover flats on stage or smaller drops are needed for a set. It can be used in place of heavyweight cotton when budgets are tight, but it won’t last as long. You end up replacing it faster, which can end up costing more.
Heavyweight muslin tends to be 6 ounces or higher and stands up to heavier use. It’s ideal for stage curtains and drops. It’s also a good cover for flats. Due to the tighter weave, it’s also popular for making clothing that needs to be a bit more durable. Heavyweight muslin is less likely to fray over the other two because of the tighter weave.
How much muslin do you need for your project? Chicago Canvas sells heavyweight 100% cotton muslin by the running yard with a minimum five-yard purchase. Purchase it in widths of up to 39 feet. If you need fire resistant muslin, that’s available, too. Buy our heavy natural cotton muslin and get a discount.