One of the questions we hear most often is, “Does muslin shrink?” Yes, it does, though not as much as you might think. Muslin is 100% cotton, and cotton is known to shrink when you wash and dry it. While muslin does shrink, it usually only shrinks by 5% to 10%, so factor that into your muslin purchase and carefully wash and dry it to avoid shrinkage.
Muslin won’t shrink as much if you know how to care for it. Avoid getting it dirty, use gentle cleaners when needed, and stick to our tips on storing and cleaning your muslin fabric. Keep your muslin from shrinking by reading our guide. You’ll learn how to use muslin, shop for the best muslin for your needs, and care for this cotton fabric properly.
What Is Muslin?
Muslin is a woven cotton fabric named for the city where it originated, Mosul, Mesopotamia. Mosul is the capital city of the Nineveh Governorate in what’s now northwestern Iraq. To get an idea of how long it’s been since muslin became a fabric, you’d have to go back to Marco Polo in the late-1200s.
Dhaka muslin, a fine Indian muslin, was also popular, especially among royalty. It was initially woven from fine yarns from a specific cotton plant, phuti cotton. A consultant for the British East India Company found this muslin and helped establish a thriving muslin trade between Asia and the rest of the world.
Both types of muslin were imported to Europe, but it took time to weave them. In the 1800s, factories in England and Scotland started manufacturing it. Muslin from Asia lost popularity due to this cheaper, more accessible, machine-made fabric.
Muslin remains one of the most popular cotton fabrics today. It’s versatile and can be used for sewing projects, cooking, and set designs. It all comes down to the type of muslin you choose for your needs.
How Is It Made?
Muslin is a woven material that was once entirely made by hand, but today most muslin is made by machine due to the speed. A loom is needed to weave together the cotton strands. When muslin is made by hand, it’s generally done in humid months to prevent the thin cotton strands from drying and breaking.
The process starts with cotton that is stretched and twisted into a delicate thread that’s dipped in starch. This thread is wound onto spools to use at the loom. At the loom, threads are set up at a frame that uses a pulley system to move a shuttle back and forth across the frame, weaving the threads into lines that form the muslin fabric.
The “warp” threads are stretched parallel, while another line known as the “weft” travels over and under the warp threads to form the weave. It’s then pushed tight using a reed to ensure the woven threads are tight against each other. By hand, it can take two weeks to make a bale of muslin.
Types of Muslin and Their Best Uses
At Chicago Canvas & Supply, we have heavyweight and medium-weight muslin. You can purchase natural cotton muslin, hand-painted backdrops, or flame retardant muslin materials.
Natural Cotton Muslin
Natural cotton muslin is never dyed, so it has a natural cream color. If you plan to paint your muslin fabric, this is a perfect choice.
It’s a perfect choice for quilting, curtains, and stage backdrops. It’s also ideal for making clothing, quilts, tablecloths, and room divider curtains. You can also use natural cotton muslin in the kitchen in place of cheesecloth. Our durable muslin (6 ounces per square yard) comes in 10′ to 39′ widths. If you need a lot of this material, you can purchase an entire 100-yard roll for a discount.
Backdrops are a must for photography and scenography. Purchase backdrops in solid colors or hand-painted backdrops with a 4-inch rod pocket. The hand-painted backdrops come in sizes of 10′ x 10′ or 10′ x 20′ and 12 color options.
For solid muslin backdrops, they come in black or white. By them in cut sizes of 10′ x 12′ or 10′ x 24′. Solid muslin backdrops do not reflect light; instead, they have a high light absorption rate. They come with a 3-inch pole pocket on both the top and bottom of the backdrop and five grommets for added support.
If you need curtain trolleys and roller tracks, Chicago Canvas & Supply has systems you can purchase with your backdrops. It’s one-stop shopping for all of your stage or photoshoot needs.
Flame Retardant Poly Muslin
This medium-weight fabric blends muslin and polyester, making it less likely to shrink in heat and humidity. It’s durable and never feels stiff, making it perfect for draping on stage, cycloramas, and backdrops. It won’t easily catch on fire as it is flame retardant, and you can wash it without decreasing the flame resistance. You’ll find it in 16 colors. Buy poly muslin in running yards measuring 10′ 8″ wide.
Flame Retardant Muslin
If you’d prefer to have 100% cotton muslin that is also flame retardant, that’s also an option. It comes in several options, and all are flame retardant. Bleached muslin should not be painted, or the flame resistance diminishes.
- Black Muslin (10′ 6″ width)
- Bleached White Muslin (Eight widths ranging from 9′ 10″ to 39′)
- Natural Heavy Muslin (Eight widths ranging from 9′ 10″ to 39′)
- Photo Gray Muslin (10′ 6″ width)
Many people use our muslin products for stage designs and curtains, but muslin is also an excellent material for crafting and sewing. To get the most from it and avoid shrinkage, make sure you know how to clean it.
Muslin Cleaning Tips
Most of our muslin products can be washed. The only exception is the flame retardant muslin. If you want to be able to clean your flame retardant muslin, pick the poly muslin blend.
Be careful when washing muslin, as heat will shrink the cotton material. To avoid having your muslin shrink, stick to cold water wash load settings and allow the muslin to air dry on a flat surface or clothesline. Please don’t put it in a clothes dryer. Heat is the leading reason that muslin and cotton shrink.
When you buy hand-painted backdrops, don’t use heavy detergents or bleach. If you must wash it, use cold water and a mild detergent. Gently scrub stains by hand before you wash your muslin items. To get rid of any creases, do not iron the material. Instead, use a fabric steamer.
A lint roller helps remove hair, fur, and lint particles. Take it outside to shake out to quickly remove dust.
When you’re not using your muslin backdrop, roll it up to create natural wrinkles and place it in a large bag. The creases won’t hurt the appearance of the background.
How do you store other muslin materials, such as curtains, cheesecloth, or backdrops? Fold the material when you’ve washed and air dried it. Put it into a container that keeps mice and insects away. If you do this, your muslin fabric will last for years.
Chicago Canvas & Supply specializes in custom fabrication. We have 100% cotton muslin in medium and heavyweights. Choose your color or aim for a natural cotton muslin. If you need custom sizes, we’re happy to help. Fill out the online contact form for a free quote.