When it comes to Chicago Canvas & Supply’s fabric favorites, one of our most popular theater fabrics is muslin. What is muslin fabric you ask? Here’s everything you need to know about the fabric that we and others absolutely love.
The Five Basics of Muslin Fabric
You want to know more about muslin fabric. These are the need-to-know facts and tidbits you should know about muslin.
- A Brief History of Muslin
- How It’s Made
- What Are the Different Types of Muslin?
- Popular Uses for Muslin
- Muslin Care Tips
A Brief History of Muslin
Muslin is a woven cotton fabric that’s believed to have originated in Dacca (now Dhaka), Bangladesh. In the hot, humid climate, the humidity made it easier to weave the cotton fibers. Once it was introduced to Europe in the 1600s, it became a popular material for clothing as it was lightweight, easily washed, and versatile. It was also less expensive than silk or linen cambric.
There is a bit of debate, however, regarding who really made muslin first. While Dacca is often linked to being the originator of the fabric, others think the term “muslin” comes from Mosul, Iraq. What historians think happened is that Bangladesh created the fabric, but European travelers came across it in Mosul and named it muslin after the city.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing historical references to muslin came in the early 1900s. Orville and Wilbur Wright chose to use unbleached muslin coated in some type of canvas paint for a section of his aircraft’s wings on the 1903 Wright Flyer.
How It’s Made
To make muslin, the cotton yarn had to be spun to be as fine as possible. That’s where the humidity helped. Once the yarn was fine enough, it was handwoven using looms. It’s rumored that the handwoven muslin was so fine at up to 500-count that “six yards could pass through a ring.” For a while, the woven material stopped being made during British rule, but the art of weaving fine muslin gained popularity in the 1990s, though few have mastered efficiently creating the very fine linen.
To weave 5.5 meters of fine muslin, 60,000 meters of cotton yarn was needed and it took three weavers two months to complete. Fine linen isn’t likely to be anything you’ll get hold of. There are lightweight, medium weight, and heavyweight linens woven by machines that are very affordable for your needs.
What Are the Different Types of Muslin?
Muslin comes in several weights, colors, and sizes. You can also purchase muslin that’s not flame retardant or muslin that is flame-retardant. For theaters and movie/TV sets, flame-retardant muslin is important to meet safety and fire codes. At Chicago Canvas, we offer the following types of muslin.
- Flame retardant black muslin
- Flame-retardant bleached white muslin
- Flame-retardant light grey/royal blue/light blue muslin
- Flame-retardant heavy natural muslin
- Flame-retardant photo grey muslin
- Flame-retardant poly muslin (16 colors, best for humid locations or sets involving water)
- Heavy natural cotton muslin
- Heavy natural muslin (100-yard rolls)
- Medium natural muslin
- Old master-style muslin backdrops
- Solid colored muslin backdrops (11 color options)
Popular Uses for Muslin
Muslin is useful in so many aspects of life. What can you use it for? It’s used by crafters, set designers, photographers, and chefs. If you’ve ever used cheesecloth to contain herbs in a bouquet garni when making soups or stews, you’ll understand the benefits of muslin. It’s fine enough to allow liquids to pass and release the oils and aromatics of the herbs, but the herbs cannot get out and create unpleasant woody stems or leaves. These are some of the most popular ways to use muslin.
If you like to cook, muslin is used to remove sediment from wine when moving it into a decanter. Muslin is often wrapped around steamed desserts like Christmas pudding. It’s used to wrap traditional fruitcakes after soaking the cake with brandy or rum. You can use it when steeping grains or hops to make beer or use it when making nut milk or soy milk.
Are you tired of using a juicer only to find small seeds slip through into your lemon, lime, or orange juice? Use muslin squares instead. Place quarters of your citrus fruit into the muslin, twist it, and express the juices. The seeds, rind, and pith remain in the muslin where you want them.
Do you have an herb garden? Dry your herbs and use muslin to make your own reusable tea bags. You can sew small bags and add a pull string to close it up. Add the dried herbs, berries, and other ingredients to the bag and steep it in hot water. When you’re done, compost the tea mixture, wash the bag, and let it dry until it’s needed again.
If you have a recipe that calls for squeezing the moisture out of grated vegetables, muslin is a must. Get the liquid out of carrots for the carrot cake you’re about to make. It also helps get the moisture out of grated zucchini or potatoes if you’re making zucchini or potato pancakes. You can save the juice for soup stocks by freezing it in containers or freezer bags.
Muslin is stronger than cheesecloth, so it’s also popular with hobbyist cheesemakers. If you’ve ever wanted to make cheese at home, muslin is perfect for separating the curds from the whey. Purchase medium or heavy-weight natural cotton muslin from Chicago Canvas & Supply and use it in place of cheesecloth. Wash it after using it and use it over and over.
Dressmaking and Sewing
One of the most popular uses is in dressmaking. Some designers will make a replica in muslin first to make sure the fit and hang/drape is correct before turning to more expensive materials. This is called “making a muslin.” Cut your pattern out, sew it, and make adjustments as needed to ensure the fit of a gown, suit, or other handmade outfit is perfect before using a more costly material like silk.
Heavy cotton muslin is a popular choice with quilters. It’s a durable material for backing on the finished quilt. Sew your squares, add the quilt batting, and finish the back with heavy cotton muslin. You can also use it for pillow making, embroidery, batik projects, and more.
What is batik? This hobby originated in Indonesia. It can be done by hand using a tool known as a tjanting to draw the patterns in hot paraffin wax. You can also use a copper stamp. Once the wax is applied in patterns to the muslin, the fabric is dyed by dipping it in the dye or painting sections with the preferred color. Boiled water or a hot steam iron removes the wax to leave the finished design.
For your craft or sewing projects, buy natural muslin by the yard in widths of up to 39 feet. Heavy natural muslin is also available in 100-yard rolls that are 10 feet wide.
Home Improvement, Household Uses, and Decor
Muslin is a good choice for thinner summer curtains. While they can block some light on a very sunny day, the air can pass through them. You can have a darker color to block some of the sun’s rays, but also have patio doors or windows open to allow fresh air in. Match muslin curtains to handmade decorative pillows to create a cohesive design in a sunroom, living room, or family room.
Do your children have to share a bedroom? Create private areas by putting up a muslin curtain that they can draw around a bed. Use them as a room divider to create separate spaces within the one room.
Some people prefer dusting and cleaning the home with heavier muslin. When you’re done wiping counters or dusting, toss the cloth in the wash and use it again. Use muslin wipes to polish furniture, remove dust webs, and wash windows.
Rather than throwing out an old recliner or sofa, learn how to reupholster with heavyweight muslin. It’s a durable material for furniture. It’s fire retardant and comes in a lot of colors. With a little time spent watching instructional videos, you’ll have a new chair or sofa at a fraction of the price of a new one.
Do you like lightweight sheets that allow air to flow while you’re sleeping? If you’re tired of waking up feeling too hot when you’re under your sheets and comforter but too cold without covers, try muslin sheets. As air passes through the cotton material, it helps prevent some of that overheating you may have experienced in the past. It’s also a great choice for crib sheets.
Sensitive skin is not something to take lightly. Ignoring your skin’s sensitivity will make it redder and may lead to skin damage down the road. If you want to keep your skin looking young as you age, treat your skin with kindness at all times. If your face reacts negatively to being scrubbed and exfoliated, you need a delicate cloth that won’t irritate your skin. A lightweight muslin is perfect for washing delicate skin around the eyes and lips. Buy muslin by the yard and make your own face cloths for sensitive skin.
Photography and Stage/Theater
Photographers use muslin for backdrops. At Chicago Canvas, we sell hand-painted muslin backdrops in 12 colors and two sizes (10′ by 10′ or 10′ by 20′). The seamless cotton backdrops have a finished edge along one of the 10-foot sides to make them easy to hang on stages or in a photo studio. The color options include a variety of grays, blues, greens, and browns. If you prefer solid colors, you have 11 options in two sizes (10′ by 12′ and 10′ by 24′).
Stage designers use black muslin for backdrops, masking curtains, and stage cycloramas. The flame-retardant properties make this a safer choice that meets federal regulations. If you’re not familiar with cycloramas, they are a curved curtain that gives a stage the illusion of having a wide, open sky that goes for some distance. Muslin is the ideal choice of fabric to achieve that illusion. We recommend flame-retardant poly muslin as it drapes best and isn’t stiff.
One of the benefits to cotton muslin backdrops is that the dye or paint used often creates an uneven look, similar to the night sky with varying shades of color. Creating a backdrop of a night sky is easy and captures the light that makes reflections of the moon on clouds a little lighter in color than the rest of the clear night sky.
Muslin Care Tips
Fire retardant muslin should never be washed and dried. It will destroy the fire-retardant properties. There is one exception to this. Flame-retardant poly muslin is a medium-weight polyester/muslin blend that doesn’t lose it’s fire-retardant properties when exposed to water. You can wash it and not have to worry.
Other types of muslin can be machine washed in a gentle detergent. If you want to hand wash muslin items, that’s even better. Dry flat or hang on a clothesline. If you must use a clothes dryer, use the lowest heat and remove the item while damp to prevent wrinkling.
When you’re not using your muslin curtains and backdrops, make sure they’re clean and dry. Fold them up and store them in storage bags or containers to prevent pests like moths or mice from chewing the cotton fabric.
What do you do if you accidentally wash fire-retardant muslin? Once the chemical coating is washed off, you need to purchase new muslin or apply a fire-retardant spray. You’ll find this spray at home improvement and hardware stores, but make sure the spray meets fire codes if you’re using it in a theater or film set.
Find the perfect muslin for your needs at Chicago Canvas. We’re happy to provide samples if you want to see and feel the muslin before you finalize your purchase. To request free muslin samples, email our customer service team or call 866-389-2218 with the SKU and other details that you feel would help us find the right material for your theater, photography, culinary, or craft project.