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Muslin (// or //) is a cotton fabric of plain weave. It is made in a wide range of weights from delicate sheers to coarse sheeting. It gets its name from the city of Mosul, Iraq, where it was first manufactured.
Early Indian muslin was handwoven of uncommonly delicate handspun yarn, especially in the region of what today is Bangladesh. It was imported into Europe for much of the 17th and early 18th centuries.
In 2013, the traditional art of weaving Jamdani muslin in Bangladesh was included in the list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
Etymology and history
Muslin (AmE: Muslin gauze) from French mousseline, from Italian mussolina, from Mussolo ‘Mosul’ (Mosul, Iraq, where European traders are said to have first encountered the cloth)
Some believe Crusaders of the First Crusade found the cloth in the Middle East and brought it back to Europe.
Ancient Greeks from the Indian port town Machilipatnam—called Maisolos or Masalia in ancient times—traded in muslin. Some believe the name muslin originated from the name Maisolos. In 1298, Marco Polo described the cloth in his book The Travels. He said it was made in Mosul, Iraq. During the 17th and 18th-centuries, Mughal Bengal emerged as the foremost muslin exporter in the world, with Mughal Dhaka as capital of the worldwide muslin trade. During the Roman period Khadi muslin was introduced in Europe and a vast amounts of fabrics were traded to Europe for many centuries. It became highly popular in 18th-century France and eventually spread across much of the Western world. During British colonial rule in the Eighteenth century, the Bengali muslin industry was ruthlessly suppressed by various colonial policies, which favored imports of industrially manufactured textiles from Britain. Brutality to muslin weavers was intense, William Bolts noting in 1772 that "instances have been known of their cutting off their thumbs to prevent their being forced to wind silk.":194 As a result, the quality of muslin suffered greatly and its finesse was nearly lost for two centuries. There have been various attempts at reviving the muslin industry in modern Bangladesh.
At the end of the 16th century the English traveler Ralph Fitch greatly admired the muslin of Sonargaon. The Portuguese traveler Duarte Barbosa described the muslin of Bangladesh in the early 16th century. He mentioned a few types of fabrics, such as estrabante (sarband), mamona, fugoza, choutara, sinabaka etc. Although this view has the fabric named after the city where Europeans first encountered it (Mosul), the fabric is believed to have originated in Dhakeshwari, now called Dhaka, which is now the capital of Bangladesh. In the 9th century, an Arab merchant named Sulaiman made note of the material's origin in Bengal (known as Ruhml in Arabic). Bengali muslin was traded throughout the Muslim world, from the Middle East to Southeast Asia. In many Islamic regions, such as in Central Asia, the cloth was named Daka, after the city of Dhaka. During British rule in India, the fingers of the weavers were cut off, so that they could not weave it anymore. In present day, many different types of muslins are produced in many different places, including Dhaka.
The word muslin is also used colloquially. In the United Kingdom, many sheer cotton fabrics are called muslin, while in the United States, muslin sometimes refers to a firm cloth for everyday use, which in the UK and Australia is known as calico.
Dress-making and sewing
When sewing clothing, a dressmaker may test the fit of a garment, using an inexpensive muslin fabric before cutting pieces from expensive fabric, thereby avoiding potential costly mistakes. The muslin garment is often called a muslin, and the process is called "making a muslin." Muslin, in that context has become the generic term for a test or fitting garment regardless of what it's made from.
Muslin is also often used as a backing or lining for quilts, and thus can often be found in wide widths in the quilting sections of fabric stores.
Muslin is used for the French polishing pad.
Muslin can be used as a filter:
- In a funnel when decanting fine wine or port to prevent sediment from entering the decanter
- To separate liquid from mush (for example, to make apple juice: wash, chop, boil, mash, then filter by pouring the mush into a muslin bag suspended over a jug)
- To retain a liquidy solid (for example, in home cheese-making, when the milk has curdled to a gel, pour into a muslin bag and squash between two saucers (upside down under a brick) to squeeze out the liquid whey from the cheese curd)
Beekeepers use muslin to filter melted beeswax to clean it of particle and debris for sale.
Theater and photography
Muslin is often the cloth of choice for theater sets. It is used to mask the background of sets and to establish the mood or feel of different scenes. It receives paint well and, if treated properly, can be made translucent.
It also holds dyes well. It is often used to create night time scenes because when dyed, it often gets a wavy look with the color varying slightly, such that it resembles a night sky. Muslin shrinks after it is painted, but is widely used.
In video production as well, muslin is used as a cheap greenscreen or bluescreen, either pre-colored or painted with latex paint (diluted with water). It is commonly used as a background for the chroma key technique.
Muslin is the most common backdrop material used by photographers for formal portrait backgrounds. These backdrops are usually painted, most often with an abstract mottled pattern.
In the early days of silent film-making, and up until the late 1910s, movie studios did not have the elaborate lights needed to illuminate indoor sets, so most interior scenes were sets built outdoors with large pieces of muslin hanging overhead to diffuse sunlight.
Surgeons use muslin gauze in cerebrovascular neurosurgery to wrap around aneurysms or intracranial vessels at risk for bleeding. The thought is that the gauze reinforces the artery and helps prevent rupture. It is often used for aneurysms that, due to their size or shape, cannot be microsurgically clipped or coiled.
Muslin is also commonly used in the manufacture of bandages. It provides a compact yet strong improvised material in emergency medicine—and is used for slings, swaths, and tourniquets.
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