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Woman's muslin dress c. 1855
A woman in fine Bengali muslin, "Muslim Lady Reclining" by Francesco Renaldi (1789)

Muslin (/ˈmʌzlɪn/) is a cotton fabric of plain weave.[1] It is made in a wide range of weights from delicate sheers to coarse sheeting.[2] It gets its name from the city of Mosul, in Iraq, where it was first manufactured.[3][4][5] In the 17th and 18th centuries Dacca in Bengal was regarded as producing the finest muslins.[6][7][8][9]

Early muslin was handwoven of uncommonly delicate handspun yarn. It was imported from Bengal into Europe for much of the 17th and early 18th-centuries.[3]


Amir Khusrau describes muslin as the 'Bengal cloth' whose texture was so fine that the body was visible through it. One could fold a whole piece of this cloth inside one’s nail yet it was large enough to cover the world when unfolded.

— Description of muslin by Amir Khusrau[10]

The earliest muslin was known as Mulmul or Malmal. It was a handwoven fabric made with the finest handspun yarns.[11][12][13] There were muslin qualities with 2425 thread count, which are questionable even with advanced technology. Some notable qualities of muslin were Mulmul khas or Kings muslin,[14] Eksuti malmal,[15] and Alibal malmals. The yarn count, weights and textures, thread count, origin, and particular use were the main criteria to differentiate them from each other. Muslin was one of the legendary cloths of Bengal. These were made with locally grown cotton called "Phuti karpas" (Gossypium arboreum var. neglecta). The cotton was grown alongside the river banks of Brahmaputra. Some notable varieties were as following. Muslin from eastern parts of ancient India was praised in the international market as "woven wind" and "wonder gossamer", and earned a great price.[16][17][18]

In 1298 CE, Marco Polo described the cloth in his book The Travels. He said it was made in Mosul, Iraq.[19] The 16th-century English traveller Ralph Fitch lauded the muslin he saw in Sonargaon.[20] 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.[21][22] It became highly popular in 18th-century France and eventually spread across much of the Western world.

Manufacturing process[edit]

In 1586 Ralph Fitch remarked that in Sonargaon, just fifteen miles east of Dhaka, there is the best and finest cloth made of cotton that is in all India

Ralph Fitch a consultant for the British East India Company[23]

Since all the processes were manual, manufacturing involved many artisans for yarn spinning and weaving activities, but the leading role lay with the material and weaving.[24]

  • Ginning: To removing trash and cleaning and combing the fibers and making them parallel ready for spinning a boalee (upper jaw of a catfish) was used.
  • Spinning and weaving: For extra humidity they used to weave during the rainy season for elasticity in the yarns and to avoid breakages. The process was so sluggish that it could take over five months to weave one piece of muslin.[25]



Muslins were originally made of cotton only. These were very thin, transparent, delicate and feather light breathable fabrics. There could be 1000–1800 yarns in warp and weigh 3.8 oz (110 g) for 1 yd × 10 yd (0.91 m × 9.14 m). Some varieties of muslin were so thin that they could even pass through the aperture of a lady finger-ring.[26][27][28]


Gaius Petronius Arbiter (1st century AD Roman courtier and author of the Satyricon) described the transparent nature of the muslin cloth as below:[29]

Thy bride might as well clothe herself with a garment of the wind as stand forth publicly naked under her clouds of muslin.

— Petronius[30]
Poetic names[edit]

Certain delicate muslins were given poetic names such as Baft Hawa ("woven air"), Shabnam ("evening dew"), and āb-i-ravān ("flowing water"). The latter name refers to a fine and transparent variety of fine muslin from Dacca.[31] The fabric's characteristics are summed up in its name.[32][33]


The Hindoos amuse us with two stories, as instances of the fineness of this muslin. One, that the Emperor Aurungzebe was angry with his daughter for exposing her skin through her clothes; whereupon the young princess remonstrated in her justification that she had seven jamahs or suits on; and another, in the Nabob Allaverdy Khawn's time a weaver was chastised and turned out of the city for his neglect, in not preventing his cow from eating up a piece of abrooan, which he had spread and carelessly left on the grass.

Bolt[34][35]: 42 

Muslin has several kinds of variations. Many of the below are mentioned in Ain-i-Akbari (16th-century detailed document)

More variations[edit]

Mull is another kind of muslin. It is a soft, thin, and semitransparent material. The name is derived from Hindi "mal" which means "soft". Swiss mull is a type of which is finished with stiffening agents.[48]

Decline under Company rule[edit]

During the period of Company rule, the East India Company imported British-produced cloth into the Indian subcontinent, but became unable to compete with the local muslin industry. The Company administration initiated several policies in an attempt to suppress the muslin industry, and muslin production subsequently experienced a period of decline. It has been alleged that in some instances Indian weavers were rounded up and their thumbs chopped off, although this has been refuted by historians as an misreading of a report by William Bolts from 1772.[49][50][51] The quality, finesse and production volume of Bengali muslin declined as a result of these policies, continuing when India transitioned from Company rule to British Crown control.[49][52]


Dressmaking and sewing[edit]

In Advantages of wearing Muslin Dresses! (1802), James Gillray caricatured a hazard of untreated muslin: its flammability.

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. These test-models are sometimes referred to as "muslins" in the United States, named for the cheap, unbleached cotton fabric available in different weights, and the process is called "making a muslin." In this context, in the United States "muslin" has become the generic term for a test or fitting garment, regardless of what it is made from.

The equivalent term in Australian and British terminology was in the middle ages[53] Toile. This term toile meanwhile has disappeared.[54] The term entered the English language around the 12th century.

The equivalent term in Germany these days is Nesselmodell.[55]

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.

Use in food production[edit]

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)

Muslin is the material for the traditional cloth wrapped around a Christmas pudding.

Muslin is the fabric wrapped around the items in barmbrack, a fruitcake traditionally eaten at Halloween in Ireland.

Muslin is a filter in traditional Fijian kava production.

Beekeepers use muslin to filter melted beeswax to clean it of particles and debris.

Set design and photography[edit]

Muslin is often the cloth of choice for theatre 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 nighttime 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 or sprayed with water, which is desirable in some common techniques such as soft-covered flats.

In video production, 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 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.


A first-aid packet of 5m of "hydrophilic muslin", given to Italian soldiers in World War I

Surgeons use muslin gauze in cerebrovascular neurosurgery to wrap around aneurysms or intracranial vessels at risk for bleeding.[56] 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.[57]


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.[58] In 2020, it was given Geographical indication status as a product of Bangladesh due to efforts of the government of Bangladesh,[59] the fourth GI-certified product after Jamdani sarees, Hilsa fish, and Khirsapat mangoes.


Muslin saree was woven in Bangladesh by a group of researchers under a government project. The research team has woven six muslin sarees in 2020. It is expecting to launch the muslin saree in the market in the next two years.[60]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ muslin (noun), Oxford English Dictionary, Third Edition, March 2003
  2. ^ muslin (noun), Webster's Unabridged Dictionary
  3. ^ a b muslin, Encyclopaedia Britannica
  4. ^ The Fairchild Books Dictionary of Textiles, A&C Black, 2013, pp. 404–, ISBN 978-1-60901-535-0
  5. ^ muslin (noun), etymology, Oxford English Dictionary, Third Edition, March 2003
  6. ^ Perlin, Frank (1983). "Proto-industrialization and Pre-colonial South Asia". Past & Present. 98 (1): 30–95. doi:10.1093/past/98.1.30. JSTOR 650688.
  7. ^ Giorgio Riello, Tirthankar Roy (2009). How India Clothed the World: The World of South Asian Textiles, 1500-1850. Brill Publishers. p. 174. ISBN 9789047429975.
  8. ^ Abhay Kumar Singh (2006). Modern World System and Indian Proto-industrialization: Bengal 1650-1800, (Volume 1). Northern Book Centre. ISBN 9788172112011.
  9. ^ Lex Heerma van Voss; Els Hiemstra-Kuperus; Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk (2010). "The Long Globalization and Textile Producers in India". The Ashgate Companion to the History of Textile Workers, 1650–2000. Ashgate Publishing. p. 255. ISBN 9780754664284.
  10. ^ "a piece of cloth the texture of which was so fine that the body was visible through it. One could fold a whole piece of this cloth inside one's nail ; yet it was large enough to cover the world when unfolded." Page 108 Life and Conditions of the People of Hindustan, 1200-1550 › books Kunwar Muhammad Ashraf · 1978
  11. ^ Lewandowski, Elizabeth J. (24 October 2011). The Complete Costume Dictionary. Scarecrow Press. pp. 198, 441. ISBN 978-0-8108-7785-6.
  12. ^ Rohatgi, Sushila (1988). Musings. Pradeep Publications. p. 84.
  13. ^ Tripathy, Rasananda (1986). Crafts and Commerce in Orissa in the Sixteenth-seventeenth Centuries. Mittal Publications. p. 141.
  14. ^ Watson, J. Forbes (John Forbes); India Museum; Great Britain. India Office, publisher; Eyre & Spottiswoode, printer (1866). The textile manufactures and the costumes of the people of India. Getty Research Institute.
  15. ^ Baden-Powell, Baden Henry (1872). Hand-book of the Manufactures & Arts of the Punjab: With a Combined Glossary & Index of Vernacular Trades & Technical Terms ... Forming Vol. Ii to the "Hand-book of the Economic Products of the Punjab" Prepared Under the Orders of Government. Punjab printing Company. p. 2.
  16. ^ Mukhopādhyāẏa, Trailokyanātha (1888). Art-manufactures of India: Specially Compiled for the Glasgow International Exhibition, 1888. Superintendent of Government Printing.
  17. ^ India Perspectives. Produced by PTI for the Ministry of External Affairs. 1998. p. 33.
  18. ^ "mulmul". The Free Dictionary. Retrieved 26 November 2020.
  19. ^ Polo, Marco. "The most noble and famous travels of Marco Polo, together with the travels of Nicoláo de' Conti". Translated by John Frampton, London, A. and C. Black, 1937, p.28.
  20. ^ Shamim, Shahid Hussain; Selim, Lala Rukh (2007). "Handloom Textiles". In Selim, Lala Rukh (ed.). Art and Crafts. Cultural survey of Bangladesh series. Vol. 8. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. p. 552. OCLC 299379796.
  21. ^ Eaton, Richard Maxwell (1996). The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204–1760. University of California Press. p. 202. ISBN 978-0-520-20507-9.
  22. ^ Karim, Abdul (2012). "Muslin". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. (eds.). Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
  23. ^ Eaton, Richard M. (31 July 1996). The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-20507-9.
  24. ^ A descriptive and historical account of the cotton manufacture of Dacca, in Bengal. John Mortimer. 1851.
  25. ^ Ashmore, Sonia (1 October 2018). "Handcraft as luxury in Bangladesh: Weaving jamdani in the twenty-first century". International Journal of Fashion Studies. 5 (2): 389–397. doi:10.1386/infs.5.2.389_7. S2CID 166980808.
  26. ^ Watson, John Forbes (1867). The Textile Manufactures and the Costumes of the People of India. Allen. p. 75.
  27. ^ Balfour, Edward (1885). The Cyclopædia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia, Commercial Industrial, and Scientific: Products of the Mineral, Vegetable, and Animal Kingdoms, Useful Arts and Manufactures. Bernard Quaritch. p. 830.
  28. ^ Indian Journal of Economics. University of Allahabad, Department of Economics. 1998. p. 435.
  29. ^ "Legendary fabric". Deccan Herald. 14 January 2017. Retrieved 9 July 2021.
  30. ^ Gorvett, Zaria. "The ancient fabric that no one knows how to make". Retrieved 9 July 2021.
  31. ^ Weibel, Adèle Coulin (1952). Two thousand years of textiles; the figured textiles of Europe and the Near East. Internet Archive. New York, Published for the Detroit Institute of Arts [by] Pantheon Books. p. 54.
  32. ^ Fairchild's dictionary of textiles. New York, Fairchild Publications. 1959. p. 4.
  33. ^ King, Brenda M. (3 September 2005). Silk and Empire. Manchester University Press. pp. 61, xvi. ISBN 978-0-7190-6700-6.
  34. ^ Yule, Henry; Burnell, Arthur. Hobson-Jobson.
  35. ^ Chatterjee, Ramananda (1911). The Modern Review. Prabasi Press Private.
  36. ^ Museum, Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II (1979). Textiles and Costumes from the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum. Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum Trust. pp. XII.
  37. ^ Khadi Gramodyog. Khadi & Village Industries Commission. 2001. p. 88.
  38. ^ Congress, Indian History (1967). Proceedings. Indian History Congress. p. 243.
  39. ^ Burnell, Arthur Coke (15 May 2017). The Voyage of John Huyghen van Linschoten to the East Indies: From the Old English Translation of 1598. The First Book, containing his Description of the East. In Two Volumes Volume I. Taylor & Francis. p. 60. ISBN 978-1-317-01231-3.
  40. ^ Sangar, Pramod (1993). Growth of the English Trade Under the Mughals. ABS Publications. p. 171. ISBN 978-81-7072-044-7.
  41. ^ Fairchild's dictionary of textiles. New York: Fairchild. 1959. p. 15 – via Internet Archive.
  42. ^ Burnell, A. C.; Yule, Henry (24 October 2018). Hobson-Jobson: Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words And Phrases. Routledge. p. 706. ISBN 978-1-136-60331-0.
  43. ^ Montgomery, Florence M. (1984). Textiles in America 1650–1870: a dictionary based on original documents, prints and paintings, commercial records, American merchants' papers, shopkeepers' advertisements, and pattern books with original swatches of cloth. New York; London: Norton. p. 143. ISBN 978-0-393-01703-8 – via Internet Archive.
  44. ^ Sinha, Narendra Krishna (1961). The Economic History of Bengal from Plassey to the Permanent Settlement. Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyay. p. 177.
  45. ^ Dey, Gouri (2015). "Textiles under Mughals". Fashion and Designing under the Mughals (Akbar to Aurangzeb): A Historical Perspective (PDF) (PhD). University of North Bengal. p. 87. Retrieved 29 June 2022. Cotton clothes: 1. Khasa per piece (than) – 3 rupiya to 15 muhr 2. Chautar per piece – 2 rupiya to 9 muhr 3. Malmal per piece – 4 rupiya 4. Tansukh per piece – 4 rupiya to 5 muhr
  46. ^ Chaudhury, Sushil (10 March 2020). Spinning Yarns: Bengal Textile Industry in the Backdrop of John Taylor's Report on 'Dacca Cloth Production' (1801). Routledge. ISBN 978-1-000-07920-3.
  47. ^ Bhattacharya, Ranjit Kumar; Chakrabarti, S. B. (2002). Indian Artisans: Social Institutions and Cultural Values. Anthropological Survey of India, Government of India, Ministry of Culture, Youth Affairs and Sports, Department of Culture. p. 87. ISBN 978-81-85579-56-6.
  48. ^ Thompson, Eliza Bailey (1922). Cotton and linen. New York: Ronald. p. 70 – via University of California Libraries.
  49. ^ a b Bolts, William (1772). Considerations on India affairs: particularly respecting the present state of Bengal and its dependencies. Printed for J. Almon. pp. 194–195.
  50. ^ Edwards, Michael (June 1976). Growth of the British Cotton Trade 1780–1815. Augustus M Kelley Pubs. p. 37. ISBN 0-678-06775-9.
  51. ^ Marshall, P. J. (1988). India and Indonesia during the Ancien Regime. E.J. Brill. p. 90. ISBN 978-90-04-08365-3.
  52. ^ Samuel, T. John (2013). Many avatars : challenges, achievements and the future. [S.l.]: Friesenpress. ISBN 978-1-4602-2893-7.
  53. ^ Oxford English Dictionary: "toile"; earliest citation from 1561.
  54. ^ Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English ISBN 019 431 5339, 2000, page 1367
  55. ^ Guido Hofenbitzer: Maßschnitte und Passform – Schnittkonstruktion für Damenmode: Band 2 Europa-Lehrmittel; 2. Edition (5. Oktober 2016) ISBN 978-3808562444, Page 26
  56. ^ Pool, J. (1976). "Muslin gauze in intracranial vascular surgery. Technical note". Journal of Neurosurgery. 44 (1): 127–128. doi:10.3171/jns.1976.44.1.0127. PMID 1244428.
  57. ^ Berger, C.; Hartmann, M.; Wildemann, B. (March 2003). "Progressive visual loss due to a muslinoma – report of a case and review of the literature". European Journal of Neurology. 10 (2): 153–158. doi:10.1046/j.1468-1331.2003.00546.x. PMID 12603290. S2CID 883414.
  58. ^ "Jamdani recognised as intangible cultural heritage by Unesco". The Daily Star. 5 December 2013. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
  59. ^ "Muslin belongs to Bangladesh". Prothom Alo. Retrieved 1 January 2021.
  60. ^ Legendary Muslin revived again, Textile Today, 2 January 2021

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Muslin at Wikimedia Commons
  • The dictionary definition of muslin at Wiktionary