Muslin (//) 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, in Iraq, where it was first manufactured. In the 17th and 18th centuries Dacca in Bengal was regarded as producing the finest muslins.
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.
The earliest muslin was known as Mulmul or Malmal. It was a handwoven fabric made with the finest handspun yarns. 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, Eksuti malmal, 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.
In 1298 CE, Marco Polo described the cloth in his book The Travels. He said it was made in Mosul, Iraq. The 16th-century English traveller Ralph Fitch lauded the muslin he saw in Sonargaon. 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. It became highly popular in 18th-century France and eventually spread across much of the Western world.
- 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.
Muslins were originally made of cotton only.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.
Thy bride might as well clothe herself with a garment of the wind as stand forth publicly naked under her clouds of muslin.— Petronius
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. The fabric's characteristics are summed up in its name.
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.
Muslin has several kinds of variations. Many of the below are mentioned in Ain-i-Akbari (16th-century detailed document)
- Alliballi The name embraces ā'lā, 'superior', bhalā, 'good'.
- Adatais, a fine and clear fabric.
- Seerhand muslin was a variety in between nainsook and mull (another muslin type, a very thin and soft). The fabric was resistant to washing, retaining its clearness.
- and varieties of mulmul (Mulboos khas, Jhuna, Sarkar ali, Sarbati, Tarindam) were among the most delicate cotton muslins produced in the Indian subcontinent.
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.
Decline under Company rule
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. 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.
Dressmaking 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. 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 Toile. This term toile meanwhile has disappeared. The term entered the English language around the 12th century.
The equivalent term in Germany these days is Nesselmodell.
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
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 fabric wrapped around the items in barmbrack, a fruitcake traditionally eaten at Halloween in Ireland.
Muslin is a filter in traditional Fijian kava production.
Set design and photography
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.
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.
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. In 2020, it was given Geographical indication status as a product of Bangladesh due to efforts of the government of Bangladesh, 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.
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