What is Muslin ? 10 Interesting Muslin uses

Muslin is a loosely woven light to medium weight cotton cloth with a lot of uses in sewing. Some trace the origin of Muslin fabric to Mosul in Iraq and some to the South Indian Port Musulipattam; wherever it was first made, today it is a widely used cotton fabric throughout the world. 

In sewing terms Muslin also refers to the test garment you make, before you make the final garment – this practice garment is termed so because this is usually made with an inexpensive muslin cloth. ( Though nowadays even if you make a test pattern in polyester it is still called a muslin). It is regarded as an important step in fashion designing as a muslin serves as a neutral medium to develop the designer’s creative vision

Why Muslin?

The best quality of muslin cloth is that as a 100% natural fabric you can breathe in it. It is made from carded cotton yarn.

By replacing muslin cloth with plastic and paper in gift wrapping and such, you are doing a favor to the environment you live in. The fabric is easy to sew, easy to wear, and easy to care. It is also very cheap – need I say more?

When you say Muslin, you cannot categorize it simply with that name – because there are many different types of muslin fabrics – in different weights and types of yarns. You will get very coarse muslin as well as light as air diaphanous muslin. You will get it in its natural avatar unbleached without any colour or white or coloured, printed and patterned, embroidered etc.  Striped and chequered muslins are also available. A special muslin named Jamdani is a fine muslin with floral or abstract motifs woven into it.

Some are more closely woven than others, some made of stronger finer yarns which result in a super smooth muslin cloth. So you can’t categorically say muslin is this kind or that kind. It is 100% natural, breathable, durable and very inexpensive– these are constants across its many kinds

Muslin is a very lightweight fabric – in fact very fine muslins that weigh as less as 10 gms for I yard are available. The finest of handmade muslin, the Malmal fabric can pass through a small ring quite easily

In many countries, other varieties of thin cotton which are not muslin are collectively called muslin. This is a wrong usage.

What are the uses of muslin fabric?

A Muslin fabric is usually not used to make final garments unless it is of the finest quality like the malmal. From the time it was used to cover the mummies of Pharaohs in Egypt to the present time when there are so many things you can make with it, Muslin sure has come a long way

1 To make a Muslin

A muslin is made so that before making the final garment, you can test  the garment for fit etc in inexpensive fabric and  this way you do not ruin your expensive fabric

2 To make things around the house 

Kitchen napkins, curtains, handkerchiefs, pillow covers, table covers, bedsheets, bed skirts; the list is endless. Your sofa and upholstered chairs most probably have a muslin covering under the fine clothing on top.

Bedsheets in fine muslin cloth are very comfortable to sleep on. You can use this to make fitted sheets under your bedspread if you donot want something more fancy. One of the major uses to which I use muslin is as a pillow insert case – ie to fill the pillow you can use muslin. You can make pillowcases with fine muslin, and adorn it with some embroidery.

What do you use to tie a  bandage when there is a wound but the loose woven muslin. 

In the kitchen I have a fine muslin cloth to use as a sieve when preparing cottage cheese – none of the particles are lost with this sieve. Lavender sachets made with muslin cloth can be kept inside the wardrobe for a nice smell. 

3  Making Baby things

For making baby items this fabric is a gem as it is soft and breathable – no synthetic fibers, harsh against the baby skin – baby napkins, baby diapers, baby burp cloths, even a baby blanket suitable for hot climates

4 For making Lining and backing

Lining for garments, lining for curtains. You can make inexpensive bag linings with muslin fabric. In quilting, the muslin fabric makes for a good backing cloth – inexpensive and comfortable against the skin.

5 As Gift wraps

Gift bags made of muslins are quite popular as they can be reused and are cheap to make in large quantities with you feeling you are doing something for the environment by not using paper or plastic.

6 Make lounge wear/innerwear

Simple pajama pants can be made in muslin easily. Use the pattern for pyjama pants here. Fine muslin is used to make petticoats for kids to wear under their uniforms so that they are more comfortable.

7 Bath accessories

Cut up some washed muslin fabric piece and use a roller feet to finish the edges and you have a good washcloth to scrub your face and body in the shower. Wash as usual and dry to use it again and again.  This is one advantage of muslin – it is machine washable – just put in the washer and forget about it. You can also use muslin cloth squares as make up removing wipes by soaking it in some Rosewater or Witch Hazel

8 For embroidery.

Most of the practice embroidery work I do is done on muslin cloth as it is quite an easy fabric to hold on to and work with.If you intend to applique an allover design muslin will make a good backing

9 Backdrop for photography

If you are into fashion you maybe into photography as well. You can use inexpensive muslin fabric as a backdrop for your subjects/objects so that there is no distraction. Its non-reflective quality makes this fabric ideal for still photography as well as video. You can use it after dyeing it in any colour you want and make the backdrop of your choice. You can even use fabric paint to paint entire background the way you want it.

10 Make clothes

Muslin made using the Jamdani technique is a very fine muslin with woven patterns – it is a handwoven cotton fabric used to make fine garments. Uppada (Jamdani) Muslin cotton from India is such a fine muslin – it is very fine as to seem diaphanous with beautiful motifs. The floral designs are woven all over the fabric.

Why not Muslin?

The disadvantage is that its plain weave is not as strong as other weaves – so it may not be suitable for more sturdier uses. The open weave of the cloth makes it more vulnerable to tears than say a twill weave fabric.Do you know that the thread count of muslin may only be up to 140 -160 whereas other varieties of cotton have thread-count upwards of 400 

Some of the inexpensive muslin will be made of weak yarn which makes it quite thin and tearable

Some will still have cotton trash visible on the surface which is unattractive.

You will have to prewash muslin before making anything with it as it usually comes with a lot of sizing added to it (a resin is added in the fabric production process). It will also wrinkle a lot especially once it is washed

One more disadvantage is that it can catch and spread fire quite fast.

How to know you have the best muslin

For one, you can look at the individual yarn and see if it looks fine but strong. Poor quality muslin will look stiff and strong but they  will be kept so with starch – once you take it home and prewash it the whole starch will go off leaving a limp open weave muslin cloth which maynot be what you want

When buying muslin you may get off-grain fabric – with inexpensive muslin this is a big problem. Check the grain and ensure it is of perfect grain and then only buy. Check out the post on checking grainlines of fabric for more details. It has a plain weave with very visible yarns crisscrossing each other and so very easy to know the grain

How to sew with Muslin

Muslin is sewn as you sew any woven fabric – Use a small sharp needle to sew – use needle sizes 75/11 and 90/14. On fine muslin a large needle will leave visible holes. You can use a standard straight seam with a medium stitch length (2.5) for sewing muslin. As this fabric will fray at the cut edges you will have to finish the fabric edges – a serged edge is best with muslin

Related Posts : What are textiles? ; Fabric Dictionary.