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Title: Muslin  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Mediumship, Pattern (sewing), Samuel Oldknow, Cheesecloth, 1795–1820 in Western fashion
Collection: Bangladeshi Clothing, Indian Clothing, Woven Fabrics
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


A woman in Dhaka clad in fine Bengali muslin, 18th-century
Marie Antoinette in her famous "muslin" portrait, 1783
Woman's muslin dress, Europe, c. 1855. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.2007.211.755.

Muslin ( or ) is a cotton fabric of plain weave.[1][2] It is made in a wide range of weights from delicate sheers to coarse sheeting.[2][3] It gets its name from the Indian port town Masulipatnam, known as Maisolos and Masalia in ancient times and the name 'Muslin' originated from the name Maisolos.[4] Early Indian muslin was handwoven of uncommonly delicate handspun yarn, especially in the region of what today is Bangladesh and indian state of West Bengal .[3] It was imported into Europe for much of the 17th and early 18th centuries.[3]

Fine linen muslin was formerly known as sindon.[5]

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.[6]


  • Etymology and history 1
  • Uses 2
    • Dress-making and sewing 2.1
    • Shellac polishing 2.2
    • Culinary 2.3
    • Theater and photography 2.4
    • Medicine 2.5
  • Notes 3
  • References 4

Etymology and history

The word "Muslin" is derived from the name of the ancient port town "Maisolos". Muslin clothes were traded by ancient Greeks and Romans from the East Indian port town Masulipatnam, known as Maisolos and Masalia in ancient times and the name 'Muslin' originated from the name Maisolos.[4] The chief merchandise of Maisolia, eagerly sought for by the merchants from the Roman world, was muslin-so favourite a wear with fashionable Roman ladies of that age that a legend has it that an ounce of muslin used to sell in Rome for an ounce of gold. Because of this trade Roman gold coins poured into Maisolia. Several Roman coins were found during excavations of Buddhist towns located near Masulipatnam (Maisolia).[7]

Subsequently, the word Muslin found its place in various European languages as French mousseline, Italian mussolina etc.,

Some believe Crusaders of the First Crusade found the cloth in the Middle East and brought it back to Europe.[8]

In 1298, Marco Polo described the cloth in his book The Travels. He said it was made in Mosul, Iraq.[9] 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.[10][11] During the Roman period Khadi muslin was introduced in Europe and a vast amounts of fabrics were traded to Europe for many centuries.[12] 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,[13] 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."[13]: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, and sinabaka.[14] 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.[15] 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.[11] 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.

Under British rule, the British East India company could not compete with the local Muslin with their own export of cloth to India. Muslin production was repressed and the knowledge eradicated. Local weavers were systematically rounded up and their hands mutilated with removal of their thumbs.[16][17][18]


Dress-making and sewing

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. This garment is often called a "muslin," and the process is called "making a muslin." In this context, "muslin" has become the generic term for a test or fitting garment, regardless of what it is 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.

Shellac polishing

Muslin is used as a 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)

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.

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

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 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 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.


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.[19] 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.[20]

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.


  1. ^ muslin (noun), Oxford English Dictionary, Third Edition, March 2003 
  2. ^ a b muslin (noun), Webster's Unabridged Dictionary 
  3. ^ a b c muslin, Encyclopaedia Britannica 
  4. ^ a b Periplus, Point 62;
  5. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 1st ed. "sindon, n." Oxford University Press (Oxford), 1911.
  6. ^ "Jamdani recognised as intangible cultural heritage by Unesco". The Daily Star. Retrieved 2013-12-04. 
  7. ^ Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India: Their History and Their Contribution to Indian Culture by Sukumar Butt, Motilal Banarsidas Publishers, 1988, p. 132
  8. ^ Michaud, Joseph Francois (c. 1875). Dover Publications, Inc., 1997, ed. History of the Crusades. Illustrated by Gustave Doré. George Barrie, Philadelphia, PA, USA. 
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Karim, Abdul (2012). "Muslin". In  
  11. ^ a b Richard Maxwell Eaton (1996). The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760. University of California Press. p. 202.  
  12. ^ "The story of KHADI". The Daily Star (Bangladesh). Retrieved 2014-01-14. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ Selim, Lala Rukh (2007). Art and Crafts. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. p. 552. 
  15. ^ Indian Textiles: Past and Present - G. K. Ghosh, Shukla Ghosh - Google Books
  16. ^ Edwards, Michael (June 1976). Growth of the British Cotton Trade 1780-1815. Augustus M Kelley Pubs. p. 37.  
  17. ^ al. ], essays by P.J. Marshall ... [et (1988). India and Indonesia during the Ancien Regime. Leiden: E.J. Brill. p. 90.  
  18. ^ Samuel, T. John (2013). Many avatars : challenges, achievements and the future. [S.l.]: Friesenpress.  
  19. ^ Pool JL. "Muslin gauze in intracranial vascular surgery. Technical note." J Neurosurg. 1976 Jan;44(1):127-8.
  20. ^ Hartmann M, Wildemann B. "Progressive visual loss due to a muslinoma – report of a case and review of the literature." Eur J Neurol. 2003 Mar;10(2):153-8.


  • Asher, Catherine B.; Talbot, Cynthia (2006), India Before Europe, Cambridge University Press, pp. 281–,  
  • Eaton, Richard M. (1996), The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760, University of California Press, pp. 202–,  
  • Prakash, Om (1998), European Commercial Enterprise in Pre-Colonial India, Cambridge University Press, pp. 202–,  
  • Riello, Giorgio (editor); Parthasarathi, Prasannan (editor) (2011), The Spinning World: A Global History of Cotton Textiles, 1200-1850, Oxford University Press,  
  • Riello, Giorgio (editor); Roy, Tirthankar (editor) (2009), How India Clothed the World: The World of South Asian Textiles, 1500-1850, BRILL, pp. 219–,  
  • Staples, Kathleen A.; Shaw, Madelyn C. (2013), Clothing Through American History: The British Colonial Era, ABC-CLIO, pp. 96–,  
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