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.
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.
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, etc. 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 East India. 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.
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.
Muslins were originally made of cotton only.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.
Gaius Petronius Arbiter (1st century AD Roman courtier and author of the Satyricon) described the transparent nature of the muslin cloth as below:
Thy bride might as well clothe herself with a garment of the wind as stand forth publicly naked under her clouds of muslin.— The Roman author Petronius, The ancient fabric that no one knows how to make
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.—Bolt: 42
Many of the below are mentioned in Ain-i-Akbari (16th-century detailed document)
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.
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. In North America, 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. The equivalent term outside North America is Toile.
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.
In Asia, especially in Bangladesh, muslin is used to make sarees.
Main article: Cheesecloth
Muslin can be used as a filter:
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.
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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