Muslin is a popular utility fabric that has been used for centuries. It is said to have originated from a town in Iraq and was historically a fashionable summer-weight fabric in Europe. This plain woven cotton fabric comes in a number of weights and widths, but the best quality muslin feels smooth with an even texture and no slubs.
The most common muslin available in modern times is a basic white or natural cotton fabric, often sold along with quilting supplies. This type of muslin is used in linings, to make practice versions of garments, and to provide stiffness in between lighter weight fabrics. It is generally inexpensive and fairly even--though cheaper muslin is sometimes finished with sizing to make it seem smoother.
Muslin sheeting is a smoother, wider material that may be used to make bedsheets, comforters, or simple curtains. Muslin sheeting can also be used in upholstery to back other materials and provide a firm support. This wider fabric tends to be more expensive than narrower basic muslin because it is more difficult to weave. Sheeting commonly comes in widths of 72 inches, 96 inches and 108 inches.
Historical Muslin Types
Historically, muslin was a wider umbrella under which many other types of fabrics could be found. The term referred to any fine, semi-transparent cotton fabric. Swiss muslin was very thin, almost transparent, with a shiny finish. Book muslin was similar, but coarser. Indian muslin was thin but opaque and silky, and mull was similar but less silky. Leno muslin had a stiff, open weave. Some muslin types incorporated patterns, a feature that most modern muslin does not include. Organdy, for example, was an opaque fabric with raised spots, while madras was a transparent muslin with soft darned patterning. Reenactors should be aware of these differences in order to choose the right fabric.