The origin of the word “muslin” is uncertain – it may derive from the Hindi word “mulmull” which has been used in India for centuries to describe a plain woven, sheer cotton cloth – or possibly from “Mosul” – an area in Iraq.
Butter muslin, cheesecloth, gauze and flag bunting are all different types of muslin. The first two names refer specifically to their original culinary uses – to strain or to wrap butter, cheese, bacon and puddings. Butter muslin is still used for this purpose today, and for straining and clarifying soups and sauces. These practical uses are reflected in the coarse, unbleached cloth that still retains the small dark flecks of the cotton seed that are removed in further refining and bleaching processes.
In contrast, more than three hundred years ago craftsmen in Dacca (now
part of Bangladesh) were spinning and weaving cotton into the most fine and beautiful cloth used only for royal and ceremonial occasions. This cloth was so light that, yard for yard, it weighed less than a quarter of the weight of a fine quality muslin today. As fine as a cobweb, with dainty “butis” or floral sprigs embroidered in a slightly thicker yarn, it caused a sensation at the Great Exhibition held in Hyde Park, London in 1851.
Today the best and finest muslin cloth is made from Egyptian cotton – a name which no longer refers only to its country of origin,but to a type of cotton plant that produces one of the highest quality cottons in the world. The length and quality or staple of the cotton fibre determines how fine the yarn can be spun. Except perhaps for USA Sea Island cotton, Egyptian cotton has the longest, finest staple and this is why muslin woven from Egyptian cotton yarn is so fine and delicate, with a lovely subtle sheen.
*Article originally featured in Bustle & Sew Magazine. Find out more HERE