Do you enjoy handcrafting with fabric, but hate how expensive cotton is? Do you wish there was a cheaper alternative but with the same incredible qualities? The answer is closer than you think.
There’s no doubt that cotton is the most ubiquitous fabric; it’s one of the best fibers to ever be developed by mankind. You can’t miss this wardrobe staple in any household closet or drawers.
Muslin is another fabric you hear of from time to time and is actually quite popular, whether you know you’ve been using it or not.
But if you’re not a fabric expert, you may not be sure of the differences in these popular materials.
So what’s the difference between muslin and cotton fabrics? Muslin is a type of cotton made with a loose, plain weave. Therefore both cotton and muslin are plant-based fibers known for their absorbency, breathability, and durability. Muslin is especially light, delicate, and soft.
By reading on, you will get to learn the difference between cotton and muslin, just to clear any more confusion between the two! We also outline the best uses for muslin and cotton fabrics.
Muslin Vs Cotton Fabric
As we said above, muslin is a specific type of cotton. So both cotton and muslin are plant-based fibers, coming from – you guessed it – the cotton plant.
Cotton is loved for its high absorbency, plush softness, breathability, and natural appeal.
Muslin has similar characteristics, but also a few of its own, such as being even lighter weight and more delicate, which make it an excellent alternative to cotton for some purposes. It also tends to be much cheaper than many other forms of cotton.
Here’s a quick chart summarizing the differences between muslin and cotton:
|Medium to tight closed weave and breathable||Loose, open weave and extremely breathable|
|Strong with varying densities from sheer to thick and heavy||Very fine, delicate, and lightweight|
|Medium to high thread count||Very low thread count per inch|
|Soft feel and flexible||Soft texture but a bit stiff when still new|
|Moderately expensive||Typically cheap|
|Typically dyed and printed||Often left natural (undyed)|
Other closed cotton weaves are ideal for making apparel, but muslin is the simplest open plain (tabby) weave, and thus better for gauzy, airy fabrics as well as a myriad of non-clothing uses.
Unlike the conventional cotton fabric known to have a tighter weave, muslin is woven very loosely.
The space between the warp and weft is often quite visible as it has fewer warp threads. Therefore, any flaws in muslin can be seen clearly.
Also as a result of the prominent spaces, muslin is much more permeable and is not quite as strong as “regular” cotton.
This delicate nature of muslin is due to the low thread count (the fact that it is a loose weave).
Cotton fabric is relatively heavier and typically has a thread count of anything from 400 and up. Muslin has a thread count of less than 180, making it very thin.
Muslin is lightweight and dries rapidly. Due to the loose weave it has more drape to it than typical cotton.
Cotton is still lightweight, breathable, and dries quickly, particularly compared to most other fabrics. Muslin is just even lighter and airier. However, muslin suffers a little on durability and stiffness. Cotton is quite durable.
Both muslin and cotton fabrics are soft and have a slight give when stretched. Muslin can appear stiff when new, but its pliability improves significantly with subsequent washing.
Treatment and Use
Originally, muslin was known for being organic, unbleached, and undyed.
Cotton fabric usually is bleached, dyed, and perhaps even printed to be used for sewing fashionable items.
Though traditional muslin still exists, today there is more variety. Muslin fabrics now have different textures and weights. Some are dyed, printed, and incorporate silk, viscose, or even synthetic yarn fibers within the weave.
Quality cotton fabrics are usually expensive and may even be blended with synthetics to lower the production cost and make them affordable. On the contrary, natural muslin is a still generally a low-cost fabric. It is an inexpensive yet versatile alternative to cotton in many applications.
What is Muslin Fabric Used For?
Wondering what you can do with muslin? Here are some of its best uses:
Before transferring new patterns and cutting onto your final fabric, you can make a muslin. This is a test sample using muslin fabric.
Muslin is cheap, so it’s more cost efficient to mock up a design or part of a design with this affordable fabric rather than risk ruining a pricier one.
Muslin helps lower your budget, especially for professional seamstresses and clothing designers, because typically, you will create numerous prototypes before establishing the final best. If you use the final product’s fabric over and over, that’s likely to be much more expensive.
You will also avoid making costly mistakes on premium fabrics that cost you a lot more since you can test details on muslin. In addition, you get the perfect fit when you start with a muslin test garment.
For beginner designers, muslin offers the perfect platform for practicing hard to tackle angles or insets.
Quilting and Embroidery
If you enjoy hand quilting, muslin is excellent for the backing. The quality varies widely, however, so avoid very thin muslin and go for something fuller like sheeting muslin. Muslin also makes an excellent material for foundation piecing.
This medium weight muslin is a great choice for quilting.
New to embroidery? No need to ruin good cotton fabric practicing. Muslin makes the right learner fabric. It also provides reliable backing for an all-over hand embroidery design (so you can recycle that sampler!).
Sewing Light Clothing
Muslin fabric is rarely used to make final garments unless it’s of outstanding quality. High-quality muslin can be used to sew comfy breathable under clothes for kids such as petticoats, underlining for dresses and sleepwear such as pajama pants. Some also enjoy breezy muslin shirts, dresses, or skirts for warm weather.
Baby Items and Accessories
Muslin is reasonably soft and comfortable on the infant’s skin. And because they won’t stay small for too long, you can use muslin as an affordable alternative for baby napkins, baby burp cloths, and diaper changing mats.
Its softness and breathability make it preferential as a swaddle for summer and tropical climates.
Washcloths, body scrub cloths, dish drying cloths, face wipes, handkerchief, makeup removers, and pretty much every type of cleaning cloth can be made out of muslin as it is absorbent, washable and reusable.
Did we mention that it can dust and shine shoes and other indoor surfaces such as glass mirrors, windows, lacquered furniture, and vanity tops? No need for polish; muslin leaves surfaces glossy without depositing residual fluff or lint.
If you would like something organic, lightweight, breathable, and soft for your bedroom or living room, muslin fits the bill. It is used to make curtains, cushion covers, bed sheets, and pillowcases for a serene feel.
Medicine: Surgeons use muslin gauze to wrap around the arteries to prevent rupture. It is also used to cover open cuts, lesions or burns and make face masks for clinical use.
The loose weave of the muslin enables the broken skin to breathe through the covering. You can create bandages at home out of organic muslin for small cuts and wounds instead of purchasing band-aids that don’t allow the free flow of air.
In Art, Theater, Filming: Photographers use muslin as a backdrop for their projects to eliminate distractions. This is because muslin does not reflect any light; hence it is perfect for video shooting and photography.
Muslin takes dyes and paints very well and can be used for dye crafts and painting scenery backdrop in theatres.
As a Sieve: Muslin does a fine job as a sieve for homemade jams, homemade cheese, citrus fruits, tea leaves, you name it.
What is Cotton Fabric Used For?
Cotton has long been a classic choice for durable, but breezy and airy clothing.
Cotton is the practically the oldest fabric known to man and is mainly used to make durable, high-quality clothing domestically and commercially. It is ideal for inner and outerwear due to its strength, breathability, and soft skin-friendly texture.
Although fewer clothes are made of pure cotton these days, poly-cotton and other cotton blends remain quite popular. I personally like these 100% cotton fabrics on Amazon because of their pretty designs.
Fabrics Around the House
Its tendency to be highly absorbent makes cotton the primary fabric for various bath and kitchen towels. It is also good for quality bed sheets and upholstery.
Basically, cotton is good for anything you need sturdy, breathable, and long-lasting! Although this may seem like a short list, the truth is cotton is used and has been used in all kinds of fabric-based items for ages. It’s one of the most ubiquitous materials out there.
What Are the Different Types of Muslin?
There are four different types of muslin, namely:
- Gauze – The lightest muslin commonly used in hospitals as dressing and as a kitchen filter.
- Swiss – A sheer crisp muslin fabric identifiable by its ornamental raised dot pattern used for making light summer dresses and home drapery.
- Mull – The most exquisite muslin often blended with silk or viscose used for making clothes.
- Sheeting – The thickest muslin best for interior furnishing, upholstery and beddings, backdrops, quilting, pattern cutting, and giving structure to gowns.
How Do You Sew With Muslin?
Sewing muslin is no different from sewing any other fabric. You only need to use a small needle to avoid leaving behind pronounced holes in the fine fabric. A size 75/11 will work great, or 90/14.
Muslin frays badly at the edges, so a serged edge finish is necessary.
It is also essential to know that, just like pure cotton, muslin will shrink after washing. So if you are sewing something to actually wear, and not just a sample, a prewash might help you get a better fit.
What is Muslin Bad For?
Very fine muslin is not as enduring as cotton fabric and cannot stand extremely high tension. It also wrinkles and frays badly.
Muslin Vs Cotton – Review
As we wrap up, the difference between muslin and cotton is not that huge. Except for the weave, thread count, and the price, most qualities remain similar.
Still, muslin can be an excellent replacement for cotton in many ways. You still get all the qualities of cotton but at a fraction of the cost. It is versatile, breathable, easy to use, and easy to launder. You can paint and dye it. Once dirty, you are free to throw it in the washer, clean, dry, and reuse it.
For craftsy projects such as sewing, embroidery, and quilting, it is often better to start with muslin and save those extra bucks.
But for projects that need fabric with more body, cotton prevails as a fabric choice.