Muslin is most typically a closely-woven unbleached or white cloth, produced from corded cotton yarn. Wide muslin is called "sheeting". It is often used to make dresses or curtains but may also be used to complement foam for bench padding. Muslin breathes well, and is a good choice of material for clothing meant for hot, dry climates.
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. In the UK, that firm cloth is called calico. In British slang, muslin used to refer to women or femininity, while in nautical slang, muslin can refer to a vessel's sails.
When sewing clothing, a dressmaker may test the fit of a garment, using an inexpensive muslin fabric before cutting the intended expensive fabric, thereby avoiding potential costly mistakes. The muslin garment is often called a "muslin", and the process is called "making a muslin". With the availability of inexpensive synthetic fabrics, which closely resemble the hand (drape and feel) of expensive natural fabrics, a test or fitting garment made of synthetics may still be referred to as a muslin, because the word has become the generic term for a test or fitting garment.
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.
Muslin is often the cloth of choice for theater sets. It is helpful in masking the background of sets and helping to establish the mood or feel of different scenes. It can be painted to look like countless different settings and if treated properly it can become semi-translucent. It also holds dyes very well and is often used to create night time scenes as by dyeing it, it often gets a waved look resembling a night time sky with the colors varying slightly. Muslin shrinks after it is painted. It is widely used because it makes for a great paint surface.
In video production, muslin can also be used as a cheap bluescreen, either precolored or painted with latex paint (diluted with water).
Muslin is the most common backdrop material used by photographers for formal portrait backgrounds. It is usually painted, most often with an abstract mottled pattern.
The fabric was named after the city where Europeans first encountered it, Mosul, in what is now Iraq, but the fabric actually originated from Dhaka in what is now Bangladesh. In the 9th century, an Arab merchant named Sulaiman makes note of the material's origin in Bengal (known as Ruhml in Arabic).