Muslin weaving taking place on a handloom at a designated karkhana, or at the weaver’s home, under the watchful eyes of a gomostha (royal supervisor) – 18th century.

Whilst contemporary definitions about muslin have been altered, historically muslin was unambiguously defined as being a cotton fabric, characterised by its extraordinary lightness as well as distinctive motifs.

Original muslin was produced solely from a cotton plant called, Phuti Karpas, that grew exclusively along the banks of a certain stretch of the Brahmaputra river.  The extracted cotton was then hand-spun into an extraordinarily delicate yarn in villages near Dhaka, Bangladesh, for example, Jangalbaree, Shonagragon, Teetbari, Dhamrai and Bajitpur. 

The finished cloth woven on looms which have barely altered over the centuries, was sought after by royalty and traded globally across countries of the Middle East and Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries, earning enormous revenue for those involved in its trade.  Tragically, the industry was deliberately and cruelly erased by past colonial rulers, especially the East India Company and replaced with their machine-made fabrics in the 19th century. 

As a result the plant, along with muslin’s spinners and weavers, receded into the pages of history.  Today, the best examples of the finished product are in the custody of Western museums and viewed mostly by Western audiences. Bengal Muslin has collected some selected samples of muslin for the nation.

Muslin’s fineness, its extraordinary skill and its legendary feel gave birth to many tales, some were accurate and some were fiction. Over time though it is difficult to separate the fact from the fiction, most experts agree that much of muslin’s reputation is indeed well founded.

We have addressed some of the common queries about muslin in a series of ‘one pagers’ ranging from the tale of thumbs being cut to the variety of fabrics that are known as muslin today. To know more about this magical fabric, click on the links below and read on:

What’s in a Count?

Classification of Muslin

Demystifying Muslin

Legend of the Missing Thumbs

Verses of the Loom

Weaver’s within the Circle of Attrition