Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Macaron Dress: Muslins!


Oh, the Macaron dress! How I love this pattern!  I made a knit version last year and wore it to death! This year I am making another knit version and I can't wait to share my fabric choices with you!  As I've made the Macaron before, I am not going to make a muslin for this version.  I was lucky enough to have very few tweaks in my first version and working with knits is always very forgiving.

Now, I know we do go on about the importance of making a muslin and I do believe that it is a valuable step in the sewing process.  When a muslin (or toile, for my UK readers) is made, it refers to the actual test garment and not the fabric of the same name.  One thing I've wanted to talk about for a while is the interesting history of this beautiful textile.  So, sit back, make yourself a cup of tea, and let's meander down history together.

Isn't this dress just gorgeous?! Just imagine the sheer volume of time and skill that went into creating this gem, especially since sewing machines were not widely used in 1855, the date this dress was created.  

The origin muslin fabric is contested; many believing that it was named after the Iranian city Musol, where it was ostensibly first woven; whilst others claim that muslin originated in Dhaka, capital city of Bangladesh. 
Whichever belief  you subscribe to, it is undoubtedly true that muslin fabric has existed for centuries.

Historically, Malmal was the highest quality Indian muslin. It was woven with the finest threads by the most skilled weavers and often took up to six months to complete.  This grade of cloth was only worn by emperors, the loftiest of the nobility, and the greatest of generals.  Other grades of muslin are as follows (1):

  • Jhuna’ was used by native dancers.
  • Rang’ was very transparent and net-like texture.
  • Abirawan’ was fancifully compared with running water.
  • Khassa’ was special quality, fine or elegant.
  • Tanzib’ was as the adorning the body.
  • Seerbund’ used for turbans.
  • Kumees’ used for making shirts.
  • Doorea’ was striped.

One of the most surprising elements is that muslin, depending on the grade, is quite costly.  It was heavily imported to Europe from India in the 17th and 18th centuries to make fine shirts, dresses, undergarments, and children's clothing. 

Muslin has fallen in and out of fashion over the centuries, but it was the British and French Regency periods that saw this fabric reach its zenith.  Josephine Bonaparte was famously painted wearing a semi-sheer muslin gown and many noble ladies often dampened their muslin dresses to make their legs and other parts of their anatomy more visible. Scandalous, no?  

Given its light texture and diaphanous qualities, muslin is a highly favoured fabric for hot climates and delicate garments.  It accepts dyes readily and is easily embellished with embroidery.  It's semi-sheer texture is faintly alluring, whilst the cut of the garment can be quite conservative.  This delicate embroidered Regency-era gown is an ideal example of why this fabric is so favoured:

Unfortunately, most modern-day muslins do not compare to the beautiful quality of their historical counterparts.  More often than not, today's muslin is a natural-coloured rather coarse-feeling fabric used by both seamstresses and designers alike.  It's sturdy construction allows both to ruthlessly use and abuse it in the quest for the perfect fit. 

Famous Muslin Wearers
Marie Antoinette, wife of King Louis XVI

* * * * *

Sew Colette 2.0 Macaron Schedule
Week of August 1st:  Muslins!
Week of August 5th: Fit Tips & Techniques
Week of August 12th: Fabric, Fabric, Fabric!
Week of August 19th: Sewing Macaron and Guest Bloggers!
Week of  August 26th: More Guest Bloggers!
Week of September 2nd: Macaron Parade & Giveaways


ReadyThreadSew said...

The fabric that is called muslin in the US is what we call calico in the UK (the stiff, natural coloured fabric). The light airy muslin is still called muslin (or butter muslin) here and is readily available for a couple of quid a metre. A quick search online suggests that it is known as cheesecloth is the US, probably because it is used in the process of making cheese :). The dresses in the photos you've shown would have been made from the cheesecloth type muslin.

Punkmik said...

oh my! I had no idea about the history of muslin fabric! wow! SO amazed! Thanks for sharing. I have also made the macaron once before, so wont make a muslin, but still need to find my right fabric!

Becky said...

I had no ideas there were that many types of muslin, though I was certain there had to be a nicer version of it. After all, those muslin dresses get mentioned fairly regularly in Jane Austen novels!