Hidden Fact of Muslin
Whenever talk of Indian handloom or Bangal saree comes up, one name that features prominently on the list is that of muslin. This is not a surprise, considering this is one of the golden spots to feature in the history of not only Bengal but the Indian handloom sector as a whole. In our latest post, we explore a number of facts about this elegant, luxurious fabric from Bengal that are not common knowledge among the masses and can surely leave you craving for your own share of this vibrant fabric.
What is Muslin
Muslin refers to a form of finely-woven and breathable fabric that is believed to have had its origins in what is modern-day Bangladesh sometime during the Middle Ages. Pure, simple, extremely gentle, and perhaps the most perfect fabric ever to be discovered anywhere in the world, muslin has a long legacy of bringing together elegance and comfort for the fashion industry. Muslin jamdani saree remains to this day one of the most sought-after products for women in the Bengali household.
You may be inclined to ask as to what makes this such a magical fabric. The breath ability of this fabric is the biggest highlight with the open weave and lightweight fabric allowing considerable airflow and reducing any chance of overheating. It also enjoys a great deal of durability. Any product woven in the natural muslin fiber makes it a workhorse fabric which allows it to withstand countless washes – something every cotton muslin saree owner would view as a major advantage. Not to mention the fact that it also gets better with age!
The history of this Bengal fabric can be traced back to documents available from the 1st century when India would trade with the West via the Silk Route. Here, it has been referred to as the “finest cotton ever seen”. Similar references can be found in the literary works of many famous thinkers of that era, names that we are familiar with from our history text books. John Taylor, textile expert of the erstwhile East India Company, writes about cotton muslin saree of Bengal in his documents, describing how a 6.5-meter-long cloth could be folded and fit into a small tobacco container that’s no more than a few inches in diameter. Of course, we are all aware of the kind of damage that the East India Company did to the pride of Bengal once they had assumed the role of rulers of India.
References to this fabric further appear in the works of Ibn Batuta and Abul Fazal who were travelers to the Mughal court in Delhi. There are many more documents of businessmen and traders of that time who talk about muslin and how it had left women the world over amazed with its finery.
Reality and Misconceptions
We have often come across products selling online under the name of “Dhakai muslin silk”. Also, many people feel the fine fabric that goes into the making of baby’s diapers is muslin which is a totally wrong belief. There are certain misconceptions to be cleared in this regard.
Muslin is Not a Silk:
Muslin is not any kind of silk so if you find someone selling products under the name of Dhakai Muslin, beware that you are being sold Dhakai silk. It is actually a form of cotton. Sadly, thanks to the British, this fact has been severely distorted and continues to remain that way till today
What You Get as Muslin Abroad is Not the Real Deal:
Europeans have, for long, referred to any piece of fine cotton fabric as muslin in the hope of selling it as a premium product, de-glorifying and hurting the traditional artwork and pride of Bengal in a severe manner. This continues to be an age-old conspiracy to prevent muslin from getting global prominence acy to prevent the authentic 300×300 the hope of selling it as a premium product, for this would seriously compromise the cotton textile industries in developed countries
The downfall of the muslin weaving sector and with that the traditional saree of Bengal can be attributed to the British rulers of India. When they found this fabric in areas such as Kalna in West Bengal, they recognized the threat it presented to their own cotton industry back home. It typically has a thread count greater than 100 that cannot be produced or woven on a mill – it has to be handwoven. Higher the count, finer will be the end fabric. The British realized that if muslin is allowed to find prominence in the world, it would destroy the cotton textile industry back in Manchester whose mill-woven cotton garments with thread counts of 80-100 were nowhere close to being fine enough to compete with this Indian fabric. Thus, the army was engaged to destroy all the looms and chop off the thumbs of the weavers in an effort to prevent the dominance of muslin on the world stage.
Present Scenario of Muslin
Serious efforts are being made by the West Bengal governments and a number of individual enthusiasts to try and promote the traditional saree of Bengal on the world stage. Once subjected to severe damage by the Western rulers, this fabric is emerging once again though the finer 700 x 700 count weaves cannot be produced by the current generation – it is said that a muslin saree of Bengal made in those days was so fine it could pass through a finger ring, all 48-inch width of it! The modern cotton muslin saree is fine enough to emerge through a key ring though. This fabric continues to be woven for creating either a simple muslin saree or can be further designed and modified with elegant embroidery work to give the more vibrant, luxurious jamdani saree.