A Closer Look At Muslin Backdrops

Brief History of Muslin

Muslin is a type of fabric which is produced from carded cotton yarn and it originated from India. This loosely woven cotton fabric was introduced to Europe in the 17th century. The fabric is pleasantly light and very airy. Due to these characteristics, it is very suitable to be worn in places with hot and dry climates.

The word ‘muslin’ itself is believed to come from the name of an Indian port town Machilipatnam (also called Maisolos or Maisala) where muslin clothes were once traded. Others believe that the term came from the word Mosul, a city in what now is Iraq, which is the first place where Europeans first encountered the fabric. Marco Polo, a renowned merchant traveler, mentioned the details of a particular fabric called muslin which was found in Mosul and traded by people called the Musolini in one of his books.

Muslin Backdrops for Theater and Photography Purposes

Today, besides sewn as clothes, the use of muslin fabric in theater and photography is very common. One of the advantages of using this material is that it is able to take dyes surprisingly well and when treated using proper methods, it can be made translucent. The fabric is often dyed with abstract, mottled patterns. As it shrinks after the dyeing process, it will develop wavy patterns and varying color gradation.

For theater sets, the use of muslin backdrops can create different moods for different scenes. The most common use of the fabric for theater purposes is to create the various moods of night scenes. During the era of silent movies, when cinematography was not yet very advanced, muslin backdrops are used for diffusing the lighting for indoor scenes. Cheap video productions often make use of the fabric as a greenscreen or bluescreen.

Muslin backdrops can also be used for indoor photography. Very often, muslin photography backdrops are used for the background of formal portraits. For this purpose, blotchy, abstract patterns are commonly used with variations of colors.

How to Dye Muslin Backdrops

Muslin backdrops are made by dyeing white muslin cloth with RIT dyes. For better absorbance, the RIT dye should be mixed with salt and some water and boiled prior to painting. To get the abstract, blotchy patterns, one should use creativity. The use of random folding methods of the cloth (crunching, crumpling, etc) is more favored than neat folding. Then, secure the folded cloth by tying cotton string around the cloth. Afterwards, the crumpled muslin cloth is dipped in the boiled RIT dye and water mixture. Once the cloth is thoroughly dyed, hang it out to dry. If the technique is correct and the cloth is not overdyed, you will get a muslin backdrop with blotchy yet pretty abstract patterns.

Muslin backdrops should not be washed frequently. If you want to clean your muslin backdrops, always remember to use mild detergents. To machine washable backdrops, set your washing machine to delicate or gentle cycle. For non-machine washable ones, scrub the backdrops with a very soft scrub brush.