» Skip to content

Published: 20 March 2021

By Andy Ross

The muslin that shocked Europe

Dhaka muslin was once famed across Asia and Europe, worn by Godesses in Ancient Greece, and by royalty, known to the Romans, and imported into Europe where it caused scandal. 

This most sheer of fabrics was made from a native species of cotton, Gossypium arboreum var. neglecta, that only grew along the Meghna River. The short fibres of the cotton boll required intensive preparation including combing with the jawbone of a cannablistic catfish, and spinning only at certain times of day because of the humidity needed to stretch the fibres, and the resulting threads were so fine that weaving with them made fabric with a very high count. The higher the thread count the better a fabric will wear and the softer it should feel. This cloth had a count of between 800 and 1200 (per square inch), and that count needed months of preparation and weaving to achive. No wonder it was expensive. 

In this BBC article, sent in by a reader (thank you, Margaret), the fascinating and long history of this magical cloth, its rise to high fashion in Europe (along with the attendant scandal), and its demise is explored. Now it seems that the UNESCO-recognised fabric might be making a comeback with a project that is attempting to bring back the techniques of creating this most exquisite of muslins.