The many uses of muslin

They must have been having a spectacular sale the day I bought an entire bolt of unbleached muslin at the fabric store, but I’ve never regretted the purchase.  Muslin has a multitude of uses around the house.  My generic muslin did not state whether or not it was pre-shrunk,so I unwound and washed the whole bolt, ran it through the drier on high, ironed it, and folded it back onto the bolt.  When I need some, it’s ready to go.

mirepoix wm

Mirepoix “teabag”
I have one of those egg-shaped stainless steel tea balls I use for brewing actual tea, but for the mirepoix I use to flavor my chicken stock I use a little reusable, washable, muslin teabag so that the smaller herbs, like thyme leaves, can’t escape through the 1 mm holes in the tea ball.  I whipped this baby up last week, and sewed it by hand while the cold water and chicken carcass were working their way up to a simmer.  I used teensy little French seams.  I didn’t put in ties because I just tie it shut with one end of about a foot of kitchen twine, the other end of which is tied to the handle of the stock pot.

Pocket liners for jeans
Matt keeps his pockets crammed full of stuff – spare change, mini flashlights, pencil stubs, odd pieces of metal thrown from the CNC machines, orphaned nuts and bolts, lighters and flints, and who knows what else.  This heavy and generally sharp bulk causes his pockets to rip out before most other parts of his otherwise sturdy jeans have a chance to fray.  If I catch the holes when they’re small I can darn, stitch up, or patch them pretty easily (yes, using muslin).  However, when they begin to tear out from the top, where they attach to the denim, or are already thoroughly shotholed when I get to them I have a tougher time.  What I have started doing to these really tattered pockets, since I don’t crave having to pull the curiously large number of seams involved in their complicated attachment to the rest of the pants, is sew in a muslin bag lining.  I turn the pants inside out and trace the curve of the bottom of the pocket onto a piece of paper.  I add the rest of the pocket’s shape to the drawing by simply measuring the width and depth of the existing pocket liner while I have the pants inside out.  I then cut two pieces of muslin to this shape (with a small seam allowance) sew the seams on the machine with a very short stitch, tuck the “new” pocket into the old, turn over the top edges as necessary to make them line up with the curved pocket opening, baste with whipstitching, and then stitch it in permanently with “jeans thread”.  I use small, tight stitches, trying to follow the existing topstitching (if any still exists), and then pull the basting out.  When one of these liners is destroyed, I simply remove it and drop in another.  All of Matt’s jeans are the same size and manufacturer so I have only had to make one pattern so far.

bulk bag 003 wm
Bulk food bags
Buying in bulk saves us two ways: 1) Bulk food is cheaper, and 2) We don’t have to pay to take the packaging to the dump, since there is none.  Until recently, I used the plastic bags that the grocery store provides, wadded them up inside each other when empty, and brought them back to the store to deposit them in the recycling bin the store set up just for that purpose.  I’ve been wanting to get away from those plastic bags because I often forget to return them for months on end (and they really stack up) and when I have one filled with something really heavy (like baking soda) they tear very easily.  No Impact Man’s book (based on his blog) was where I got the idea to make bulk food bags out of muslin.  At the time, I was actually on the hunt for a fabric that I could repurpose into produce bags and I had amassed a large quantity of sheer curtain material from the thrift store.  I ended up finding a better produce bag material and I didn’t use the sheer curtains for bulk food, either, because I didn’t think the weave tight enough to hold very fine powders like confectioner’s sugar.   (No loss – those curtains are going to live again as row covers in the veggie garden.)  Muslin appealed to me because it has a tighter weave, it’s unbleached, and cheap.  Old pillowcases would also work, but they are too big for most of my bulk purchases. I suppose they could be whacked in half, but I’m saving mine up for another project.  I didn’t insert ties or drawstrings because when I take these to the store I still use the little wire and paper tags they provide.  I haven’t thought up an alternative to those (for the purposes of marking my bags with the bin number), and really, I’m still getting accustomed to the extra attention of using my own bulk bags.  I made several in the same dimensions as the ones the store carries, marked “Large Bag” which I use most often, and one or two of the little bags they keep by the spices, which I use for spices and items that I need very little of, like chocolate chips and instant yeast.  One word of warning from the soggy Pacific Northwest: watch where you set these down – they are not waterproof!

[NOTE: I no longer use these muslin bags for bulk bin purchases. Now I use these plastic freezer bags that make the checkers ever so much happier.]

curtain liner wm
Curtain liners
For larger curtains I generally use old sheets or remnants purchased at the thrift store, but for smaller curtains, such as these on our front door’s window, or for small valances or half-curtains in the kitchen or bathroom, a little muslin will add some opacity and stiffness while keeping the view from outside the window neutral.

Test fittings of tailored homemade clothing
This, and backings for quilts, are to my understanding the chief uses of muslin, traditionally.  My sewing skills are still rudimentary enough that I haven’t made anything very complicated for myself yet, so I haven’t “made a muslin”, as they say in the sewing world.  When making a tailored garment (not one of those one-hour patternless A-line skirts I churn out, but a “real” garment like a suit jacket or a fully lined, shaped dress) making a muslin is an essential step that allows you to do an on-the-body fitting without sacrificing the fine cloth you intend for the final garment.  A “muslin” can also refer to a fitting shell: a basic pattern, usually closely fitted to the body, made from muslin.  When this shell is perfectly altered to fit you like a glove, all alterations are transferred to its pattern, which becomes your “master pattern” and is used to check new patterns for fit before any cuts are made by laying the master on the new pattern and comparing measurements.  A muslin of the garment can be eliminated by the fitting shell or used in conjunction with it if the new pattern is to be made from a very expensive fabric or if the pattern is unusual.  (In the Palmer/Pletsch method, fitting shells are made out of 1/4” check gingham so that the shell has a built-in grid for quick measurements.)

coffee filter 002 wm
Coffee filters

Grab a paper filter, cut off all the “seams” and lay open on a piece of paper.  Trace around with whatever kind of seam allowance you want, cut out, pin to your washed and ironed muslin, and cut two.  (I think two is a good number so that you can use one while the other is in the wash.  One of these can be used for a week without washing if you make a pot a day and rinse the filter thoroughly between pots.)  Hem the top edge and sew side and bottom seams tightly.  I used French seams, since I was sewing by hand, and the French seam, with its two rows of stitching, will keep grounds from escaping.  You should experience no difference in your coffee brewing when using one of these filters.  They are also effective for the second straining of stock (the first being run through cheesecloth).

— Amanda


2 thoughts on “The many uses of muslin

  1. Pingback: Muslin coffee filters, a year and a half later | SterlingFink

  2. Pingback: Hot pants! | SterlingFink

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