Last Updated on November 17, 2023 by Shariful Alam
Cloth thinner than a spider web, lighter than a feather, older than the pyramids, the era of Luxury Muslin ended just 200 years ago. When the ancient Pharaoh kings died, they took everything precious with them. Gold, diamonds, gems, and the finest quality muslin used to wrap their bodies. (explained by Johorlal Neharu)
So you can imagine how precious muslins were! Undivided Bengal and Urisha were the only producers of muslins. At the same time, Dhaka produced the thinnest and most luxurious Muslin: Dhaka Muslin.
We, team Muslin Dhaka, are most passionate about luxury muslin. Have 27 years of cumulative experience in muslin research, marketing, and content.
In this article, we share our wisdom about the glorious past, tragic end & new beginning of an epic masterpiece with the world.
Find yourself in the fabulous paths of luxury muslin!
What is luxury muslin?
Muslin was cloths made of muslin fabric from a particular species of cotton named phuti carpus. It required extraordinary subtle skills of plain weave and specific humidity to make the best types of muslin.
Bangladesh, West Bengal, and some places of Urisha produced muslin. But muslin made in Dhaka was most famous. Dhakai Muslin has the most incredible craftsmanship and perfect weather. The skills came from generation to generation. Think of a handmade fabric that was twenty-six times more expensive than the best silk in the world!
All types of muslin up to the nineteenth century (before it disappeared) were a valid symbol of luxury. And Dhaka muslin was the queen of all other luxury muslin.
The muslin you see today is far from the luxury muslin we once had. We couldn’t wait to say that, after years of research, Bangladesh revamped the phuti Karpus and techniques for making muslin cloths.
See the real luxury Dhaka Muslin :
As you read on, we’ll explore the remarkable story in detail.
How was muslin made?
First, people collect the raw cotton from Phuti Karpus. Spinners then make muslin yarn from raw cotton.
Weavers had incredible skills in plain weaving to make quality muslin fabric from yarn.
Muslin required a soft touch to work with subtle materials. The artisans who made muslin could not do any other work as it could make their fingers rough.
To produce high-quality muslin, a highly humid environment was necessary. Dhaka had the perfect humidity for that. Weaver ( I love to call them artists) usually worked in the morning. Because morning is the most humid time, they sometimes sailed to the middle of the river to weave magical muslin.
The Past of Muslin: Glorious Journey and Tragic End
Let’s start with the birth of muslin! How old is it? There is no specific record of when muslin was born. But we can find clues throughout the history! Let’s see what our researchers say about the birth of muslin.
“Clothes made of cotton are about 7000 years old, and the first clue of muslin was found in the pyramids, about 4000 years old. You see, muslin is not invented in one day. Developing the beauty and subtle quality of muslin clothes can take thousands of years. So, I predict muslin was born between 5000 to 6000 years ago.”
Shariful Alam Pavel, CEO at Muslin Dhaka.
Ancient History of Luxury Muslin
In 300 BC, Megasthenes was a Greek ambassador appointed to the court of King Chandragupta. He described a local cloth that matches with muslin. In a similar timeframe, some historical notes of China and Europe mention a thin fabric like a spider web and white as snow.
Later, in 100 AC, Arab traders brought muslin clothes in exchange for rare rhino horns and ivory tortoise shells. They took the clothes to Ethiopia and Greece, crossing the Red Sea. Greek merchandise helped the muslin to spread to Europe and the Roman Empires. Muslin was also traded in Thailand and China.
How did the name muslin come from? Some believed the word muslin came from Mosul, Iraq. But later historians found no clues of muslin in Iraq. They predict the muslin was named after Machilipatnam Port, Andhra, India. Roman used to call it Masula, and it was the main port for Muslin export to Europe and Rome.
The ruler of Bengals had a profound love for muslin clothes. They didn’t only wear the best Muslin clothes. They funded the Muslim weavers and helped it spread in different parts of the world.
Middle-Age Glory of Luxury Muslin
Bengal continued the Muslin trade happily throughout the centuries. Demand and production peaked in the era of the Mughals. Different types of Muslin cloths also varied in quality. The best muslin clothes were reserved for the Mughol Empire and his Family. Those were called Mal-Mal Khash.
Jhuna was another type of exotic muslin specially made for the women of the Mughal harem. Abrawan was the most delicate type of muslin, which means flowing water. Khassa, Sabnam, Tanzab, Badun-Khash, etc., were the names of popular muslin.
At that time, European traders reached Bengal. They started buying the muslin directly from the Bengal traders. The European traders created a massive demand for muslin in their countries.
It was the beginning of the seventeenth century. English, French, and Dutch became very serious about muslin’s for great demand. Before Europeans, Iranian ( Persian) and Greek were the main distributors of luxury muslin. After the involvement of European traders, muslin became quite popular and in demand among the elite class of Europe.
Muslin was already a symbol of class and elegance in the world. Europeans, kings, queens, and people of the highest social status loved Muslin’s beauty, softness, and comfort. It was very popular among the ladies who were beauty enthusiasts. They used exotic muslin to become most attractive. It was the woven in the wind!
The words can not express the beauty of muslin. Whatever, i say hard to believe until touch & feel it. Honestly, I Can tell it from my personal experience.
The Fall of Muslin
The glory of muslin started falling during the East India Company era. There was no demand for European textiles. English try to market their cheap textile. They want to push their industrial textile in the world market. They do not want luxury muslin in the scene.
Meanwhile, the Indian subcontinent was the wealthiest nation in the world. Muslin was the king of all luxury fashion. Now, it started losing elite customers.
Traders to Weavers did not get any support from English.
Furthermore, They added 70-80 percent of tax on muslin to facilitate their own cloth in Bengal to all over the world.
Muslin was already a luxury product. After this addition of high taxes, most traders and producers lost interest in it. The last nail in the coffin of muslin was the import of British low-quality textiles. They kept only a 2% tax on those clothes, ending the home market of muslin!
The British exploitation does not end here. The East India Company forced the farmers to cultivate indigo instead of Karpus. They used indigo blue for their textile industry. British authority took brutal tactics to stop muslin. They cut off the thumbs of Muslim weavers to abolish the production of muslin altogether.
Legend says 10 meters of muslin could slip through a ring, but it couldn’t make it through the greed of colonialism.
The Present of Muslin: Reviving Bengal’s Lost Treasure
Back in 2016, the government of Bangladesh funded a group of researchers to revive the century-old muslin fabric. Over six challenging years, they overcame all obstacles. Trial and error, the researchers finally revived the same muslin that ended about 200 years ago.
Initially, it seemed nearly impossible; no one knows how to weave muslin. Even the “phuti karpus” is also missing. Without this specific cotton, we can not make luxury muslin. However, researchers had a slight glint of hope, as they believed the plant was still alive in the wild somewhere in the country.
But for that, the researchers needed the genomic sequence of actual muslin first to match with the plant. After trying for a few years, the British Museum provided a sample of Dhaka Muslin that they used to get the genome sequence.
Finding the wild phuti Karpus was not easy, even after getting the genome sequence. The muslin revival team contacted the community. Gave leaf descriptions and tree details to find the plant. Luckily, after studying countless samples, found the exact plant. That matches the genome sequence near Kapasia, Gazipur. We believe this name came from ( Karpas).
Then, the real challenge started: restoring the technique used for weaving muslin. The researchers hired and started training a group of Jamdani weavers for that. After continuous training and hardwork, the revival team finally discovered the technique.
The muslin they revived is the highest quality of muslin, even in the old days. However, the production process is still very slow. Just a few inches of muslin takes up almost 8 hours of hard work. Even less as everything is handmade in luxury muslin.
The Future of Muslin: The Possibilities are Endless!
Reborn from the ashes like a phoenix, muslin can map the world of fashion and glamour. The doors to countless opportunities are wide open!
Muslin may have gone extinct a long ago, but Bangladesh always held on to its legacy in textile production.
We have the ability & skilled workforce to start producing luxury muslin. As the most luxurious and stunningly beautiful cloth, muslin has the potential to become the new trend in the world of glamour.
With my not-so-irrational imagination, the luxurious brands like Prada, Gucci, and Hermès, will use Dhaka Muslin. They embrace the new era of elegant fashion with muslin’s magical beauty & heritage.
Can you imagine how other-worldly Margot Robbie would look on the Oscar red carpet with the thinnest Dhaka Muslin attire? With the recent development of muslin towards commercial production, it is a matter of time. It becomes the new fancy cloth worldwide.
Don’t get me wrong. Even after commercial production, we can not produce muslin much. Luxury muslin will always remain a boutique industry with luxury. It’s will always for the super elites and the glamour world.
Luxury Dhaka Muslins of Today: Why Value it?
We have the marvelous muslin like the old days. Today’s royal muslin is still one of the most comfortable, fashionable, and incredible fabrics you will find. I am sure the tremendous royal muslin will be more than a hundred times of any luxury silk!
We are very close to start selling muslin. The luxurious Dhaka muslin in my hand will be more than 20000 USD or even more. The great designer clothes will come with Dhaka muslin within a few years. Imagine the explosion!
I will explain how luxury muslin will be embedded with every aspiring luxury brand. Every great designer will eagerly wait to create a masterpiece with Dhaka Muslin. Like We say, One Dhaka Muslin in a life Time! ( Check my luxury muslin dhaka series)
The history of muslin carries an integral part of royal Bengali culture. It’s all about our artistic expression and the joy of creating aesthetics. The best of muslin you may not experience yet, I tried to transmit this from my heart. Maybe this content seems more like a piece of literature. We must remember the masterpieces we once had, nurture what remains today, and share what is coming!
Shariful Alam Pavel, A fashion lover, passionate marketer. Love to share wisdom based on real life experience to enrich knowledge.
Founder of Muslin Dhaka, a brand, speaks the truth about royal muslin and fashion. Explore the digital fashion universe with organic cotton muslin and much more!