Batiste is a fabric made from cotton, a natural fiber. For more information, see the entry Glossary: Cotton Fiber. Bastiste is plain woven and usually semi-sheer, but sometimes entirely sheer or only slightly sheer. It is similar to, but usually not as sheer as, cotton voile. It is also similar to handkerchief-weight linen lawn. Modern cotton lawn is also similar to cotton batiste, although sometimes cotton lawn is lighter and sheerer, more like voile. Much of the batiste readily available today is polyester, unfortunately. However, cotton is still available. Sometimes silk batiste is also sold, which I suspect is similar to, or the same as, silk habotai.
Whatever Happened to Muslin?
Modern cotton voile and cotton batiste, as well as other sheer specialty cotton fabrics, can be used in place of historical muslin. Very different from our stiff, short-staple, modern utility muslin, in the 18th and 19th centuries, “muslin” denoted a family of lightweight cotton fabrics, which were usually white. Muslins were woven from fine, long staple cotton fibers, and ranged from semi-sheer to completely transparent. It is also important to note that over the early to mid 19th century, fabrics which had once been exclusively or typically linen increasingly came to be made of cotton, while sometimes still being called by the same names, for instance cambric.
Definitions of batiste and muslin from a variety of print resources, each of which contains further information:
- Bassett, Lynne Zacek. Textiles for Regency Clothing 1800-1850: A Workbook of Swatches and Information. Formerly titled Textiles for Clothing of the Early Republic. Arlington, Virginia: Q Graphics Production Company, Product division of Sally Queen & Associates, 2001.
There is no reference to batiste, but on page 41, this book states that “‘Muslin’ denotes a group of lightweight cotton fabrics, generally white. The sample shown here is a corded muslin, striped in the warp. Checked muslins were woven similarly, with heavier threads spaced in between the warp and weft. Other varieties of muslin included book muslin, jaconette, mull, nainsook, and muslinet, all denoting degrees of drape, weight, and transparency. Except for book muslin, which was always plain woven, these various muslins could be pattern woven in stripes, checks, or figures, or plain woven. Any of these varieties might be printed with small motifs, or embroidered with dots, sprigs, or more elaborate designs.”
- Clark, Elizabeth Stewart. The Dressmaker’s Guide; 1840-1860. 2nd edition, Revised & Expanded. Idaho Falls, Idaho: Elizabeth Stewart Clark & Company, 2009.
In discussing cotton fabrics for use in authentic reproduction sewing of mid-19th century styles, on page 59 it is stated that “In fashion descriptions, ledgers, and advertisements, you’ll see many references to cotton muslin. This is not the same textile as found for 99¢ in chain fabric stores! Modern cotton muslin is much heavier than period muslin, which was a fine, long staple cotton fabric, and was most often quite sheer. To approximate historic muslin for living history use, look to textiles like imported sheer batiste, organdy, barred voile, dimity, and other very delicate, sheer articles.”
- Marsh, Heidi, Compiled by. Styles and So Forth of the Era of the Hoop; with Glossary. Greenville, California: Heidi Marsh, 1994.
The glossary entry for “Batiste” on page 175 defines it as “French origin, fine quality cloth of cotton or flax [linen], color is ecru if of cotton, gray if of flax.” Note that this definition does not entirely apply to the modern material known as batiste, which is often sold both bleached white and in colors.
The glossary entry for “Muslin” on page 178 defines it as “stout, light, open cotton fabric of varying fineness, used for summer dresses, plain, printed, dyed, dotted. A general term used for similar fabrics as lawn, mull, cambric.”
Also on page 178, the glossary defines “mull” as “soft, thin muslin with no stiffening;” “book muslin” as “stiffly finished, light cotton fabric in a gauze weave;” “dotted muslin” as “muslin with small circles or dots on it;” “lawn” as “very fine linen or cotton fabric with a somewhat open texture, used for the sleeves of Church of England bishops, and for dresses” (see also Glossary: Linen Lawn). On page 175, the glossary defines “cambric” as “thin, fine, white linen fabric.”
- Montgomery, Florence. Textiles in America 1650-1870: A Dictionary based on original documents, prints and paintings, commercial records, American merchants’ papers, shopkeepers’ advertisements, and pattern books with original swatches of cloth. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2007.
The entry for “batiste” on page 159 redirects to the entry for “cambric.” The entry for “Cambric,” on page 187, states that cambric is “batiste” in French, an defines it as “A fine white linen cloth in plain weave.”
On page 304, “Muslin” is defined as “A fine cotton textile first made in India.” The entry also notes that “Book muslin (book calico) is a name derived from the booklike form in which some of the finer calicoes were folded and marketed in India.” The entry for muslin includes a “see also” reference to “mull,” which is defined on page 303 as “Soft, fine white cotton imported from India from the seventeenth century.”
- “Cotton” on Wikipedia (Remember to read critically!)
- “The Prewash” by Sarai at The Coletterie
- “A Field Guide to Various Lightweight Cottons” by Gertie at Gertie’s New Blog for Better Sewing – includes voile, batiste, dotted swiss, gingham, double gauze, and silk/cotton blends.
- “Fabric Series: Cotton” by Caitlin at The Coletterie – see the section on voile and batiste
For more information about an individual fiber, fabric, or other material, select it on the right side menu for “Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials.” This will bring up all entries which have that tag, including (in most cases) a Glossary post like this one, which will offer a definition of that fiber, fabric, or material, and sometimes also offer useful links to outside sources on working with it. For more general information, visit the core entry for the Glossary: Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials. For a directory of all textile glossary posts, go to the Glossary Table of Contents.
Updated January 10, 2012