Textiles & Costume

Voile, lawn, muslin. What’s the difference (the long answer)

Following up on yesterday’s thread about muslin, lawn and voile, here is a much more in-depth definition of the three and some related fabrics

Muslin (Eu/Antipodes) / Muslin gauze (North America): Loosely woven plain weave cotton fabric. Muslin is usually made with slightly irregular yarns, and while usually made with an even weave, can be woven with tighter or looser warp areas to produce woven in stripes. Most muslin is white or cream, but muslin is seen in a wide range of colours.

I have also seen a synthetic fabric with looks identical to muslin, so could be called a synthetic muslin:


Viscose (rayon) poly mix muslin.

The definitions of muslin vary greatly across the world, so I am going to do a whole post on the history and terminology of muslin.


1930s hailstone muslin wedding dress


Cuff of an early 20th century muslin day dress


My muslin chemise a la reine


Muslin fabric with pattern of eyelet circles


A detail of the circle patterned muslin

Lawn: Plain weave sheer fabric, originally of linen, but now also describes cotton fabrics. Lawn is made from very fine (thin) high thread count carded (prepared with a brush) yarns. Lawn is always made with an even weave using even yarns to produce a smooth, untextured surface. A crisp finish is frequently applied to lawn fabrics, and occasionally to other fabrics, which are then said to have a ‘lawn finish’. Comes from Laon in France, which used to be a major producer of linen lawn.


Blouse of fine lawn with gilt metallic patterning.


Cuff of a 19teens lawn blouse


Hawaiian sea creature patterned cotton voile

Voile: comes from the French word for ‘veil’. Historically it was made of cotton, or a cotton linen mix. Today there are voiles that include polyester, and some of the new bamboo fabrics could also be considered voile. Voile can be any colour or pattern. Voiles can have woven in stripes, and voile variants can have other surface patterning applied.


My voile Regency dress


A detail of the voile fabric the Regency frock is made from


Voile fabric with woven in stripes. This is too tightly and evenly woven for muslin


Another shot of the same muslin, showing the sheerness of the fabri


Voile petticoat with sateen stripes


Making a toile for Madame O’s pet en l’aire out of voile


This voile fabric is a cotton and bamboo blend. Bamboo is not traditionally used in voile, and lends a crispness to the fabric, but I still feel this is best described as a voile.


Another voile with woven in stripes.

But the above explanation is a really simplistic way of putting it. There are other fabrics that also fall into the same spectrum of fine, lightweave fabrics, and modern fabric manufacturing creates a whole spectrum of weaves which muddy the lines between the three.

Other similar fabrics:

Organdy/Organza: Organdy is made of cotton, organza is made of silk (and these days synthetic fabrics. It could be described as organdy with filament yarns). Organdy and organza are extremely sheer (sheerer than lawn) and crisp. Like lawn they are plain weave fabrics with fine, even yarns. These yarns have been combed rather than carded (like nainsook) and are treated with acid in a process that adds to the sheerness and crispness of the finished project.


My silk organza petticoat


A fabric that blends the lines between organza, lawn, and voile. The sheerness of the fabric is reminiscent of organza, the even weave is a characteristic of lawn, and the softness handle is voile-like. I would call it an organza-voile.

Batiste: A fine, soft opaque fabric which is made in the same way as organdy/organza, but not given the acid finish which gives organza its characteristic translucency and crispness. Batiste is extremely soft and fine but not translucent. These days, it can be made in cotton, wool, polyester or a blend. I’ve never heard of linen or bamboo batiste, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Nainsook: Exactly like lawn, but made with combed (prepared with a comb) yarns rather than carded (prepared with a brush). This gives it a slightly more lustrous finish. But I still can’t tell the difference on sight.


Nainsook bias tape. Note the lustrous shine.

Holland: Plain weave, fine yarn linen fabric. Like lawn it can be treated with a glazed finished, which is referred to as a ‘holland’ finish. Very similar to lawn, but always made of linen. Historically (back when all lawn was linen) holland referred to lawn from continental Europe, and was sometimes called ‘holland lawn’. These days holland is not as fine as lawn.

Gauze: a fine, soft fabric with a plain, very open weave. Very open muslins are gauzes. Fibre content doesn’t matter with gauzes. The name comes from Gaza in Palestine, which was a centre of fabric production in the Middle Ages.

Net: Frequently used to refer to soft fabrics with mesh patterns, irregardless of their fibre makeup. Sometimes used to refer to fabric very similar to voile, but only in white and cream colours. Soft tulles are a kind of net (so all soft tulle is a net, but not all net is tulle).


Tulle net on an early 20th century wedding dress


Embroidered cotton tulle, turn of the century


Cotton tulle net

More help for telling the fabrics apart:
In order of crispness (from softest to crispest):

Muslin, Net, Gauze

Voile, Batiste

Lawn, Nainsook, Holland


In order of tightness of weave (from loosest to tightest):








Organdie/Organza, Batiste

In order of fineness/smoothness of thread (finest to roughest):

Holland (historical), Lawn, Nainsook, Organdie, Organza, Batiste


Holland (contemporary)




I hope this has clarified these fabrics for you, not just made you more confused! And feel free to add/correct if you have heard a different explanation for any of the fabrics or have further information!


  1. GentlewomanThief says

    Wow, I feel like I should print this out and make it into a little Dreamstress Fabric Book for my reference! So useful and so appreciated – thank you.

  2. jackiead says

    Great post! Your fabric tutorial is comprehensive as usual. I too appreciate all the time and thought you put into this post.

  3. Esther says

    Thank you for posting this I found itreally helpful !

  4. Hana - Marmota says

    Thank you so much! It initially made me more confused to help me understand better. πŸ˜€ Although I still don't know what it is that I'm making my chemise from. It doesn't look opaque enough to be batiste, but in terms of crispness/non-crispness, it could be…

    I wonder whether what I know as "Indian cotton" from my mother is muslin, then? Of course, I'd have to show you a picture or something…

    • The thing about fabrics (like many other things) is that they can be a spectrum, so some fabric are between the categories.

      Indian cotton might very well be muslin.

  5. Jo Jo says

    I looked up my old textbook: The Vogue Sewing Book, it defines voile as: A lightweight sheer fabric with a crisp wiry hand. Made from hard twist yarns in a plain weave.
    It describes muslin as: A wide variety of plain woven cotton fabrics ranging from sheer to coarse. It can be bleached or unbleached, dyed in solid colours, or printed.

  6. Thanks for your research, i make medieval dresses and am always interested in fabrics that have no artificial or modern fibres, I think that most of these are out of our time period but still a very interesting, if a bit confusing read, you have put alot of work into this. I especially loved the wedding frock gloves!! would hate to have to get grass stains etc out of that one. Thanks again.

  7. Donna L says

    Thank you so much for the clarification, I have been tearing my hair out to find the differences between these fabrics which are so often intermixed.

  8. Joy M says

    So comprehensive ! Thank you very much. I now know the difference between tulle and net.

  9. Linda says

    I loved reading this – thanks so much for including the pictures. You must enjoy your work very much!

  10. As “keeper of the textiles” at our Sandwich Historical Society I am sometimes confused in identifying some of our dress materials. your site with the excellent photos will be a great help. I am so glad I found you. Betsy

  11. Christy Buboltz says

    Thank you! Very informative and great pictures. That information really helped clear up my question!

  12. Chrissi says

    Thank you so much for the explanations on the different fabrics.

  13. Sammy says

    Wow! This was so helpful towards my Textiles class project! Thank you πŸ™‚

  14. Linda says

    A lot of sewing books do not include this information. I have a small size blouse (I don’t ware small) that I will be using for antique doll clothes. The fabric I will be using is a cotton and silk blend. I haven’t seen this type of fabric before. The fabric looks and feels better than some silk fabrics I have seen. I was wondering if this fabric blend had a “name” or is it just called a cotton and silk blend? Thank you for the information you provided on this page!

    • There are a couple of fabric terms that refer to specifically silk-cotton blends, but they are very rare and were used for very short periods of time. These days silk cottons are generally referred to by the name of the weave, with an added description of silk-cotton (so you might see silk-cotton voile for example). Hope that helps. Good luck with the doll clothes!

      • Linda says

        Thank you! I had a feeling the blend was not very common. Now I know which doll will have the new clothes. My doll is not very common either. She is a French, a Jumeau, Tete Bebe, by Vernon Seeley, 1987 Reproduction. She is beautiful and so is the fabric. I will take my time with the hand sewing, since the fabric can’t be replaced. At least the doll clothes are going to be a lot easier than the reproduction quilts I was making. Thank you again for answering my question about the fabric!

  15. Diane Delfino says

    I am looking for a source of fine white imported muslin to use for window treatments as used by Madeleine Castaing. I would like it to be of high quality and have the same draping ability. would you know?

    • Hi Diane,

      Sorry, I’m not an importer and don’t keep track of what fabrics are available at each time. Best of luck with your search.

  16. Diane Delfino says

    thank you! your blog is wonderfully instructive. would you be able to recommend a muslin for me to search for to achieve the drapability and look I desire..it was described as Muslin a la Creole as used in Marie
    Antoinette’s white muslin dress and used by Madeleine Castaing in her wiindow treatments.. Could you suggest a weight to achieve this?
    I found a 100% linen -300 gr. from France..Does that sound right?
    thank you

    • Marie Antoinette’s white muslin dresses were made of cotton, not linen, so I would head in that direction. I suspect Castaing used different weights depending on the effect she wanted to achieve, and she probably did use linen rather than cotton, as it would hold up better. The description sounds like artistic romanticism (highly unlikely the two fabrics were actually much alike, and how would they know anyway?), so I’d just pick the fabric that suits your project.

  17. Thanks, I loved your examples and appreciate the clear way you share your expertise.

  18. Sharon says

    I have been trying to find a site that had this information. You did a wonderful job explaining the differences in these fabrics. Now my problem is finding the weights (or other means of discerning the thickness) of the fabrics and where to buy quality fabrics with the correct fiber content and weights listed. If anyone knows, please fill us in. I have checked Martha Pullen. I have ordered from her before, but she doesn’t list weight. I have a white batiste, or that is what it was called when purchased, and now can not find a white batiste that is even remotely similar. It is loosely woven, though still strong, and very lightweight and almost transparent. It was inexpensive, $7 a yard at 45″ wide. If anyone knows where to purchase, please let me know.

    • No idea – sorry. The lack of information on weight and exact weave in online fabric stores is one of the reasons I rarely buy fabric online. I’m so lucky to live near so many good fabric stores. Best of luck with your search!

  19. Bhakti says

    really helpful article. i was looking for a difference between muslin and voile and this gave me the answer. still wondering which is best for baby muslin or voile. regards to water absorbent, which is better. I really appreciate if you can let me know, if you know. Thanks

    • Hi Bhakti,

      Whether muslin or voile is better for your project will depend on what you want it to do. Muslin is usually more water absorbent than voile, but that depends on the exact properties of the muslin compared to the voile, and if either has been treated for anything. Voile will last longer than muslin as baby clothes, but some muslins might be softer – it really depends on the exact fabric, and what you want it to do.

  20. Nikita says

    Hey, can you plz tell me how to differentiate between georgette and chiffon, brocade and jaquard. i would really appreciate it if you could help me. Thanks

    • I can’t do justice to explaining the difference between those in a comment, but they are great ideas for articles – I’ll add them to my to-do list!

  21. Thank you for this post! The lists where you sort them by crispness/tightness/fineness are especially clarifying. I wonder where you’d place cotton mull – or is it a synonym for one of the fabrics you already list?

    • You’re welcome! I do think sorting them is important, as a fabric can fall on the spectrum between one and the other. Cotton mull, as I understand it, is a very fine muslin, so has the softness and that I ascribe to muslin, but is made with a more even thread, and is on the tighter end of muslin weaves.

  22. Magpie60 says

    So what are men’s and women’s hankies made from? I want to make some but just can’t find the correct fabric.

    • Good handkerchiefs are made from linen or cotton lawn. It’s sometimes called handkerchief lawn. Not too hard to find if you don’t mind patterns, tricky to get in plain white.

  23. Laura says

    I live in the southern US, and it gets right warm here in the summer. I like a layered window cover: batiste glass curtains, mini-blinds and then lined dark curtains to cut the light. I am having a hard time finding batiste.

    Any ideas where I could go? Thanks for helping.

    • Hi Laura,

      I’m afraid I can’t be of much help. Living in NZ, I have access to some quite good fabric stores and am not up to date with the US fabric market anymore.

  24. EvaEva says

    Hello Dreamstress,

    I would like to offer one slight addition/amendment to your post – – which is regarding linen Batiste. Batiste is named after the 13th Century French linen weaver, Jean Batiste, who created the fine, sheer, combed textile.

    Thank you for the information and photos that you have provided.

  25. EvaEva says

    OOPS!!! I am now not sure of the comment about Batiste that I posted on your blog – – I had read this somewhere in an historical reference (one that I believed to be reliable), but have just seen some other information that causes me to question that. (I am in the midst of a search for linen batiste or a linen blend handkerchief textile, and so have seen some other references, which is also how I found your post).


  26. Batiste is definitely a semi sheer, and does comes in linen, cotton, silk, and all manner of synthetiΓ§s and blends πŸ™‚

  27. What a fantastic comprehensive post. I have shared a link back here for others to enjoy it. Thank you for taking the time to post this – it’s a wealth of fascinating info x

  28. Charleene Yates says

    Just what I was looking for! Great work.
    Way back in the sixties I worked for Amluxen’s, a fine fabric store family run for generations. That was when a spool of silk thread was 15 cents for 100 yards. The grandson put them in bankruptcy (as we staff predicted). Aside from Martha Pullen, it’s difficult to find the fine cottons around here. And Phoenix, Arizona is hot enough to warrant. I only know Britex in San Francisco. They have 36 or so but so pricey!
    Their website places voile as lightest and batiste as useable for shirts. That helps make the difference in choices for me. And the two are hardly differentiated anymore. But I’ve forgotten more than any clerk selling fabric knows nowadays. As far as sheerness, would it be correct to say voile, batiste and lawn are sheerest to less sheer? Appreciate your work.

  29. Sophie T says

    Thank you for this faboulous lesson on those different fabrics. It was most educational and interresting. I’ve learned a lot!

  30. Robin says

    Dear Leimomi, I just wanted to thank you for this extraordinary article!!! HOW I got here was through a daily “word” email and today’s email featured the word “nainsook.” I was so intrigued by this fabric word that I had NEVER heard of, that (of course), I had to do a *bing* search for images and also articles on it. YOUR article explaining the difference betwixt voile, lawn, muslin…and nainsook…was utterly fascinating!

    Please note: I DON’T SEW A SINGLE STITCH! My area of expertise is akin to yours, only in Botany. I’m a landscape architect with a penchant for researching historical gardens and plant histories so I can readily relate to your fascination with fabrics. Now, someone could easily ask, “So WHY read an article like this if you don’t sew?” Well, for many reasons. My beloved Grandmother (born 1890) raised me and came from a long-long line of seamstresses and tailors in Finland. She raised me and sewed 99% of all my clothing up until I left home at 18 to be married. She was a thrifty immigrant and farm woman and when we’d go “into town” she and I would haunt the Salvation Army (the only thrift store back in the 50’s). She taught me about fabrics and what to look for, so we’d carefully comb through the racks of donated clothes for cashmere coats, actual TRUE velvet and satin made from silk!, and all the other delicious and delightful fabrics from that time. Please remember: if it was the 50’s, then the donated clothes came from the 20’s on up, so we were able to buy extraordinary TRUE fabrics that probably don’t exist any longer. We would then take our bounty back to the farm, where Gran would carefully rip apart every seam, steam press the fabrics and then use the latest McCall’s or Butterick’s patterns that she bought at Woolworth’s to refashion them into the most luxurious of current clothing.

    Burnt into my memory is my All Time Favourite Outfit of my entire life; I was 5 years old when she made this for me: true silk satin in the most glorious of crocus coloured fabrics, fashioned into a puff-sleeved, scalloped necked dress, standard waist. BUT, the crowning glory of it was a silk organza pinafore that floated over the dress, that she hand-embroidered tiny violets sprinkled throughout the organza. I have one photograph of myself in that dress; I wore it until my arms began to rip the seams in the sleeves. How I wish I still possessed it, but, what child begs to save a cherished dress for posterity? She also embroidered matching wee violets onto the cuff of my socks and on my gloves that I proudly wore with my patent leather shoes and matching purse to church.

    Because of this early indoctrination into the wonderful world of fabrics, I’ve kept my interest in them alive to this day. I devour shoes like Project Runway and delight in reading period novels like any from Jane Austen where they describe “lawn and muslin” dresses to wear to Bath.

    So, in closing, realize that the time that you took to put this article together has a broader reaching audience than you can imagine and by the looks of the comments, a highly appreciative audience, too! Thank you for this stroll down my Memory Lane with me tightly clasping my Grandmother’s hand in mine. πŸ˜€

    • Jacqui Wilmot says

      Dear Robin, I too came to the site while trying to find out the difference between muslin and voile. However, I must commend you on your priceless piece of family history, written with such warmth and beauty. What a wonderful woman your grandmother must have been! Thank you.

  31. bekilim says

    Very interesting detailed article. Thank you so much for your post. I had just bought a lawn shirt & was wondering what lawn was. it’s comfortable & it has a slight sheen 😊

  32. Sheryl Rice says

    Thank you so very much. I actually came across your site by accident. What a wonderful surprise I received. Please accept a hug from across the ocean.

  33. Lauren says

    Thank you for this post! I’ve always had issues sewing such lovely, sheer fabrics, however. I’ve been searching for a period solution to their fragility with no success. How would a Regency dressmaker have strengthened the seams of a very light, open weaved cotton, for example? In my previous dresses, I have sewn by hand with a backstitch and finished the seams with a flat fell, but still had tearing, and I’m sure they would have had a solution for this back in the early 19th century. Thank you for any insight!

  34. Pamela says

    I appreciate your in-depth descriptions of these beautiful fabrics. I am looking for curtains that are lightweight and billow in the wind when I open my kitchen windows and the breeze blows. Can you please advise what fabric I should be trying to search our for this effect? Many thanks,

  35. Another Pamela says

    I make Carrickmacross Lace (organdie appliqued on to tulle / net) and would like to make a piece of lace using materials made from silk. I have located silk net, but am having difficulty finding silk organdie; personal research has shown that organdie is traditionally cotton. Can you advise me which type of silk (e.g. dupion, habotai, chiffon, etc.) you believe would bear most resemblance to organdie, or, if you know of a supplier of silk organdie. I have looked at my local haberdashery’s bridal materials and feel that most of their silks (taffeta, satin) would bee too heavy for the silk net. Also, I imagine that chiffon would not be stiff enough for the job and would result in air pockets beneath the applique. Please help! Thank you.

    • Organdie is always made from cotton or other spun fibres, but there is a material called organza, which is made from filament fibres (traditionally silk, but these days polyester) which is exactly the same thing. Silk organza should be very easy to find – all of my local fabric stores carry it on a regular basis, and if to it can easily be found online. πŸ™‚

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