We get frequent requests for custom backdrops and cycloramas, sometimes to be used in their plain fabric state, and sometimes to be hand-painted onsite for end use as scenic backdrops. With those requests, we find that occasionally there is a confusion regarding the differences between cotton canvas and cotton theatrical muslin.
Cotton canvas is a sturdy woven fabric used for a variety of home and commercial purposes. There are two types of canvas – plain and duck cloth. Plain canvas, which has a looser weave, is used in applications needing greater flexibility, such as shoes and backpacks. The tighter-weaved duck canvas (also called duck cloth or scenery canvas) is more commonly used stretched over frames (for paintings, other art pieces, and theatre scenery pieces) and for items such as tarps and tents, and is available in both flame retardant and non-flame retardant options.
As duck cloth accepts dye very well, lighter weight versions are manufactured in a variety of colors for use in retail displays and special event décor. Canvas, whether in the plain or duck weave, is not suitable for theatrical backdrops or cycloramas.
Cotton muslin has a similar plain weave to cotton canvas, but typically has a smoother, softer hand. Lighter weight versions are used for a variety of applications, including apparel, whereas heavy-weight theatrical muslin is traditionally used for backdrops and cycloramas.
Heavy weight theatrical muslin (also known as scenic muslin) is used extensively in theatres, film and television studios, photography studios, and live music performances, primarily in the form of custom made stage backdrops and cycloramas. As it is available in a standard version in widths up to 126 inches and in an extra wide version in widths up to 39 feet, scenic muslin allows for the creation of seamless panels as large as 38’ h x 180’ wide. If seamed, there is even greater flexibility in size.
Scenic backdrop for Little Big Town, hand-painted onto heavy weight theatrical muslin. Photo Courtesy Bobby Simmons
All widths of heavy weight theatrical muslin are available in a natural color (the undyed color of the fabric), and depending on the width desired may also available in additional colors, including bleached white, black, light blue, dark blue, light grey and dark grey (not all colors are available in all widths). Theatrical muslin is sold as both flame retardant and non flame retardant.