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Perhaps a holdover from the french polish era where you would use pumice and rotten stone inside the cheese cloth to rub the finish into the wood.
Cheese cloth is more absorbent than linen and allows you to easily remove excess stain.
I use linen lint free cloths for most stain and hand rubbed varnish applications.
Other useful items are old cotton undershirts, old white dress shirts, even old white or ivory bedding. Try to avoid anything that has been coloured as the stain may leach out the dye and transfer it to your project
much of the "cheese cloth is not really cheese cloth" but then I use clean white lint free dish towels for making cheese,
I really do not know why, unless it holds less stain and thus you stain instead of paint with it, I would think nearly any clean lint free, ("LINT FREE" is probly the answer), there, as true cheese cloth is lint free, where most other cloths will produce some lint, thus creating a possible contamination in the finish.
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Might be coming from government specs. Lint Free cheesecloth is spec'd in a lot of government procedural specifications to prevent lint contamination (gotta thank the engineers for this). In the government specs, there is a govenment spec for the cheesecloth to meet, and woe be to those who do not use it where spec'd!! Not currently in the trade now, I don't remember the MILSPEC for it. Before I retired, there were also a couple of aviation-grade industrial disposable wipes (kim-wipes being one I remember) that met the mil-spec for the lint-free portion). Bottom line, you want something that will allow you to apply the stain evenly without it adding a lot of garbage to the surface and won't be dissolved by the coating.
Probably carried over to the civilian sector as the lawsuit lawyers have profilgated.