Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Burning things: fun but not that helpful

Hello all,

For some reason I hadn’t really thought about my suit material until reader Laurie asked me what it was.

As I got it in the “assorted fabrics” area, I’d never known what it was – just that I liked the colour, weight and feel of it.

My More Fabric Savvy book by Sandra Betzina suggests burning a small snippet of fabric and observing the fabric, flame, smell and ash to determine fabric content.

Sounds simple – and fun on a chilly winter’s day – but was it? Let’s just say I won’t be giving up my day job to become a fabric identifier (if anyone was ever paid to do that for work).

The results…


The first attempt, the fabric didn’t really burn – it just kind of melted away from the flame and smelt a bit like burning paper… but that didn’t really fit any of the categories listed in the book, so I lit another match.


This was a much more successful burning, with a yellow, slightly spitting flame, but then the fabric kind of melted onto the tweezers and I was so engrossed in the flame that I forgot about the burning match in my other hand… doh.

As you can see, it definitely melts, it’s brittle – there’s no real ash to speak of, no smell, burnt with a slow, yellow, slightly spitting flame.

The book lists acetate, acrylic, cotton, nylon, polyester and wool as having some of these properties but I don’t know which fabric’s properties cancels another’s when combined.

For example, if you combine cotton with nylon does that mean you’d get cotton’s burning paper smell or nylon’s “celery smell”.

So, I’m left guessing… and I’ve decided to go with a cotton acrylic… that is, of course, a total guess. :0)

Acrylic – melts (but keeps burning after the flame is removed which mine didn’t), leaves a brittle, black bead and has no smell.

Cotton – burns quickly with a yellow flame (mine was slow with yellow), keeps burning after flame is removed (mine didn’t), leaves soft, grey ash (mine didn’t), smells like burning paper (did the first time but didn’t seem to the second time – maybe I was smelling the match…?)

See… confusing.

Maybe Spotlight was right in naming it “assorted fabric”… it’s assorted alright!

Anyone else got any ideas? Better informed than me would be good (and pretty easy as you can see I’m just guessing).

I tell you what I do take away from this experiment though… I’ll make sure to stay away from any open flames… having a fabric melt onto your skin is a particularly uninviting proposition! Mind you though, the slowness of the flame makes me think this is probably one of the safer of my outfits… I’ve never had a flaming accident before so its not something I’ve personally ever considered… and flammability has never been on a list of reasons to buy or not buy an outfit or fabric before… and if I’m honest, it won’t be in the future either. :0) but at least I’m aware of it now…

1 comment:

  1. When I did this back in design school (a billion years ago, so I'm no real expert) I remember that almost all of the fabrics burned the same color. My teacher insisted that they had subtle differences but I swear that they all just looked like fire to me, yellow to orange-ish. From the look of your burnt sample I would guess all synthetic, no cotton. But who knows? I think the feel of it will tell you more, and if it gets softer after washing- that would tell you (albeit ages later) that it might have cotton in it. Hope it doesn't matter much. Any identifiers on the selvage? Good luck.