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Tips for Identifying Fabric

August 1st, 2013 Nick of Time Textiles

Identifying Your Mystery Fabric

Being able to identify the fiber in the fabric you love can affect how you sew, press and care for your project.


Most fibers are able to be identified by their burning characteristics. Although the burn test can be done on both natural and man-made fibers, it is not 100% effective in determining the identity of blended fibers.


Setting up for your Burn Test:


Be sure to set up your experiment in a well-ventilated area.

Wash the unknown fabric to remove any finishes that may affect the outcome of the burn test.

Cut fabric into 2 inch squares.

Be sure to use tongs or tweezers to hold the pieces of fabric you burn.

Place a glass dish or metal baking pan under the burning fabric.

Use a lighter to create a small flame and be sure to keep water nearby in the event of a flare-up. Also, be sure to keep your hair tied back.



Burn Test:

Firmly grip the fabric with tongs or tweezers and slowly lower one edge into the open flame.

Move the fabric into the flame and quickly take it out. If the fabric caught the flame, blow it out.

Take note of the following for identification:

When placed in the flame, does the fabric melt, smolder or extinguish itself?

When you remove the fabric from the flame, what occurs?

Does the fabric form a melted bead or does it leave ash?

Does the burnt fabric omit an odor or smoke color?


Identifying your mystery Fiber:

There are three categories of which your mystery fiber could fall into: animal, vegetable or synthetic.


Animal fibers are also known as wool, mohair, silk and so on. When placed over a flame, animal fibers tend to burn and curl away from the flame and omit an odor that smells like burning hair. When they are removed from a flame, they extinguish themselves and leave a dull black bead that can easily flake away.


Cotton, rayon, linen, hemp and jute are known as vegetable fibers. They burn but do not pull away from the flame. In addition, they smell like burning paper, wood or leaves and leave a gray ash.


Synthetic fibers such as acetate, acrylic, nylon, polyester and spandex will melt and burn when placed over a flame. Each of these fibers will give off a chemical smell as well as leaving various melted beads.


The next time you are cleaning out your linen closet or old sewing kit and come across some mystery fabric, just follow the burn test above and you will be able to quickly identify the fiber. Then you can rest assured that you will be able to properly use and care for your project.


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