Quilting

How to perform a fabric burn test to identify fibers

A fabric burn test will help you identify what material is made from full disclosure. It involves setting a small amount of fabric on fire, monitoring it at every moment of the fire’s progress, and examining the ashes after its flame has been extinguished.

Knowing the fabric content is very important to quilters since typically they sew with 100% cotton. It’s crucial to know fabric material when you will be exchanging fabric with others, who need to receive cotton fabrics.

Regardless of what kind of project you’re working on, from quilts to upholstery, determining whether fibers have been damaged via a burn test is a helpful component in determining proper cleaning methods.

WARNING

Perform the burn test in an uncrowded place, outdoor on a day that is not windy, or in a well-ventilated room, away from flammable objects, people, and children.

Think You’re Buying 100-Percent Cotton?

Have you ever thought about parting with any of your excess fabrics on eBay or at estate sales and flea markets? Do you have any non-quilting friends who would like to offer you extra fabrics? Has anyone ever sent you a fabric donation to be reused?

Since you can’t tell the fiber content of fabrics based on their appearances, you must perform some tests to ascertain the fiber content.

Fabric Burn Test Preparation

Before performing the test, you should prepare for these:

  • A large, fireproof container with an ignited wall may benefit from a small home ash receptacle and placing it in another container, such as a garbage can where water is available.
  • The fabrics you want to test should be included in the testing process.
  • A source of an attractive light is a lighted match, or else a small flame.
  • If you’re working in a sink and there is no pitcher of water, you can take water from the sink to extinguish the fire.
  • A long pair of tweezers or a hemostat.

How to Perform the Fabric Burn Test

1. Sample small pieces of each fabric you want to test, such as 2-inch squares.
2. Place a scrap piece of fabric from your fireproof container on one specific facet.
3. Pay attention to the smoke’s smell.

  • Cotton has a smell that smells like charred paper and lasts for hours after being burned.
  • A sweet or rancid odor reminiscent of burning hair or feathers suggests that wool or silk fibers are present in what you’re smelling, though silk does not prevent burning as easily as wool.
  • A dark plume of smoke that has an odor like burning plastic or chemicals probably indicates the material is made from a plastic-cotton blend.

4. Wait until the ashes have cooled and then examine them to ascertain if they are contaminated.

    • Cotton ashes are soft and delicate. They wilt when damaged.
  • Black earth, full of remnants that could crush between your fingers, is probably wool.
  • Artificial fibers turned into hard lumps when they decomposed.

5. Detangle another thread from a small swatch of the fabric. Hold the untangling with a few tweezers over your fireproof container and continue lighting a small flame toward it.

  • As the burner draws close, cotton fibers ignite.
  • Natural fibers like silk, hemp, and cotton are able to withstand high heat.

Cotton, cotton-polyester blends, wool, and other fibers behave differently depending on the fabric type. Perform experimental tests using fabrics you know are made from these substances.

Fabrics mistakenly thought to be Cotton

  • Linen does the same thing as cotton but burns more slowly.
  • Because rayon keeps burning after the fire has burned out, it burns with an odor reminiscent of cotton or paper.

Not sure the Fabric Is Cotton

There are no quilting regulations that tell you to use one kind of sewing thread or another type. Do use whichever type of thread you like, but try to understand what type it is so that you can best take care of the needlepoint when it is finished.

In most cases, quilt blocks and fabric kits supply detailed instructions for sewing all-cotton fabrics, so reserve fabrics made from other materials for your own use or for swaps that allow variations.

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