Here is a guide to conduct a burn test to identify fabric content.
I recently cut a kimono out of (what I thought was) nice brushed silk. One side is smooth, the other has a soft brushed feeling. The drape is fluid and soft, with a single warp and weft weave.
Once I saw the fabric bathed in natural light, my textile snobbery went into full force. There is occasional nub (which isn’t uncommon in natural fibers) but quality silk fibers tend to be made as smooth as possible during the carding and combing process. Also, this fabric is pinnable. Pins usually leave a mark or hole in silk. However, it is prone to snags and pulls, which is consistent (but not exclusive to) silk.
It looks like I’m dealing with mystery stash! I decided to perform a burn test to identify fabric content. I’d hate to spend my time making something that won’t last.
A burn test is used to help to determine types of fiber in fabric. In general, natural fibers burn and synthetic fibers melt. The color and smell of ashes, burn speed, and behavior while burning can narrow it down further.
Many factors can effect how a fabric burns, like chemical treatments, weave density, or the dye. Blended fabrics can be difficult to identify, and synthetics are especially hard to pinpoint. Click to print or download this handy burn test chart from Threads Magizine, then we’ll gather the rest of our supplies.
You also will need: squared fabric swatches, tweezers, plate or dish, seamripper, lighter
Have a spray bottle or some sort of water available as a fire precaution, and work in a well ventilated area with no breeze or wind to disrupt your results.
How To Identify Fabric Content With A Burn Test
Sometimes fabric blends use a different fiber for warp and weft, rather than twisting them together as one yarn. Here’s a preliminary test to check for a fiber blended weave.
Use your seamripper to pull out a few pieces from each side. Hold the fabric with tweezers and light each side separately. I lit it and quickly blew it out, like a candle. If both yarns behave the same continue to the next step.
Hold your swatch with tweezers, and set it on fire. Set it on the plate to observe. How does it smell? What color is the flame/ash? Does it catch fire quickly, or fizzle out? Does the fabric curl away from the fire? You may need to burn several swatches in order to note all the variables. You can use your chart to make notes.
My fabric burned slowly like silk and smelled like burning hair. When But the beads weren’t round or shiny, and there was a liquid residue on the plate. I suspect a synthetic blend, and possibly some sort of chemical treatment.
In design school we were told that there is always an exception to every “rule” in fabric identification. A burn test result won’t always be conclusive, because the textile industry has constant technological advances. It’s definitely a process of elimination though!
I’m disappointed that I don’t have silk. Synthetics have come a long way and are nicer than ever before, but I’m really concerned about wear on this kimono. It’s probably going to end up as a muslin because the more I work with this fabric the less I like it:(
Until next time!