How to Identify Fabrics with a Burn Test - Threads

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How to Identify Fabrics with a Burn Test

Video Length: 2:41
Produced by: Evamarie Gomez and Judith Neukam; Shot by: Gary Junken

In "Fabric Selection Secrets," Threads #168 (August/September 2013), author Julianne Bramson explores some common fiber types, explains their characteristics and how to care for them. It's important to understand how textiles behave when you're choosing fabric for a garment. There are times, however, when the fiber content is a mystery. While there are several ways to test fabrics, one of our favorites is trial by fire.

In this Threads Essential Techniques video, we demonstrate how to burn swatches for two common fabric types: silk and polyester. We've also put together an easy-to-follow chart on how to burn and read the ashes for 10 common fiber types. Arm yourself with these two tools next time you come across an unfamiliar textile.

      Print the burn test guide and keep it in your sewing room for easy reference.
Download the printable guide
(Adobe Reader required)
   

Have you conducted burn tests to identify fabrics? If so, share your experiences below!

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Comments (12)

sathyan sathyan writes: good sir
Posted: 12:23 am on January 28th

Taryn1 Taryn1 writes: Thank you SueV for that info about testing blends ( and bleach). What a helpful tip
Posted: 3:47 pm on October 5th

user-2069715 user-2069715 writes: This just goes to show that you are never too old to learn something new. I've always done the burn test over the sink using a match. Plus my analysis was much less complete than yours. So, I really appreciate your article and video.
Posted: 11:15 am on July 22nd

user-2069715 user-2069715 writes: This just goes to show that you are never too old to learn something new. I've always done the burn test over the sink using a match. Plus my analysis was much less complete than yours. So, I really appreciate your article and video.
Posted: 11:15 am on July 22nd

ustabahippie ustabahippie writes: I almost always did this for my beginning sewing classes.
Posted: 6:08 pm on July 19th

lauraflo lauraflo writes: I have used the burn test for quite some time now. It may not always tell exactly what fabric you have, but it will tell you if it is a natural or synthetic fiber, and that may be all you need to know. A mixed fabric can be tricky, but if you see ash and melt, then you know it is a mix of natural and synthetic.
I belong to a quilt group and I am the Tester. We get donated fabric and we also make items to be donated. Some places only will take things made out of 100% cotton, for instance Ronald McDonald House. We have made pillowcases for them several times, and I test the fabric for them so as to make sure it is 100% cotton.
I also use it on my own stash, as I have fabrics that go many years back. As I can only wear natural fabrics myself, I always check, since I have fabrics that I may have bought for other projects, but haven't yet used. Also mystery fabrics that came from who knows where?
Posted: 6:00 pm on July 18th

SueV SueV writes: Thanks for this. I had been using matches to do burn tests, partly out of convenience, but I will no longer do so.

The trouble comes when fibers are blends. It's much more difficult to tell blends with a burn test, at least that has been my experience.

Using a shot glass with a tablespoon of bleach is also a good way to test if a fabric is a purely proteinous fiber -- silk or wool (as opposed to a plant fiber such as cotton or linen).

Chlorine bleach will dissolve protein so if you put a little piece of silk in a tablespoon of bleach (I use a shot glass) and look hours later, the fabric will be gone! (Which is why you never use chlorine bleach to clean a silk garment.) Not so with a piece of polyester, which will still be in the shot glass no matter how long you leave it.

My dentist once said, "we use a dab of bleach into a root canal -- to make sure all that nerve fiber is gone." That thought was every bit as comforting as a root canal itself.
Posted: 1:51 am on July 18th

sewold sewold writes: I've used burn tests many times. It is invaluable. I've used it a lot to test knitting yarns where I've lost/misplaced the label. It's really helpful to know whether the yarn is wool or not!
Posted: 8:15 am on July 17th

kershawgirl kershawgirl writes: A no fail method for proof of what category your mystery fiber is a part of.
Posted: 8:20 pm on July 16th

cxissy cxissy writes: I was taught to do this at school as part of a sewing exam . I had to do my own research and I have never forgotten because of that. just realized that was over 40 years ago !! oh my

Posted: 5:54 pm on July 16th

arledesign arledesign writes: Great video....
I have found that using the pie plate, candle and long tweezers the best and safest way to do a burn test...
Posted: 5:41 pm on July 16th

eatsallinsects eatsallinsects writes: I have been doing the "burn test" for over 20 years for both fabric and yarn for knitting.
Learned about it from a book by a well-known author.
Posted: 4:49 pm on July 16th

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