One of the most practical ways to identify fabrics and their fiber compositions is by doing a fabric burn test. It’s (usually) a test you’ll do in any fiber class in fashion school. But in case you didn’t, here’s exactly how to do it!
Because whether you’re a student or already working in the industry as an in-house or freelance fashion designer, the ability to identify different fabrics is a MUST.
Why am I qualified to write about this stuff? In my 15 years of experience in the fashion industry, I’ve journeyed from being an in-house designer, starting my own brand (yep!), to growing my freelance career to $100,000+. Now, with all the knowledge I’ve learned along the way, I want to help fashion designers (and PDs, TDs, etc.) like you make it in the industry.
A fabric burn test is a method used to figure out what a fabric is made of by seeing how it reacts to fire or heat. By observing things like how a fabric burns, what kind of smell it gives off, and the residue it leaves behind, you can tell what type of fiber a fabric is made out of.
There are several reasons to conduct a fabric burn test:
True Story: I’ve requested 100% cotton fabric for a sustainable brand I’ve worked with before, and despite the fabric supplier reassuring me that it was pure cotton, the fabric burn test said otherwise. Be extra careful, and always do a burn test if you’re suspicious about the composition (or the supplier! Yikes!).
Now you’re clued up on what a fabric burn test is, let’s learn how to do it right.
The tools you need to conduct a fabric burn test are pretty simple. Here’s your must-have list:
This basic setup is all you need.
Select a small piece of your fabric—around 1 inch square will do just fine. If you want to do this test for fun but don’t want to cut up your clothes, buy small pieces of yardage at the fabric store or some second hand garments from the thrift store!
Holding your fabric sample with tweezers, light one corner on fire using a match or lighter. Let the fabric piece burn completely, and drop the fabric on your plate/tray if necessary.
Take note of the following results during and after burning:
Pro Tip: A quick cheat sheet on identifying whether a fabric is made of natural or synthetic fiber is by its residue. Natural fibers tend to give off either ash or a residue that can be easily crushed while synthetic fabrics will leave a hard dark bead.
I conducted a fabric burn test on a couple of the most commonly used fabrics in garments and here’s a chart of the results.
|FABRIC BURN TEST CHART|
|Fabric||Fiber Type||Burning Characteristics||Smell||Residue||Photo|
|Cotton||Natural (Plant)||Steady burn with clear flame and afterglow||Smells like burning paper or wood||Leaves very little ash|
|Linen||Natural (Plant)||Steady burn (but less rapid than cotton)||Smells like burning paper or wood||Leaves ash|
|Silk||Natural (Animal)||Burns slowly and self extinguishes||Smells like burning hair||Brittle residue that can be crushed|
|Wool||Natural (Animal)||Burns slowly and self extinguishes||Smells like burning hair||Large, brittle beads that can be crushed|
|Tencel||Man-made (Wood)||Steady burn with yellow flame||Smells like burning wood||Leaves gray ash|
|Acetate||Synthetic||Burns rapidly while melting||May smell like vinegar||Hard, dark bead that can’t be crushed|
|Nylon||Synthetic||Stops burning, melts||May smell like plastic or celery||Hard, dark bead that can’t be crushed|
|Polyester||Synthetic||Burns slowly while shrinking from flame||May smell like sweet chemical||Hard, dark bead that can’t be crushed|
|Acrylic||Synthetic||Burns rapidly while melting||May smell like chemical||Hard, black bead that can’t be crushed|
Running a fabric burn test is no biggie, really. What’s more important is what you make out of it.
Understanding your fabrics empowers you in many ways. For designers, it can mean designing garments that align perfectly with their desired look and feel. For consumers buying fabric to sew their own clothes, knowing the fabric helps with their purchasing decisions and clothing care.
So, next time you’re taking on a new project, or maybe you just have a ton of scraps lying around in your fabric stash to play with – you can start experimenting and use this article as your guide!