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Burn after reading

October 20, 2011

In my Sewing Summit recap, I mentioned scoring some mystery fabric at one of the two vintage shops I was able to get to during my short stay in Salt Lake City. I wasn’t quite certain of the fiber content, but I knew it was coming home with me. At first feel, this woven is a bit like silk, slippery on one side, yet with regular slubs on the other, reminiscent of a shantung. But the hand was a little too slick to convince me this was silk. It reminded me of the ultra-smooth surface of a book bag’s webbing or a dog leash, both typically nylon. So, I decided to conduct a burn test. I’ve done these in the past, and while I’m definitely not an expert, I thought I’d share my results with you. The most memorable of such tests was when I discovered that silk smells just like burning hair. It makes perfect sense that this is the case, and who knew my bored tween habit of pulling a strand and lighting it would have relevance later in life.

Difficult to photograph and color-correct. You can see the moiré on the right side caused by the shiny woven fibers.

The fabric's "wrong" side.

The first burn test was conducted in a spare room in my office. Do not try this at work. The a/c was blowing, thus I couldn’t discern whether the fabric burned quickly or slowly under normal, still conditions. Air conditioning going full blast (in October! so unnecessary; if only we could open the windows for natural air circulation, but that’s another story) meant a quickly burning blaze. And despite the fact that I really, really wanted to be home sewing, I also didn’t want to be the person to set off the alarm for the entire building. That would put a whole new spin on getting fired, huh?

  • Burn – quick
  • Smell – hair or plastic; this was made more difficult due to the fact that the fabric had been washed by either the store or previous owner in a fragrant detergent, something I’m not accustomed to.
  • Bead vs. ash – large bead (it fell off before photo), a few smaller reddish beads, melty & hard, with a little crumbly ash
  • Flame – didn’t notice due to sudden realization that this was a bad idea
  • Smoke – see above
  • Extinguish – I blew it out

Outside during lunch, I tried again. It was a little windy, but I found a protected spot. Of course, my last match went out, and I had to ask a woman smoking for a light. Yeah, she gave me a funny look as I proceeded to set a piece of fabric on fire. Silly non-sewer. This time I was able to get a decent burn, without worrying about the repercussions.

  • Burn – slow
  • Smell – hair or sweet plastic
  • Bead vs. ash – still seemed a little melty, but no distinct bead, and I was able to break off some ash
  • Flame – orange
  • Smoke – none that I noticed
  • Extinguish – stopped burning on own accord when I removed the fire source

When I got home, I decided to give it one more go, for good measure. Not because I needed to, but because I remembered how much fun it is to burn things. And three is auspicious, no?

  • Burn – fast, very fast, with a slight sputter at one point
  • Smell – hair or sweet plastic
  • Bead vs. ash – a bit melty, without a solid bead forming on the fabric, but one did drop to the floor. It crushed when I picked it up, but was more hard than the straight up ash you’d encounter around a camp fire.
  • Flame – orange with blue base – in a controlled, indoor environment, I was really able to see the color
  • Smoke – some, grey
  • Extinguish – I blew it out – definitely needed to!

Conclusion: I am calling this a mutt. I do think the final, gratuitous test gave the best results because of the controlled environment (no sun, wind, a/c, office smells, potential fire alarms). However, that test alone shows contradictory indicators when compared to the charts below. The fabric definitely does not smell like celery when burned (nylon) – more like sweet plastic (polyester) or hair (silk, wool). Signs point to synthetic, most likely a polyester/nylon blend. It’s been a while since I’ve done a burn test, and like wine-tasting, my palate may need a bit of practice after some time off.

The real question is whether this mutt has the hybrid vigor to become a Bombshell. It may look crazy, but then again, it may be a fabulous combination… if I have enough yardage. I should check the requirements first. These approximately 2 yds were marked $10, but I worked my magic and got ’em for 6 clams. I could always use the wrong side if the front is looking too clownish.

Ditzy Prints burn chart

Dharma Trading burn test

Fiber Images burn chart

11 Comments leave one →
  1. October 20, 2011 7:52 pm

    Depending on the drape, I think that would make a truly funky, memorable bombshell! I like the wrong side quite a bit but the right side would be pretty amazing if you played around with the grain.
    Seeing your burn-test results, I would agree that it’s predominantly polyester.

    • October 25, 2011 7:58 pm

      The more I look at the wrong side, the more I really like it! This definitely stinks like a poly… yuck :P

  2. October 20, 2011 8:36 pm

    you used the phrase “hybrid vigor.” I think I love you.

    I think this would be an amazing bombshell with the wrong side out, maybe with the skirt cut on the bias to show off that plaid!

    • October 25, 2011 8:01 pm

      You know what hybrid vigor is… I think I love you back :) Yay for mixed breeds!!! Ooh… I wonder if I have enough to cut on the bias.

  3. October 20, 2011 10:20 pm

    I must say I love the back side, both are beautiful depending on what you have in mind. It’s lovely to have fabric where you have options to play with.

    My last attempt at a burn test was a bit confusing too. I can see how this would be like wine tasting.

    • October 25, 2011 8:02 pm

      Whatever I do, it’s going to need a natural fiber lining, because this is most def a man made! I’m loving the wrong side more & more :)

  4. October 21, 2011 7:19 pm

    Sewing and Science! Cool! You crack me up and bring a smile to my face- Thanks for sharing your experience!

  5. October 21, 2011 9:29 pm

    Oh! I could totally see this as a Bombshell dress! I’ve seen sales people do the burn test, but actually never had the courage to try until yesterday evening, when I tested out some cotton (all ash). Today I had the curious urge to try the burn test on every fabric I saw!

    • October 25, 2011 8:04 pm

      You can’t stop, can you?! It’s so much fun. In well-ventilated areas, fire extinguishers within arm’s reach, of course.

  6. October 25, 2011 10:57 am

    Hi Lavender! I’m passing you a blog award. Pick it up here:
    http://stepalica.blogspot.com/2011/10/blog-nagrada-blog-award.html

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