How to identify fabrics and their composition?

by - 07:00

Have you ever thought of identifying your fabrics? There is an easy way of doing it out with just a box of matches.

As I've already mentioned before, I'm quite strict when it comes to the fabric's composition. The materials I use for my sewing should be natural. I don't like the feel of synthetic fibers on my skin, unless it's a very small addition to the natural blend. Most of the times it's not a problem to identify the fabric: just read the information on a label in your fabrics shop. But what if it doesn't say anything and shop assistants aren't sure either? Or you have some vintage fabric at home and you don't know if it's silk or rayon? That is when the burn test comes along.

All you need for this process is a box of matches. For this post I've selected some fabric samples:

A wool blend that I used for my Patrones dress.

100% wool that I used for my BurdaStyle cowl dress.

Rayon lining fabric that was used for my Simplicity Project Runaway pencil dress.

100% silk

Two samples of vintage fabrics that feel really synthetic. 

100% wool with some elastane

100% cotton that I used for my BurdaStyle retro halter dress.

The main rule is: while burning, natural fabric will form ash that is soft, fine and can be crumbled. Synthetic fabrics don't leave a fine ash and mostly melt instead of burning.

Wool forms a bead and gives a strong smell of burning feather or hair.

My result: That was the most difficult test because most of my samples weren't 100% wool and even a small addition of synthetics (including elastane) was changing the result. But the last sample proved the rule. It was forming a bead and its ash was very soft.

Cotton should burn like paper and leave no beads.

My result: that is exactly what happened: it burnt just like paper. Ash was super soft and crumbly. The cotton test was extra easy.

Silk should curl away from the flame and leave no smell.

My result: it was burning easily with no smell and the ash was quite soft and crumbly.

Viscose (rayon) burns like paper.

My result: that was my favourite test. While it's possible to detect some fabrics in other ways, rayon can be easily confused with polyester. This test is so clear and easy, it proves the material's composition in seconds.

Synthetic: doesn't burn, but melts. Forms a very hard bead that can't be crushed. Doesn't leave any ash.

My result: no surprises with those samples. They have shown very clear synthetic signs.

I must confess that it was more of a fun activity than a proper serious issue, but I've definitely learnt something from it. Moreover, I've already used the burn test for some white vintage fabric from my stash and luckily it's 100% cotton. I had some doubts because it was way too crispy, must have been treated with some starch.

Want to save some money on buying patterns or fabrics?
Sign up for new promotions from pattern companies and fabric shops, along with my latest posts and sewing tips and tricks that won’t appear on the blog!

Enter your email address:

 Have you ever used a burn test? 

You May Also Like