Fiber Identification by Burningmatch

All fabric sold for the RETAIL market in the US must carry a fiber content tag.  However, we often purchase fabric or garments that are vintage, are no longer housed on original rolls, or from a jobber that purchased the fabric on wholesale put-ups.  Don’t trust the fiber content on Jobber bolts; they are not necessarily classified as retail merchants; the fabric can be mis -marked or misidentified.

With the advanced chemical make up of many textiles today, exact fiber ID must use a microscope.  Those working in the textile industry and museums do perform such tests.  Costume designers, however, rarely need an exact laboratory break down of fiber content.  In general, we want to understand the fiber content so we can modify the garment by dying or painting.

To test a fabric for fiber content, cut a small swatch.  Do this test over a glass container of water.  Hold the swatch with something metal like tweezers.  Warning! some fibers flash ignite and will burn your fingers. Burn the fabric to observe the following things:

  • what happens when you approach the flame (does the fabric curl away or melt?)
  • what happens when you put the swatch directly in flame
  • smell the smoke for acrid or sweet odors
  • note the appearance of the ash

Fiber ID Charts

Click here to download two charts listing Fiber Identification.

The black & white chart defines burning the characteristics for each fiber.

The chart in color helps you deduce what fibers your combination of reactions to flame could be, begining with each observation.

Many fabrics are blends or compound fibers- to be sure, you may have to pull out separate clumps of threads to test individually.

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