I've spent the last couple of weeks organizing and labeling my fabric stash. As you can imagine, a lot of my fabrics are mystery fabrics that I can no longer tell what the fibre content is. I've spent some time doing some tests and I've checked my information in some sewing manuals too.
The following test results give good indications but not scientific proof, and the blends were particularly tricky to determine. Nevertheless, the tests, along with your hands (you can feel cotton and know it is cotton) and experience will give you an idea of what your fabric's contents are.
I performed these tests from swatches that I collected at the fabric store yesterday. I put each swatch into a tin and lit the swatch with a match. I made notes while watching the fabric burn. Then I washed the tin, and performed the same test for the next fabric.
| Wool || Curls away from the flame and burns slowly. It may extinguish itself and takes some time to start burning. It smells like burnt hair. It leaves a little, blackened bead when extinguished. |
| Silk || (Yes, I burned a swatch of silk!) Curls away from the flame and melts slightly. Burns slowly. Smells like burnt hair. Leaves a soft, black ash when extinguished. |
| Linen || Ignites immediately on contact with the flame.Burns quickly and leaves an afterglow when extinguished. Leaves a light grey ash. Smells like burning paper. |
| Cotton || Ignites immediately on contact with the flame.Burns quickly and leaves an afterglow when extinguished. Leaves a light grey ash. Smells like burning paper. VERY SIMILAR TO LINEN |
| Cotton-blends || I tried three cotton blends (cotton/ polyester; cotton/rayon; cotton/acrylic). Each had different characteristics. All made a chemical smoke smell that was very off-putting. All burned easily and very quickly. The cotton/polyester and cotton/rayon melted while the |
cotton/acrylic sputtered and spit hot beads before being consumed completely by the flame.
| Rayon || Burns without flame or melting. It seemed to smolder and burn quickly across the fabric.Leaves a light residue. Smells like burning paper. |
| Nylon || Burns and melts quickly. This would stick to your skin if you were wearing a garment made of nylon if it caught fire. It leaves a hard, grey ball. Smells like celery. |
| Acetate || Flames and burns quickly. Melts into a brittle, black bead. Smells like vinegar. |
| Acrylic || Flames and burns rapidly. Flame sputtered in tin jar. (I thought it would jump to another surface if wearing a garment made of acrylic and it caught fire.) Melts into a long black plastic-looking pile. |
| Spandex || Yes, I tested Spandex too. It burns and melts easily. Leaves a soft, sticky residue. Unmistakable chemical smell. |
| Polyester || Pulls away from the flame. Melts into a hard grey/brown plastic-looking ball. It smells of plastic. Gives off smoke. |