All fired up

Several months ago, while we were clearing out my mother’s house, I found a lot of unused dressmaking fabric. It seemed a shame to let it go to waste, so I hung on to some of it. After clearing the entire house, we brought exactly one stuffed car load back, so there was competition for what made the cut!

Of course, one problem was that I had no idea what material the pieces were. I had a vague idea that one can identify fibre types by burning them, so off I went to investigate.

Here are a couple of interesting articles on how to set fire to your precious textiles, and what you might find, depending on what they’re made of:

The Spruce Crafts

By Hand London

However, burning isn’t the only method. A mention caught my eye of examining fibres under a microscope. Well, I wonder where I could access one of those…

This little beauty has lived in my study for nearly 2 years now. I found a couple more articles on fabric texture, and spent a fun afternoon peering at my samples and trying to tell them apart.

Armed with this article from TextileSchool, I set to work.

After all that, I figured I might as well go back try the burn test—data corroboration is good, right?

And here are my results!


Piece 1

Sold to me as cotton.

At the edge, we can see multiple fibres twisted together. The occasional single fibres also seem twisted.

It burns steadily.


Piece 2

Sold to me as polyester lining.

Even with my inexpert eye, I can see this is very different. The fibres are straight and uniform, rather than twisted round one another.

Rather than catching fire, it curls away from the flame and melts.


Piece 3

Sold to me as a silk-cotton mix, chiffon weight (ie very thin and light)

Like the cotton piece, we can see twisted fibres. I didn’t see any obvious difference from the cotton, but possibly the proportion of silk was quite small. (And this is absolutely not the way I usually use a microscope!)

This piece burnt quickly, but it was very light, so probably not a surprise.


Piece 4

This is where things got more interesting. This is an unknown piece from my mother’s stash.

The fibres seemed rather straight and uniform, making me suspicious this was a synthetic fabric.

Interestingly, it seemed to catch fire reluctantly, and the flame went out quickly. Some kind of flame-retardant treatment?


Piece 5

Another uknown piece.

Low power magnification shows twisting of the fibres, but not to the extent of the known cotton or silk-cotton mix.

On higher power magnification, the fibres seem uniform, although with a slight bend. I was dubious about this being a natural fibre.

The fabric burns steadily, which I think favours it being cotton or some other kind of natural fibre after all.

This was the first time I’ve attempted fabric identification, so I’m possibly totally wrong on all counts. If you have any experience, or can suggest other methods, please share them!

And if you’re curious about my usual microscopy stuff, why not head across to my educational website?

4 thoughts on “All fired up

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