It Pays to Test Your Fabrics

Recently, I was enjoying a lovely Indian summer's day stroll in Brooklyn Heights in, where else, Brooklyn, when I happened upon a coop building's sidewalk tag sale. Most of the items were typical New Yorker fare: trinkets gathered from world travel, tiny potted fern-ish houseplants, and so forth. But in the midst of all that city dweller paraphernalia, I stumbled upon a sewist.


Which one is silk?

I never know when I am going to find a stash of fabrics, patterns, or notions, but I am always ready to purchase when I do. For $30, I bought several yards of silk and three sets of vintage buttons.

I was pretty puffed up about my finds, and making my plans for what I would do with my fabrics. When I got home, I decided to do a burn test just to confirm that indeed I had shelled out my shekels for silk.

I cut a small triangle of the each of the three fabrics I had purchased, got out my matches and an ashtray and set each one aflame. (Make sure you research doing this before trying at home, as the fumes and flame can be hazardous!)

I like to think I have a pretty good hand with fabrics. The woman who had sold me the chocolate and floral fabrics insisted they were silk and I believed her and willingly paid over $20 for the two. The blush fabric had a great drape, but she said it was just polyester and charged me only $3.

Well, I was dead wrong on all three. The chocolate and the floral flared into bright flames, and had a hard blob when extinguished–a sure sign of manmade textile. The blush turned to ash that crumbled in my fingers. It was the silk!

I had considered testing the fabric when I was purchasing, but I would have had to chase down matches, and I was just so certain that I had chocolate crepe back silk and a light floral silk. If you love a fabric buy it, but buyer beware! I don't think I was deceived-I think that someone fooled my sewist friend along the way when she purchased her fabrics in the garment district.

My fabrics are lovely just the same and I know that I will find plenty to use them on in Stitch Winter 2014, now available for pre-order in the Sew Daily Shop.

Do you burn-test your fabrics, if you don't know the source? Do tell!

Happy stitching!

 

 

 

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Amber

About Amber

Amber Eden is the editor of Stitch and SewDaily.com. She LOVES sewing and editing Stitch and SewDaily.com. She also loves dance, yoga, iced decaf triple espressos, and her two golden retrievers. She divides her time between Boston and New York.

7 thoughts on “It Pays to Test Your Fabrics

  1. It depends on where I am and what shop I’m in – if I can convince the owner/manager to let me take a swatch outside, I do test if the fabric is marked ‘unknown’ or I have doubts. I’ve been sewing for over 50 years and ALWAYS have a lighter or matches on me when fabric shopping!

    If I can’t test before buying I’ll often not buy. Sometimes, however, a fabric is just too good to pass up even if ‘content unknown’ so I’ll stand there trying to think what I’d do with it if it turns out to be something other than what I’d hoped. That’s the ‘buy/don’t buy test, and so far it’s worked – if I can think of a good use that also justifies the price, I’ll go ahead and buy it.

    Once home I test TWICE – once before washing and once after (you’d be amazed at the number of times the test results have differed if the mill sizing used is heavily applied or meant to have a stain resistance/waterproofing effect). then I label and put in the stash or cut and sew.

  2. I use a simple test usually – I take a handful and crush it – if it wrinkles, it’s natural fiber usually – if it springs back with hardly anything to show for the mistreatment, then it must be man-made. Of course this doesn’t work on Rayon, but Rayon is based on celluose which is a natural substance.

  3. I use a simple test usually – I take a handful and crush it – if it wrinkles, it’s natural fiber usually – if it springs back with hardly anything to show for the mistreatment, then it must be man-made. Of course this doesn’t work on Rayon, but Rayon is based on celluose which is a natural substance.

  4. I worked in fabric stores and we always kept matches or a lighter handy. We frequently tested fabric for customers because we knew that our sources didn’t always have accurate labels and we understood the importance of knowing the content of a fabric. We were surprised at the number of customers who didn’t know how to test fabric for content and/or why that might influence their choice for a particular pattern. Thank you for sharing this information with your readers!

  5. Test burning is something I’ve never seen (or done) in Australian shops,but when in Hong Kong 2 years ago I had a shop owner almost begging to do it for me!
    A friend had really recommended this shop for silks, and it was the shopping focus for my trip.The owner followed me around,extolling the virtues of this and that fabric, lighter in hand! Needless to say, I left with 6 pieces in my bag. (Could have been more, but the prices were not bargain basement,though they were fair.)

  6. @Aless66
    I had the opposite experience in Beijing. I had my Chinese friend ask the lady if I could burn test and the lady refused. I told her I would not buy because I would not pay “silk” prices for what I was sure was not silk. When I walked away, the saleslady pursued me to the door of the shop, and sold me some items for what I consider to be “polyester” prices.

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