I've written this up for a class I run occasionally on demystifying the art of testing for fibre types by burning. Keeping it simple, just dealing with the basics.


Basic fibre types
Plant
Animal
Plastic

Plant-Cellulose
Cotton
Linen
Ramie
(rayon)
(bamboo)

Animal- Protein
Wool
Silk

Plastic

For re-enactment I don’t try to differentiate between types. Just try to avoid it I reckon

Burn behaviour:
Plant
Burns easily
Leaves ash
Smells like burning paper

Protein
Can burn slowly and often self extinguishes, especially wool
Leaves a dull, crumbly bead
Smells like burning hair

Plastic
Burns fast and melts
Leaves a hard bead, often round and shiny
Smells like plastic and unlike either of the natural categories

Here are representatives of the three fibre types, burned and cooled, then after what crumbling is possible.
 . IMG_8230

Complications

Blends-burn behaviour is a mix of the components. Can usually get an estimate of ratio, eg) wool/polyester
Warp and weft in different fibres- test separately if you suspect this
Coatings. Eg)Glazed cotton.

Safety notes
-Do your testing over a non flammable surface eg) metal sink, concrete, metal plate, very wide based candle stick. It's really good to be able to drop your test piece safely if you let the flame burn too close to your fingers . Also it's way better to do it out of the wind.
-Use a stable flame you don’t have to hold – a candle rather than a match
-Test a small piece of cloth, not a corner of the whole thing! Cut a small strip. If it’s too floppy, or you only have threads, consider twisting it up to make a more robust piece.
-For odour, don’t take a big sniff right over the flame, waft the smoke towards you with the other hand and cautiously smell that.
-It’s wise to do your testing somewhere you don’t mind the smell lingering. Testing wool in your loungeroom is ill advised, trust me.
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