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How to tell what the fiber is: Burn test and Bleach test

Costuming
  • Monday, February 18 2008 @ 01:19 AM UTC
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    137,910

Materials
Fabric:
It is recommended that you use 100% natural fiber content – linen, silk, & wool for your and your family’s clothing. Why?

  1. That’s what was used in history
  2. These fibers wear well and will last

How to tell what the fiber is:
Burn Test
Snip a piece of fabric equivalent to 1" square. Using butane lighter and holding the fabric with a pair of tweezers ignite the fabric over a non-flammable surface in a well ventilated area.

Examine the quality and color of the flame, the odor produced, and the quality of the resulting ash or cinder.

Use this table to help determine your fabric's content.

FABRIC FLAME QUALITY ODOR ASH QUALITY COMMMENTS
WOOL orange color, sputtery burning hair or feathers blackish, turns to powder when crushed flame will self-extinguish if flame source is removed, no smoke
SILK burns slowly burning hair or feathers grayish, turns to powder when crushed burns more easily than wool but will self extinguish is flame source removed
COTTON yellow to orange color, steady flame burning paper or leaves grayish, fluffy slow burning ember
LINEN yellow to orange color, steady flame burning paper or leaves grayish, fluffy takes longer to ignite than cotton, but otherwise very similar
RAYON fast orange flame burning paper or leaves almost no ash will continue to burn after flame source removed
POLYESTER orange flame, sputtery sweet or fruity smell hard shiny black bead black smoke
ACETATE burns and melts, sizzly acidic or vinegary hard black bead will continue to burn after flame source removed
NYLON burns slowly and melts, bluse base and orange tip, no smoke burning celery hard grayish or brownish bead will self extinguish if flame source removed
ACRYLIC burns and melts, white-orange tip, no smoke acrid black hard crust will continue to burn after flame source removed

Chart and instructions courtesy of http://www.lindrix.com/fabcontent.html

Bleach Test:
To determine content of fabrics I recommend conducting this first with fabrics that you are sure about the content of – so you will know the outcome of the test yourself. In a non reactive pan (I use a pyrex pie plate) take snips (small pieces) of the fabric you will be testing. Use straight bleach and put about ˝” of bleach in the pan. Please do this in a ventilated area. Add the snippets of fabric and let them sit for about 24 hours. The next day, look at what you have left.

100% Linen or Cotton any color should be removed from the fabric, but there will be no damage to the fibers themselves
100% Silk or Wool the fabric will have fully dissolved (unless its worsted/gabardine, there is a fabric treatment that protects the fabric from the bleach and keeps the fabric shiny even after washes).
100% Polyester, Rayon, Acetate, or Nylon the fabric will have become a cloudy mess within the bleach. Fully dissolved into an opaque cloud within the bleach.
Blends – The individual fibers will act as described above. The result will be different for each combination
Rayon / Linen linen fibers with a opaque cloud;
Silk / Polyester and Wool / nylon fully dissolved with an opaque cloud;
Linen / Cotton no damage to the fibers;
Silk / Wool fully dissolved.

Fiber found in history:
In London, the archeologists pulled fabric out of the digs. These fabrics contained wool, linen, & silk, usually 100% content, but sometimes blended wool / silk.

Another reason I suggest that you use linen, silk and wool is the length of the fiber strands themselves and how the fabric wears and breathes.

From personal experience, I have found linen breathes better and tears less than cotton.

Additionally, on a hot, sweaty day, the linen will “wick” away sweat while cotton will just hold it there. If you wear wool over the top of the linen underwear (you are thinking I’m crazy, I know) you will have a medieval air conditioning. Your body is designed to sweat, so the wool causes you to sweat and the linen wicks it away.

Cotton – yes, there were areas where there was cotton – Italy, Middle East, others, but they were not used for clothing during this era, they were used for bed curtains and wall decorations, not often clothing.

web reference : http://www.historiclife.com/pdf/NewcommersClothingDraft.pdf

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