Category Archives: Clothing

How to Perform a Fabric “Burn Test”

We’ve all been there- you see a gorgeous fabric that you need to have.  But is it real silk or just a very high quality synthetic? Or maybe someone gifted you a giant stash of old fabrics and you want to know what they are. Today we’re going to teach you a surefire way to find out the fiber context of fabrics- something every designer should know how to do!

Fabric Burn Test2

Knowing and understanding fabric content is crucial. You don’t want to present a design claiming it to be 100% wool and find out afterwards it’s acrylic. It is also important to know if you dye your own textiles, as different dyes are made to work on different fabrics (for example, the kind of dye used for cotton or linen cannot be used on wool).

Most fabric sellers are very helpful and knowledgeable and will be able to tell you the exact fiber content if you request it. However, if you are ever in a situation where you are unsure, this test will be a big help.  Simple swatch the fabrics you’re interested in and perform the tes before purchasing.

The Burn Test, is exactly what it sounds like. Though we can usually guess what something might be by looking or touch, it’s impossible to be completely sure. However, every fabric burns differently, giving away its contents with accuracy.

Here’s how to do it: if you are in a store or ordering online, request a sample. Cut a small piece, about a 1-inch square. Next, find a well-ventilated area such as your studio or kitchen. Place your sample on a non-flammable surface; a clean ashtray works well.

Next, take a lighter and VERY CAREFULLY burn your sample. As it burns, observe what’s happening-what color is the flame, how does it smell, Does it melt, etc. Several reactions may be happening at once, so you may have to do the test a few times or get a friend to watch with you in order to note everything.

Finally, take a look at the chart we’ve provided and see what matches up. Print it out and keep it in your studio as a reference!

Fabric Class Burning Characteristics Odor Residue
Cotton Vegetable Burns rapidly, clear flame, afterglow Burning paper Very little ash
Linen Vegetable Burns less rapidly than cotton Burning paper Light body ash in shape of cloth
Rayon Semi-Synthetic Burns less rapidly than cotton with slight melting, no afterglow Burning paper Soft black ash
Tencel Vegetable Continues burning after flame is removed, yellow flame Burning wood Grey ash
Silk Animal Burns slowly, shrinks from flame but does not melt Burning hair or feathers Small, brittle beads
Wool Animal Burns slowly, orange flame, shrinks from flame but does not melt Burning hair or feathers Large bead or ball, brittle, easily crushed
Nylon Synthetic Does not flame, seems to melt Chemical odor Hard bead, cannot be crushed
Acrylic Synthetic Flames and burns rapidly with hot, sputtering flame, black smoke Fishy odor Irregularly-shaped black bead
Polyester Synthetic Burns slowly, shrinks from flame giving off black smoke Sweet chemical odor Hard, cream-colored bead that becomes darker tan
Acetate Synthetic Flames and burns rapidly, double check by placing in nail polish remover- it will dissolve Burning paper and hot vinegar Hard, dark, solid bead

Chart information is courtesy of Kiranada Sterling Benjamin ( and

Soft wear: computer simulated design is tailoring the future fashion industry

Scissors, needles and mannequins may now be relegated to the dustbin of the clothing industry. Fashion designers are increasingly designing their new collections digitally – with simulation software.

“[Clothing] is a complex material – different to steel or other solid materials,” says Jörn Kohlhammer at the Fraunhofer Institute’s Computer Graphics Research Center in Darmstadt, Germany.

“Textiles have their own structure. Depending on how the fibers are processed, and their elasticity, the material will fall differently or pull differently when it’s moved.”

From threads to textiles

The computer scientist is presenting the new software, which he and his colleagues developed, at the IGD stand at the 2014 Hanover Trade Fair.

It’s already in use by large clothing companies.

To ensure things are as lifelike as possible, the simulation of the individual textiles begins with the fibers woven into them.

A computer model of a gray business suit.Designed digitally, the suit can be endlessly tailored and tweaked

“Whether I’ve got denim or silk naturally makes a world of difference,” Kohlhammer says, tugging at the top of an onscreen, digital dress. He tosses the garment back and forth with the cursor. It twists and folds, and moves as it would in the real world.

Silk, not linen

“In motion, you see a very soft material here. We immediately have a sense of the fabric – in this case it’s a velvety type of material,” says the computer scientist. “If it were denim, it would be a much flatter image. The folds here, with the shadows, for example, are extremely important for the designer to be able decide whether they’re going to get the draping effect they want or not.”

Kohlhammer can also change the color map of the individual fibers.

“That gives a very realistic picture of certain textiles,” he says.

When he renders the “behavior” of an entire garment, the computer model is simplified. Rather than calculate every single fiber, the software calculates the material behavior as a whole.

“If we didn’t do that, we wouldn’t be able to pull up quick and fluid real-life simulations.”

Just like a tailor

A designer’s draft begins as it would at a classic tailor’s – with a pattern.

Based on the cuts of that pattern, the computer renders the swatches so that they appear as they would on a real person.

A multi-colored digital dress.Don’t worry – the dress isn’t finished yet

Kohlhammer directs the cursor to the individual seams, which he “sews” together virtually.

“The designer changes individual lines at the borders, pulls them together and defines the seams. It is important information for the simulator, so it knows how individual parts have to be sewn,” he says.

On the monitor, fabric placed piece by piece on a torso becomes an entire dress.

“That’s a very important step in 3D, real-time simulation. When the simulator pulls the seams together, I get a real-time, moveable textile.”

Next step: Fiber-reinforced components

But Kohlhammer and his colleagues don’t plan to stop at simulating textiles.

His goal is to transfer the company’s “know-how” into completely different product areas, albeit those related to fiber behavior.

For instance, it could be used to make industrial components with fiber-reinforced plastics, such as carbon, glass fiber or viscose.

The software could also come into play in engineering projects for the modeling of aircraft and ships, says Kohlhammer, or even in the development of car tires.