Determining Fiber Content

Many times I find an old piece of fabric that looks promising. I try to use natural fabrics for my dolls, and so I need to be able to determine what the fiber content is.

I was told that some older sewing books dealt with this issue and it might be wise to check in the basic information sections of Vogue, Singer and a few other how-to sewing books.

Many years ago a dear lady, the manager of a local fine fabric store, showed me how to determine fabric content by burning a small swatch of the fabric. By studying the rate it burns, the color of the flame, the smell of the smoke and the structure of the burned cloth, some people can even guess the content and relative percentage of natural versus man-made materials used in a fabric.

I built a small library of burned fabric samples. Some from known fabric and others from mystery material. I burn only the corner from a small 2" square swatch. I kept notes on how the burned area felt by touch, the rate of burn and the burning smell. Now I can compare burned out mystery swatches to my known fiber content burn samples. For example: if I want to check if a piece of material is truly silk, I burn a corner of a small swatch and compare it to my known sample of burned silk.

To keep all of these burned fabric samples neat and readily available, I store them in a set of 8x10 plastic slide storage sheets. The slide windows are the perfect size to hold each burned swatch along with any notes that I made on a small piece of paper. Don't I sound so efficient? I also keep track of the material that I have in storage by keeping a swatch of each piece of material and its fiber content in another set of these slide holders. Of course then I have to try to find the corresponding larger piece of material - wish me luck! This is where my efficiency ends!

Fabric Burning and Testing Method:

I take a 2" square piece of my fabric and burn a corner. I always burn swatches near a sink so I can stop the flames quickly if they are out of control.

Results to look for:

I asked a friend, Kenneth Loyal Smith (a professional textile conservator), for more information on determining fiber content and he adds:


Copyright Information
Title:  Determining Fiber Content
Author:  Jean Lotz
Certain materials herein are included under the fair use exemption of the U.S. Copyright law and have been prepared according to the educational multimedia fair use guidelines and are restricted from further use. This work may be protected by further copyright, reproduction and distribution (in violation of United States Copyright Law).

Redistributed with permission.