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Posts tagged “Cotton

L’Histoire de Mode~Fabric Burn Testing



This should only be done by skilled burners! Make sure there is a bucket of water nearby and that you burn in a metal bucket or non-plastic sink.

What it is & how to do it:

To identify fabric that is unknown, a simple burn test can be

done to determine if the fabric is a natural fiber, manmade fiber,

or a blend of natural and manmade fibers. The burn test is used by

many fabric stores and designers and takes practice to determine the

exact fiber content. However, an inexperienced person can still determine

the difference between many fibers to “narrow” the choices down to natural

or manmade fibers. This elimination process will give information

necessary to decide the care of the fabric.

It’s important to do a burn test in a well ventilated area to avoid inhaling potentially toxic fumes. At minimum, open some windows, or better yet, do the test outside on a calm day and avoid inhaling the fumes from the burning fibers.


• Pre-wash the mystery fabric to remove
any finishes that may affect the burn
characteristics. Cut fabric swatches for
testing approximately 2″ square.
• Use long tweezers to hold the swatches
you burn.
• Use a non-flammable container to place
under the burning swatch—a large
ashtray or glass dish will work, as will a
metal baking pan.
• Use a lighter, an unscented candle or a
fireplace starter to create a small flame.
• Keep water nearby in the event of a
flare-up, or do the testing near a sink.
• If you have long hair, tie it back out of
the way of the flame.

WARNING: All fibers will burn! Asbestos treated fibers are, for the most

part fire proof. The burning test should be done with caution. Use a small piece

of fabric only. Hold the fabric with tweezers, not your fingers. Burn over a metal dish with

soda in the bottom or even water in the bottom of the dish. Some fabrics will ignite and melt.

The result is burning drips which can adhere to fabric

or skin and cause a serious burn.

Cotton is a plant fiber. When ignited it burns with a steady flame

and smells like burning leaves. The ash left is easily crumbled.

Small samples of burning cotton can be blown out as you would

a candle. Cotton fibers ignite as the flame draws near.

Linen is also a plant fiber but different from cotton in that the

individual plant fibers which make up the yarn are long where cotton fibers

are short. Linen takes longer to ignite. The fabric closest to the ash is very brittle.

Linen is easily extinguished by blowing on it as you would a candle.

Silk is a protein fiber and usually burns readily, not

necessarily with a steady flame, and smells like burning

hair. The ash is easily crumbled. Silk samples are not

as easily extinguished as cotton or linen.

Wool is also a protein fiber but is harder to ignite than silk as the individual

“hair” fibers are shorter than silk and the weave of the fabrics is generally looser

than with silk. The flame is steady but more difficult to keep burning. The smell

of burning wool is like burning hair.

Man Made Fibers

(Synthetic fibers curl away from the heat and tend to “melt.” Hard lumps are the remains of melted synthetic fibers.)

Acetate is made from cellulose (wood fibers), technically cellulose

acetate. Acetate burns readily with a flickering flame that cannot be

easily extinguished. The burning cellulose drips and leaves a hard ash.

The smell is similar to burning wood chips.

Acrylic technically acrylonitrile is made from natural gas

and petroleum. Acrylics burn readily due to the fiber content and the

lofty, air filled pockets. A match or cigarette dropped on an acrylic blanket

can ignite the fabric which will burn rapidly unless extinguished.

The ash is hard. The smell is acrid or harsh.

Nylon is a polyamide made from petroleum. Nylon melts

and then burns rapidly if the flame remains on the melted

fiber. If you can keep the flame on the

melting nylon, it smells like burning plastic.

Polyester is a polymer produced from coal, air, water, and petroleum products.

Polyester melts and burns at the same time, the melting, burning ash can bond

quickly to any surface it drips on including skin. The smoke from polyester

is black with a sweetish smell. The

extinguished ash is hard.

Rayon is a regenerated cellulose fiber which is almost pure cellulose.

Rayon burns rapidly and leaves only a slight ash.

The burning smell is close to burning leaves.

Blends consist of two or more fibers and, ideally, are supposed to take on the

characteristics of each fiber in the blend. The burning test

can be used but the fabric content

will be an assumption.

Household Chemicals

Several chemicals usually found in the home can help further identify fabrics. As in the burn test, caution should be used. Reactions between some of the fibers and household chemicals are rapid and could cause damage to surrounding surfaces.

Acetate is dissolved by acetone, an ingredient in nail polish remover and Super Glue. Caution should be used when wearing acetate or an acetate blend fabric and using any acetone containing product.

Fiber-Etch, a liquid used in embroidery or cutwork embroidery, dissolves any plant fiber including cotton, linen, and rayon. Since this product removes plant fibers, it is also useful to determine fabric content. With blends of plant fiber fabrics, the blended fibers will remain. For example, a cotton/polyester fabric will, when this product is applied to a small area, remove the cotton fiber and leave the polyester fiber.


WOOL orange color
burning hair
or feathers
turns to powder
when crushed
flame will self extinguish
if flame source is removed
no smoke
SILK burns slowly burning hair
or feathers
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
similar to cotton takes longer to ignite than cotton but otherwise very similar
RAYON fast orange flame burning paper
or leaves
almost no ash ember will continue to glow 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 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

Fiber Burn Chart

I know this isn’t the normal Fashion History segment, but it’s a helpful technique for the most part plus it’s fun to experiment with burn testing, fiber Etching, and dying using tomato soup or anything really. BE SAFE & Have fun!

L’Histoire de Mode~Naturally Colored Cotton



Naturally colored cotton is cotton that has been bred to

grow on the plant to have colors other than the yellowish off-white

typical of modern commercial cotton fibers. Colors grown include

red, green and several shades of brown. The cotton’s natural color

does not fade. Yields are typically lower and the fiber is shorter and

weaker but has a softer feel than the more commonly available “white” cotton.

Since it doesn’t have pesticides, chemicals, bleaches or artificial dyes,

fewer allergies and respiratory problems are found. This form of cotton

also feels softer to the skin and has a pleasant smell. Naturally

Colored Cotton is still relatively rare because it requires specialized

harvest techniques and facilities, making it more expensive to harvest

than white cotton. By the 1990s most indigenous colored cotton landraces

or cultivars grown in Africa, Asia and Central and South America were

replaced by all-white, commercial varieties.

Naturally colored cotton is believed to have originated in the Americas

around 5000 years ago in the Andes. Naturally colored cotton today mostly comes

from pre-Colombian stocks created by the indigenous peoples of South

America (Vreeland, 1999). Mochica Indians could be attributed with growing naturally

colored cotton of myriad hues, which they maintained for over the last two

millenniums on the northern coast of Peru.

Naturally colored cotton comes from pigments found in

cotton pigments and produce shades ranging from tan to green

and brown. Naturally-pigmented green cotton derives its color from

caffeic-acid, a derivative of innamic acid, found in the suberin (wax)

layer which is deposited in alternating layers with cellulose around the outside

of the cotton fiber.While green colored cotton comes from wax layers, brown

and tan cottons derive their color from tannin vacuoles in the

lumen of the fiber cells.

The naturally colored cotton has a small fiber and is not suitable

for heavy machine spinning. During the World War II the insufficient supply

of dye led to the cultivation of green and brown cotton in the Soviet Union.

The US government also showed interest in cultivation of naturally colored cotton

but later aborted the project due to low yield and short staple length.

Later on US government instructed a famous agronomist, J.O.Ware, to study the Soviet cotton plants to determine whether they were commercially viable in the U.S. Ware and his colleagues concluded that the green and brown cotton plants yielded too little lint that was too short in staple length. Colored cotton was officially regulated to obscurity. Only in a few places where people still entranced by its possibilities.”

Due to smaller fiber, it becomes unpractical to use naturally colored cotton

for clothing manufacturers. But now, colored cotton is literally squeezed in with the conventional

white cotton to make its fiber longer and stronger than other naturally colored cotton to be

used in typical looms. Since this hybrid cotton fiber is stronger, it is

being used by Levis, L.L. Bean, Eileen Fisher, and

Fieldcrest for clothes like khakis.

A new arrival on the Western fashion market, naturally pigmented

cotton originally flourished some 5,000 years ago. Its revival today

draws on stocks first developed and cultivated by Indians in South and

Central America. Recent commercial cultivation currently uses

pre-Colombian stocks created by the indigenous peoples of South America.

Commercial cultivation still continues in South America as many big US

companies such as Patagonia, Levi Strauss and Esprit are buying naturally

grown cotton along with white cotton which requires significant

amount of insecticides and pesticides.

As mentioned the naturally colored cotton had smaller fiber which were

not suitable for mechanical looms used today, therefore kept naturally

colored cotton to enter in the commercial market. In 1982, Sally Fox

a graduate in Integrated Pest Management from University of California with a

Masters Degree started researching on colored cotton and integrated her knowledge

and experience in technology and introduced first long fiber of naturally colored cotton.

Sally Fox later started her company, Natural Cotton Colors, Inc. and got patents in different shades

including: green, Coyote brown, Buffalo brown, and Palo Verde green under FoxFiber®.

Later on the technology was further improved by a cotton breeder Raymond Bird in 1984.

Bird began experimenting in Reedley, California with red, green and brown cotton to

improve fiber quality. Later on Raymond Bird along with his brother and C. Harvey

Campbell Jr., a California agronomist and cotton breeder, and formed BC Cotton Inc.

to work with naturally colored cottons. Naturally colored cotton usually

come in four standard colors – green, brown, red (a reddish brown)

and mocha (similar to tan).

There is experimental evidence to demonstrate that

naturally-pigmented cottons, especially green cotton, have excellent

sun protection properties, when compared with unbleached white

cotton that needs to be treated with dyes or finishes to obtain similar

properties. It is hypothesized that the pigments in naturally-pigmented

cotton fibers are present to provide protection from ultraviolet radiation

for the embryonic cotton seeds, however they can also provide protection

from the sun’s harmful rays for consumers who wear garments manufactured

from these naturally-pigmented fibers. The UPF values of the naturally-pigmented

cottons examined in a university study remained high enough, even after 80 AFUs

(AATCC Fading Units)of light exposure and repeated laundering, that the fabrics

merited sun protection ratings of “good” to “very good” according to ASTM 6603

voluntary labeling guidelines for UV-protective textiles.

Naturally colored cotton is unique and exceptionally different from

white cotton as it does not need to be dyed. According to, agronomists the cost

of dying could be up to half of the value, and also environmentally friendly,

as it eliminates disposal costs for toxic dye waste. According to Dr. Frank

Werber, National Program Leader for Fabric and Materials, Agriculture Research

Service, USDA, naturally colored cotton is ecologically valid as well as economical.

Elimination of dyeing in production could save from $.60-1.50 per pound of fabric.

Naturally colored cotton is also resistant to change as compared with the

conventional dyed white cotton. After laundering, the color becomes

stronger and more intense, a characteristic documented during research

studies at Texas Tech University. The length of time required to “bring out” the

color varies with color and variety. Eventually, the colors may start to return

to their original color. Some naturally colored cotton darkens with

exposure to the sun. However, green is less stable and fades

to tan when exposed to sunlight.

Due to the non-industrialized product naturally colored cottons

yield less per acre, but growers are paid higher prices for their harvest.

In 1993, colored cotton prices ranged from $3.60 to $4.50 per pound

compared to conventional white cotton at $.60 to $.90 per pound.