HNW - Medieval Dyes

Dick Eney dickeney at
Fri Aug 28 14:35:12 PDT 1998

On Fri, 28 Aug 1998, Christina wrote:
> > On Fri, 28 Aug 1998, Ghislaine Fontanneau wrote:
> >
> > >Can someone
> > > give me advice on 1. finding out the fiber content of the material, 2.
> > > washing it/preping it to be dyed, etc.
> You might also use the burn test to figure out the fiber content.  Take
> an edge and light it with a match.  If the edges get blobby (like melted
> plastic), then your fabric has some synthetic content.  If it smells
> like grass, it could be either cotton or linen.  Wool will smell like
> burning hair.  I have no idea about silk.  I've never run across fabric
> with a fiberglass content.  How does that work?  Anybody else know how
> fibeglass behaves when burnt? 

Please, when doing this, use a pair of metal tongs to hold the test piece
over a metal kitchen sink or other fireproof location!  You do not want to
get melted plastic on your skin, and it can burn very very fast.  So can
natural materials, for that matter.

This is also a way to test mystery yarn, if you buy it at the thrift shop
(as I often do).  Wool may make a hard seeming ash, but if it crumbles to
fine gray ash when smashed, it's probably 100% wool or as close as makes
no difference.

It is a good idea to burn test any fabric, especially second-hand, before
using it. I once wasted some money on some lovely upholstery fabric that
had the worst possible combination: the fuzzy surface extinguished flame
easily but the backing smoldered invisibly.  I burned my fingers but did
not use the cloth for anything so I didn't lose my house or end up in a
flaming cloak. (I did put a note on it about the danger when I put it out
for the trash, but I fear the person who took it didn't pay attention.) 

Fiberglass was used in cheap curtains years ago; I've actually made garb
out of it (the yellow was a good cheap "cloth of gold" effect, way back
when) but it had to be lined completely and have every edge completely
bound with tightly woven cotton cloth.  And it had to be washed separately
because sharp-ended little fibers would break off and get into anything
else washed with it.  Worse than itching powder.



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