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Using the Burn Test to Identify Fibers in Patches


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FriscoHare

One of the ways a collector can tell when a patch was made is through the burn test. It helps identify the fibers used in a specific patch.

 

With the help of Sara Kadolph's book "Textiles," I have taken pictures of different fibers and how they have reacted after being placed in a flame. Each fiber has specific characteristics and reacts differently when burned.

 

On page 34, Kadolph breaks down how each fiber reacts and what it does when it approaches the flame, when in flame, when it is removed from the flame, the color of the ash, and the odor. I have included the description of those characteristics as well as observations below.

 

Hope this helps.

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FriscoHare

post-4247-1243242216.jpg

 

Cotton

 

The base material of many patches consists of cotton, twill weaved, especially during WWII. Cotton will burn like a candle wick and even after the flame is extinguished, the material will continue to glow until it is completely put out. The above example is from the threads of 100% cotton muslin.

 

- When approaching flame: Does not fuse or shrink from flame

- When in flame: Burns

- When removed: Continues to burn, has light gray smoke and an afterglow

- Ash: Gray, feathery with a smooth edge

- Odor: Burning paper

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FriscoHare

post-4247-1243242275.jpg

 

Rayon

 

Rayon has been used prior to WWII for the obverse side of patches. Rayon had been around since the mid-1800s but only began to be mass produced in the US in 1911. It was known as "artificial silk" because of its feel and luster before being renamed "rayon" in 1924.

 

Because rayon is a cellulose-based fiber, it will burn in the same manner as cotton. In the above example, I used a WWII issued Army Ground Forces patch and reacted the same as the cotton example above.

 

- When approaching flame: Does not fuse or shrink from flame

- When in flame: Burns

- When removed: Continues to burn, has light gray smoke and an afterglow

- Ash: Gray, feathery with a smooth edge

- Odor: Burning paper

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FriscoHare

post-4247-1243242356.jpg

 

post-4247-1243242381.jpg

 

Silk (and wool)

 

Silk has been known for its smooth and luxurious feel. Because of its beauty and since it is expensive to produce, textile manufacturers (including patch makers) turned to other options, including rayon. Yet, patches have been made out of silk.

 

Before placing this example under a flame, the silk began to move away. After forcing it, the silk began to ball up and reacted how polyester and nylon would react. After reading Kadolph's book, the ball could be crushed into black ash (as seen in the lower picture). As you will see in the nylon and polyester examples below, their "ball" cannot be crushed.

 

- When approaching flame: Curls away from flame

- When in flame: Burns slowly

- When removed: May self-extinguish

- Ash: Crushable black ash

- Odor: Burning hair

 

It is also important to note that wool will react the same way as silk because it is a natural protein (like our hair). I was unable to take a picture of an example.

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FriscoHare

post-4247-1243242472.jpg

 

post-4247-1243242498.jpg

 

Nylon

 

Ever took a patch, thinking it is WWII era, and held a black light to it only to find out it glowed? After WWII, many manufacturers began employing nylon in their patches as a cost effective way to make them. The mesh backing of some patches are made of nylon. The top example is from a spool of 100% nylon thread and the bottom image is from a post-WWII iron on reproduction of a 66th Infantry Division patch.

 

Developed by the DuPont Company in 1928 and began mass producing this fiber beginning in 1939, nylon was first used in women's hosiery. It is known for its strength, durability, and light weight. Besides being identified with a UV black-light, nylon exhibits these characteristics:

 

- When approaching flame: Melts and pulls away from flame

- When in flame: Melts and burns

- When removed: May self-extinguish

- Ash: Hard gray or tan bead (uncrushable)

- Odor: Smells "Celerylike"

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FriscoHare

post-4247-1243242681.jpg

 

Polyester

 

Polyester is now the most widely used synthetic fiber. It was introduced in 1951 in the US and produced much like nylon. However, it does not glow under UV black-light. Polyester exhibits these burn test characteristics:

 

- When approaching flame: Melts and pulls away from flame

- When in flame: Melts and burns

- When removed: May self-extinguish

- Ash: Hard black bead (uncrushable)

- Odor: Sweet odor

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FriscoHare

post-4247-1243242768.jpg

 

post-4247-1243242881.jpg

 

Blended Threads

 

Finally, according to Kadolph, "Blends cannot be identified by the burn test" (Kadolph 33).

 

In performing my own test, I used the base material of the 66th Infantry Division patch that I knew glowed under UV black-light. Kadolph's claim showed to be true: the burn test on a blended thread cannot tell you what materials make up a thread.

 

However, it will tell you if the thread is a contains synthetic fibers. In my trial, the khaki-colored threads were placed in the flame and the flame danced around in spirals rather than burning smoothly because of the synthetic fibers. Also, the thread had an afterglow. It was determined that it was a cotton-nylon blend.

 

I observed that after placing the threads in the flame, there is evidence that the thread also melted as it burned. The above example shows the threads sticking together as a result of the melting, proving that a synthetic thread, in this case nylon, was part of the blend. Thread with a cotton-polyester blend will also exhibit the same characteristics.

 

From my own observations:

- When approaching flame: Does not fuse or shrink from flame

- When in flame: Burns wildly, flame "dances"

- When removed: Burns with an after glow, looks like a candle wick but threads stick together. Thread exhibits shrinkage as well.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Quick correction: Polyester does glow under UV light. And the reproduction 66th Infantry Division patch fibers are of a cotton polyester blend.

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  • 10 months later...
vostoktrading
How exactly can you preform this test without ruining the patch?

Kind of like the Shroud of Turin thing, just use a small loose thread from the back and carefully deploy it away from the rest of the patch and burn it.

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That makes sense. Ive heard of this before but never knew how to do it...I thought people were actually burning part of the patch, bout to call yall nuts..ha

Thanks!

Paul

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  • 2 years later...

Rayon does not glow as it is not a synthetic. UNLESS it is dyed with a substance that does contain the proper chemistry to glow. Even is washed in glowing detergent, the chemicals that glow will slowly degrade and the glow will go away after a while.

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  • 2 months later...
  • 7 months later...

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