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Anyone with a sizable fabric stash probably has it lurking at the bottom of at least one storage bin: yardage of unclear origin and even murkier fiber content. If you’re an experienced stitcher, you can probably identify the usual suspects—cotton, wool, linen, or silk—but there’s always a chance that you might be dealing with a blend of some kind. You’re pretty sure you know what you’ve got, but there’s still something that feels just a little bit off.

Sound familiar? If you’ve ever picked up irresistible mystery fabric from a thrift store, garage sale, or swap, this post is for you!

Fabrics bought a traditional fabric supply stores will nearly always have a fiber content label on them to tell you what the fabric is made of – cotton, polyester, silk, etc – but what if you gathered your fabric in less traditional ways? I love scouring thrift stores, flea markets and all kinds of off beat spots for great fabrics, but it’s nearly impossible to be 100% sure what the fabric is made of.

But, there’s a way to find out – a burn test! Here’s how to do it at home.

If you’re seeking the truth about your most puzzling fabrics, science can help! Different fibers—both natural and synthetic—react in unique and recognizable ways when introduced to fire. So, subjecting a small sample of your mystery fabric to a burn test using this helpful tutorial from Christine Haynes on Craftsy can help you clear up those fiber-related questions before you start stitching.

Warning: This post and the linked tutorial contain references to lighting fabric on fire. Should you choose to do so, please keep in mind that burning fabric is dangerous, and you should definitely follow all necessary safety precautions and use any necessary safety equipment that might be required to keep you and your surroundings safe.