Sew Adorkable Book Blog Tour: Fire Safety Stop and Contest!

Posted: September 21, 2015 in Fire Investigation, Fire Protection, Fire Science
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

by: Jason A. Sutula

Hello and welcome to the Fire Science Blog! For those of you who are new visitors to this site, the genre of this blog is anything and everything related to fire and fire science. As a fire scientist, I consider it my mission to educate and inform on all topics related to fire, fire investigation, and fire protection. By education, I am a fire protection engineer with degrees from the University of Maryland and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. By experience, I have been fortunate to research how fire behaves and the best method of putting it out (my favorite project was learning how fire operates in outer space!). By training, I am a Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator and have been conducting forensic analyses of fire and explosion incidents for over 16 years.

Today’s post is an opportunity like no other. The Fire Science Blog was selected for hosting Samarra Khaja (SK), author of her new book Sew Adorkable: 15 DIY Projects to Keep You Out of Trouble (C&T Publishing, $26.95) on her book blog tour.


Gifted and schooled in the fine arts, Samarra Khaja is a designer, photographer, art director, and illustrator. Her work can be found in The New York Times, The Guggenheim, Time magazine, and Cirque du Soleil to name a few.

SK came to the Fire Science Blog with many questions from herself and her main audience regarding the fire safety and flammability of various fabrics and materials used in fabric design, sewing, and the equipment used. It is my great honor to present SK as the host of this question and answer session.

Jason Sutula (JS), thanks so much for fielding my fire-related questions. As you know, aside from my book being filled with fun projects, it’s also full of fun facts. So on this blog tour I thought it only appropriate to continue to provide my audience with fun facts and you, JS, are my living, breathing anthropomorphized fun fact section for this event. Sound good? Great, let’s get to it!

 SK- Sewing, crafting and DIY projects are really hot right now. That said, should I fear that my book will spontaneously combust? What’s the real world risk of that?

JS- One of the first books I remember reading in high school was Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The premise was a dystopian society where books were outlawed and burned by “Firemen.” 451 degrees Fahrenheit was the temperature that Mr. Bradbury decided on for the ignition temperature of paper in his story. I learned over my schooling and career that the type of paper, whether it is tissue, newsprint, glossy, or engineering paper, determines the fundamental material properties of the paper that control the ignition temperature. Mr. Bradbury was not far off though, as “book” paper has an establish ignition range between 437 °F and 464 °F. The good news then is that a single one of your books sitting out on a coffee table has no chance of spontaneously bursting into flame.

SK- The materials for the projects have been left to the discretion of the maker. From a fire-safety stand point, what are the safest and least safe fabrics to use?

 JS- When scanning the internet, I came across a great article in the Fall 2011 edition of On Track! magazine, which you may have some familiarity with. The article is titled, “Safe Batting Choices for Baby and Invalid Quilts,” by Beth Kurzava. The article does a great job of demonstrating how easy or hard it is to spread flame over different batting materials. Cotton, wool, silk, cotton-poly blends, polyester, bamboo-cotton blends, cotton-corn blends, and fire retardant cotton fabrics were all tested following an ad hoc procedure based on the code of federal regulations (CFR) clothing fabric flammability test. The test was simple, expose an 8” square of each fabric on a 45 degree incline to a three second fire exposure at the corner of the sample, then sit back and observe the fire spread. Pictures were provided in the article and show that wool and fire resistant cotton are the best performers and polyester is the worst performer. These results are very consistent with the science of fabric flammability. Natural fibers will burn or smolder, but are naturally resistant to rapid fire spread over a surface. Polyester, on the other hand, is a petroleum-based, plastic synthetic fiber. Like all petroleum-based plastic products, it tends to melt and liquefy upon heating, but once ignition has occurred, it will sustain vigorous flame spread over a surface.

SK- In terms of fire risk, what tool(s) used to make my projects are the most dangerous?

JS- Every year, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) compiles statistics gathered by fire departments for the U.S. Fire Administration on the suspected cause of ignition of a fire. The one that jumped out at me from your book is the use of a clothes iron for your projects. Most recently produced clothes irons have built-in safety features such as automatic timers for shutoff and, on some models, automatic shutoff if the iron is tipped on its side or soleplate for longer than one minute. Even with these safety features, an average of 318 clothes iron fires occur every year, resulting in over $10 million in damages. My recommendation, then, is to continue to follow safe practice by never leaving unattended a clothes iron that is on.

SK- Finally, would you mind going through my book’s projects and pointing out some fun fire facts relating to them?

11114, Khaja,FA15

JS- I would love to! Since I have yet to conduct a fire scene investigation in a lighthouse, your Lighthouse Dress project inspired me to research famous lighthouse fires. Some of the first lighthouses were built with a “core” of brick and concrete. Wood was used to build up the exterior of the lighthouse and provide for a means to access the top of the lighthouse where the light was located. One of these lighthouses was built on Eddystone Rocks, south of England. This particular lighthouse was named Rudyard’s lighthouse, which was actually the second lighthouse built as the first was washed away in a large storm. The second lighthouse was constructed in 1709 and lasted until 1755 when the lantern at the top caught fire and spread through the wooden walls of the structure. The three keepers of the lighthouse fought the fire with buckets of water, but were unsuccessful at saving the structure. Luckily, they were rescued by boat and survived the fire.

11114, Khaja,FA15

Your typewriter project was of interest as well, as I have yet to come across a fire investigation case where a typewriter was deemed to be the cause. The best I could come up with was this video I found on Youtube:


I am still not completely certain as to why you would ever want to burn a typewriter.

11114, Khaja,FA15

I couldn’t help but notice your references to the classic movie, Office Space, in your red Swingline stapler project. Swingline staplers are made from plastic and can burn, but a single stapler on your desk or in your home office is not considered a great fire hazard due to the significant amount of metal in the construction and when loaded full with staples. If we stored 1,000’s of them in a warehouse… well that is a different story. While we are on the topic of Office Space and if you are interested, the machine that gets taken to a field and destroyed by the office employees would burn nicely (i.e., it is made from plastic) whether you believe it was a fax machine, printer, or fax machine/printer combo.

11114, Khaja, FA15

My children have always been interested in learning about dinosaurs, maybe even more so than when I was their age. Your prehistoric portrait project begs the question that my children would ask. Did the dinosaurs have to worry about fire? The answer is a resounding yes, and, unfortunately, they were not well prepared to fight fire. Dinosaurs would have had to deal with fires as a result of volcanic activity, lightning, and earthquakes. Any of those mechanisms would have had the potential to initiate wildfires in the prehistoric world. Dinosaur skin may have been slightly more resistant to burn injury than our skin, but without advanced warning of an approaching wildfire, the dinosaurs were at a distinct disadvantage.

11114, Khaja, FA15

My final thought was about your 8-bit bird project. Believe it or not, one of the world’s most renowned arsonists was a bird. I came across the story of this bird a few years into my career. According to the story, a bird was accused of bringing a smoldering cigarette back to her nest, which just so happened to be in the post of a wooden front porch of a house. The cigarette started a smoldering fire in the straw of the nest, which broke out into the connecting space between the porch and the house. Fortunately, the house had minimal damage, and no one was hurt. What happened to the arsonist bird you ask? Well, she remains unidentified and is still at large to this day. Hopefully, she has learned not to use materials that can start a fire to build her nest!

SK- Well, my brain is officially smoldering from all this amazingness that you’ve now fueled it with. I have to say, you really do know how to set a blog post ablaze with flare. Plus, I know these were hot topics that I was simply burning to ask, so I’m thoroughly stoked that you’ve taken this time to shed some much needed light on the situation. You have really sparked some great ideas here. Really and truly, you’ve made my tour more scintillating. Searing perspective. It’s really warmed my hearth. I’m sure you’re scorched from all my puns. Am I getting hot yet? No rapid fire response needed, I’ll stop with the third degree. And also the puns. Maybe. Okay, never.

JS- Thank you for the opportunity to answer your and your audience’s questions SK. It has been a great pleasure having you on the Fire Science Blog.

And, now for the contest! The rules are simple. To be entered into the random drawing to win a copy of SK’s new book for yourself or as an awesome gift for friend or family, simply answer this question in the comment section of this post: What fire hazards related to sewing and fabrics do you experience in your home or place of work? (If we did not touch on it in this interview, it could be the topic of a future post.)

Fine Print: Only one entry will be given for each individual so please only submit one comment per person. One book per winner. Open internationally, however if winner lives outside of the US, they will receive a promo code to purchase the ebook version free of charge. US winner will receive a hard copy. Winner will be chosen from all entries at the close of the tour on Monday, October 26, 2015.

Good luck in the contest and please check out the rest of the blogs on the Sew Adorkable book blog tour!

9/14/15 C&T Blog
9/16/15 Generation Q Magazine
9/18/15 Sew Timeless
9/21/15 Fire Science Blog (Thank you for visiting!)
9/23/15 Art School Dropout
9/25/15 Craft Buds
9/28/15 Pellon
9/30/15 Crafty Planner
10/2/15 Modern Handcraft
10/5/15 Imagine Gnats
10/7/15 May Chappell
10/9/15 Nancy Zieman
10/12/15 Dritz
10/14/15 Spoonflower
10/16/15 Sew Sweetness
10/19/15 Aurifil
10/21/15 Accuquilt
10/23/15 Schmancy Toys
10/26/15 Samarra Khaja

  1. Sarah says:

    I guess the biggest fire hazard is the extention cord I have everything plugged into — or rather, not the cord itself, but the fact that all the bits of thread and things fall around it. I guess I’ll move it!


  2. bekki says:

    That would be the lighter I use to burn my fabrics as I do occasionally. (To melt them for interesting effects not because I’m angry with them) 😉


  3. Ursula says:

    This stop on the blog hop was very surprising and very entertaining! I do have a serious question though. I have a nick in the cord of my sewing machine. It has a very small chunk of plastic coating missing and shows the coated wires underneath. They still have a coating on them, and no bare wire is exposed. The machine’s manual says to NEVER use it if the cord has anything wrong with it, but the problem is that they will not allow me to replace just the power cord (even though it is a completely separate piece of its own), I have to replace the power cord, foot pedal, and foot pedal cord which altogether is outrageously priced! It was a rather expensive machine, bought in a time of plenty, so of course all the parts are rediculously high! I can’t afford it right now (we are now in the opposite of a time of plenty), and it’s crazy not to use my sewing machine at all. My husband and stepfather both agree that it’s fine as long as it’s covered in electrical tape. Is this true or is there a real risk here? I wouldn’t want to ruin an expensive sewing machine or start a fire in my home, of course, but I do love to sew!!! Thanks in advance!


    • Anonymous says:

      I am not an expert on this, but my understanding is that the outer plastic jacket on your cable is just there for protecting against abrasion (scratches, cuts, etc). The inner jacket, that surround the copper conductor inside the cord is the important part. You say that the inner jacket is in good shape, so I would just fix the outer jacket. Go to your local Wally World or hardware store and get some electrical tape. Put a good several layers of wrap around the cut part of the wire. The tape is very easy to work with, you can’t really mess it up.


    • Congratulations, Ursula! You have been randomly selected as our winner for one copy of SK’s new book, Sew Adorkable: 15 DIY Projects to Keep You Out of Trouble! I will email you directly with the details. I have also been remiss in answering your question regarding your nicked power cord. Safety is always my top priority, so I would strongly recommend that you replace the cord with on that does not have a nick. In the meantime, covering the nick with electrical tape is a reasonable short-term solution, just make sure that you unplug the machine after each use. Once again, Congratulations!


      • Ursula says:

        Thank you so very much!!!! I’m so excited! Woo-hoo!!! And thank you for answering my question too. That is exactly my plan, but now I feel much better about it. And thank you so much for pointing out that I should unplug it when not in use! I should probably be doing that anyway, but I never think of it, and it’s especially important now. 😉


  4. patty says:

    I think the biggest hazard would be the iron, but mine has an automatic shut-off. I try very hard to make sure I unplug the iron.


  5. I purchased a vintage iron to use for sewing since newer ones don’t get hot enough and they have an automatic shut off. Therein lies the problem; this little bugger is a hazard. I love it and am extremely careful.


  6. Lisa E says:

    I would definitely say the iron. I don’t have an automatic shut-off mechanism and I’m always worried that I’ll forget to turn it off.


  7. Sherry J. says:

    My greatest hazard would have to be my iron, because i forget to turn it off or unplug it. I make sure i always get one that turns itself off if left unattended, but…. it is a worry still. i have a lot of fabric. as long as it doesn’t spontaneously combust, i’m good.


  8. Debby says:

    I was also thinking iron, like Sherry. I try my best to remember to unplug it and so far have not forgotten once!


  9. auschick says:

    I often leave my iron on – it doesn’t have auto off (a good and bad feature!)


  10. Katy M says:

    I’m always leaving my iron on by accident – very worrying! x


  11. Melissa meinhard says:

    I have wonky old iron that terrifies me to use. The cord gets hot when you use it and I know that Sunday is going to cause a real problem ! Maybe I should just go get a new iron …


  12. rrjane011749 says:

    It would be my iron!


  13. […] C&T/Stash Books 09/16/15: Generation Q Magazine 09/18/15: Sew Timeless 09/21/15: The Fire Science Blog 09/23/15: Art School DropOut 09/25/15: Craft Buds 09/28/15: Pellon 09/30/15: Crafty Planner […]


  14. Janie says:

    I would say my iron. It does have a automatic shut off though. Thank you for the information.


  15. missenota says:

    I have to say this is the most unexpected, hilarious, and informative blog post on the hop! As for sewing fire hazards, it’s the iron. Most definitely, that super hot iron plugged in in the corner is the thing I worry about. I’m very careful with it but also very thankful it has an auto shut-off feature.


  16. teri says:

    This has been fun and informative reading. Probably my iron would be the most obvious fire hazard here.


  17. Tina Jeo says:

    Thanks for the great info. I worry about my iron, but it does have auto shut off. I also worry about my circuit breaker plug bar. Everything is plugged into it but I just flick the switch and everything turns off but it is in my basement and I don’t think any of the plugs are grounded.


  18. Nicole Sender says:

    The fire hazard I worry about is my iron. It does shut off on its own but it still could present a problem given the right circumstances.


  19. Beth says:

    My husband is a retired fireman. He is always telling me my sewing room is a fire hazard because it is so messy! I have piles of fabric all over. Guess it is time to re-organize!


  20. Himeko says:

    My biggest fire hazard would probably be the iron if I leave it on and near something that can burn or set it face down onto something.


  21. I would have to go with a lamp I have that gets pretty hot and all that lint and fabric pieces laying around.


  22. Melissa says:

    My biggest fire hazard is probably the iron, like most people here. Luckily it has auto-shutoff!


  23. duchick says:

    Such an interesting and fun post! I am happy to say that I have one of those chained ladders in my sewing to escape in case of a fire. I sew on the second floor and the best way out if flames were outside my room, is to use that ladder to get out the window. Sure hope I never have to use it!


  24. Pat Upton says:

    I think the biggest fire hazard would be my smokin’ hot body! Hahahaha!


  25. Beverly says:

    This was the best blog post regarding a sewing book ever! Fun but very informative!

    As for the biggest fire hazard in my sewing area, it might be my iron, but it has a auto shut-off feature and I have the most paranoid husband ever who will triple-check that I have unplugged it when I am done. (I guess that’s a good thing since I do tend to be forgetful!) Probably the most hazardous thing is just that there is a LOT of stuff plugged in where I sew because it also doubles as the computer room and there are 4 computers and a television plugged in there. We had new wiring done in there, but the house was built in 1970 and they certainly didn’t have the kind of electrical load we do today!


  26. Jean says:

    I once had an iron start spewing smoke and thought it was going to burst into flames. I managed to unplug it and carry it to the bathroom but then decided I might damage something (it was newly remodeled) soil carried it down a flight of stairs and out the back door. It never burst into flames but it sure did stink up the house and continued to smoke for a good long time.


  27. Lindsay says:

    I have scorched too much fabric than I care to admit from keeping my iron on the hottest setting. I am fanatical about pressing seams!


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