Posts Tagged ‘Fabric Flammability’

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