Everything you need to know about flame-proof fabrics

Everything you need to know about flame-proof fabrics

Vocab lesson:
IFR - inherently flame resistent
FR - flame resistent

Gone are the days where the band go on stage and play their songs to a crowd, in front of a simple scrim with a few spotlights. The reality is that more often than not, we're playing with fire. Literally.

The method for flameproofing depends on what the item is. Seamstresses working in live entertainment, theatrical productions, and at ginormous sporting events (think: Superbowl) know the fire element can make or break you. Follow along so you don't experience the latter.

Every state plays by a different set of rules. In order for your item to actually be called flameproof, every venue in every state will have a fire marshall show up on the day of the concert, expecting certificates stating that item is in fact IFR/FR. If you're the seamstress creating the backdrop, piece of clothing, whatever - that certificate is on you to collect for the tour. During my last project I learned that the strictest venues in the country are actually just the ones in the middle of cities with huge populations (i.e. Boston).

If you're making a backdrop, or a large item - it's best to get the fabric already IFR/FR.

The best way to do this is to order your fabric from a reputable production/entertainment fabric brand (I really love working with Rosebrand.com, but you do you). My backup source for IFR/FR certified fabric is from from a supplier in California. Here's why: Their restrictions are generally toughest, so by having a certificate of FR from the state of California, you know that no matter what state you tour through, you're covered. Just this last week Rosebrand was out of the width of charmeuse I needed for a panel in a backdrop - they usually have everything, but if you're like me and need an odd FR fabric in a crazy large width, you may have to do what I did. My backup supplier for this fabric was Afabricagenda.com, who FR'd my charmeuse in two days (this normally takes 3-5 in most places) and drop shipped it to me just three days later. 

No matter what certificates you have for your fabric... test it out. Get out in the open and take a lighter to that fabric BEFORE you do anything with it. Even though you wouldn't be on the hook if it burned up, it would be a nightmare to put all that work in and find out that a newbie was flameproofing in the supplier warehouse that day. Do your homework  - your tour/production/play will thank you.

Once you've finished sewing your fabric, cut swatches of the FR material to 12" x 12" so that fire marshalls at each venue have a large enough piece to flame test.

If you're making a smaller item, or a piece of clothing (or just asked to flameproof a pair of pants), flameproof it yourself.

You can get away with using Rosco's Flamex. I use NR (for natural fibers). You can do it several ways, one of the most popular being a spray bottle. This stuff is liquid gold and it goes SO FAST, so spraying it really makes sure none is wasted. I decided to waste because it was felt and I was nervous about its thickness/good saturation, so I soaked each piece in a bowl of Flamex. After wringing it out well I let my material air dry, and it's good to go.

Once again, always test before you sew - in an open, airy place away from buildings and regular (non-flame retardant) fabrics :) 

My best advice:

- use different needles, scissors, and tools when handling these fabrics. The chemical will rust your scissors and dull all points & blades.
- wear gloves, or wash your hands every 15-20 minutes when handling these materials. Anything you rub on your skin is part of your diet, and you really don't want this chemical in your diet, do you?!
- Don't forget to use a flame retardant thread with your fabrics! I get mine from The Thread Exchange, and every one of my interactions with them has been fantastic (great people, fast shipping, high quality Nomex & Kevlar threads).

Are you in the middle of a project using this type of fabric? Comment below! Flamex and other flame-proofing agents leave a residue on your tools, fingers, and workspace. I'd love to help you hack some common problems if you're dealing with what I dealt with!

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