Help me not wear clothing that will burst into flames.
June 22, 2008 10:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to be taking a few weeks of glassblowing lessons soon, and need to wear mostly or entirely cotton clothing while I'm there (no artificial fibers). However, I have some clothing made with modal, and I have no idea if that's ok to wear or not. Help?

I did look up modal on wikipedia, but that just confused the issue more -- it's not natural, it's a kind of rayon...but it's not an artificial fiber. If this turns out to be inconclusive, I'll just leave the clothes at home, but I'm plenty curious now.
posted by mismatched to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (12 answers total)
What about linen, as well? (I knew I should have waited to answer until I was done going through stuff.)
posted by mismatched at 10:57 AM on June 22, 2008

Can you find a scrap (even quite small) of modal you don't need? If so, burn it and see if it burns or melts. That's what's important for glass blowing, I believe. (Cotton burns reasonably easily, but it doesn't melt and stick to your skin like nylon).
posted by JMOZ at 10:57 AM on June 22, 2008

I suspect it would be fine. I think the idea around cotton is that you want something that won't melt onto your skin if your clothes catch fire? Which it sounds like modal wouldn't, since when it comes down to it, it's made of trees, which typically do not melt. However, I have to confess I never asked about the cotton clothes thing, and there might be other motivations behind it too. One thing, though, is that I feel like modal is kind of thinner and slinkier (maybe these are just the modal clothes I have) so it might more readily transfer heat from the furnace to you. I may be totally wrong on this. You want something that you feel will protect you from air that is extremely hot, basically.

I definitely didn't follow the all-cotton rule to the letter going to lessons because I think I just didn't have that many long-sleeved 100% cotton shirts. I would say long sleeves trump the cotton rule, because while my instructors never really checked the tags on our shirts to make sure we were wearing cotton, we couldn't even blow glass if we were wearing short sleeves.
posted by crinklebat at 11:04 AM on June 22, 2008

Modal is a type of rayon. If you click rayon in the link below, you'll see it is not a naturally occuring fiber, but is made from naturally occuring polymers -- which do have a chance of melting in a nasty way. I'd avoid rayon, so I'd say avoid modal.
Modal and rayon on Wikipedia
posted by Listener at 11:35 AM on June 22, 2008

Linen reacts to heat much like cotton. Linen garments tend to be much thinner, though, so would likely offer less overall protection.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:54 AM on June 22, 2008

I worked in a glassblowing shop for a while on the production floor, and the rule was "cotton or wool only".

I asked a couple times if other fibers were safe and the general response was "no, and why risk it?".

Cotton's cheap and reasonably durable, and is cooler than wool when it's wet, wool is more resistant to burning but pricier and usually warmer. Just remember not to roll your cuffs (shirt OR pants); I was told a gruesome story about a budding glassblower who dropped a bead of molten glass into the rolled cuff of his stylish nylon pants, and the whole leg flashed over and basically welded itself to his skin.

I've no idea if it was tru or not, but I didn't roll my cuffs.
posted by dolface at 12:21 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Modal (rayon) is cellulose, so it probably won't melt. IIRC, it does burn faster than cotton. Fabric made from modal is usually thinner than fabric made from cotton, so it will burn easier (think about a a sheet of paper versus a sheet of cardboard -- the paper will burn easier and quicker), and it will transmit heat much faster.

Linen would probably be OK, but is it really worth the effort? They say all cotton. Wear all-cotton. Long sleeved woven cotton shirts aren't that hard to find (hit a local thrift shop if necessary), and you won't have to worry about your clothes.
posted by jlkr at 12:47 PM on June 22, 2008

Go buy a pair of workman's coveralls, especially those for the welding trade.
posted by Kickstart70 at 2:38 PM on June 22, 2008

Yeah, I'm probably just going to leave the questionable items at home. Thanks, guys.
posted by mismatched at 2:51 PM on June 22, 2008

Modal is, specifically, made of beech. (Unlike lyocell, aka Tencel, which is a more generic form of woodpulp/cellulose-based fiber). The spinneret process used to create the fibers, which is akin to a very very fine weight Play-Doh spaghetti maker, doesn't alter the pulp itself, but not knowing what the individual manufacturer has used to bind the fibers together, I'd say don't risk it, too.
posted by at 5:47 PM on June 22, 2008

Safety is hugely important in a glass shop. That said, in years of glassblowing, I never saw a fabric-related burn. The best safety advice I would offer is to be extremely careful how you pick up and put down hand tools on the bench - you're much more likely to be paying attention to the big glowing ball of glass on the end of your pipe and miss the fact that the metal tools you just touched to that glowing glass are facing the opposite way as when you last put them down and you grab the tool by the head instead of the handle and burn yourself badly.
posted by judith at 11:00 PM on June 22, 2008

Nobody likes to say it, but lets be honest here - fabric labels can lie...

Burn it a little. If it curls and melts in on itself, smells.. wrong, sticks to you when you try to pinch it out or you're left with a hard crusty edge.
Or anything that reminds you at all of fishing line - then nope! Do not wear that!!

Linen is fine. But whatever you wear - pick something with a very dense/fine weave!! Not necessarily thick fabric, but definitely a very tight weave. Wool is best. Firemen (used to??) wear wool. That being said I don't think the clothing is so much to protect you but more that the fibre reacts to the heat in a way that's not going to cause you more harm.

My SO does glassblowing and he's mentioned that you can't be afraid of getting burned - because it's going to happen. So just relax and have fun. If you happen to get burned keep it meticulously clean and you'll be sweet.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 8:28 AM on June 23, 2008

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