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Flame Retardancy

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24 07, 2017

Avora, Trevira and Polyester

By |July 24th, 2017|Education|1 Comment

Did you know that not all polyesters are created the same? You may have heard of fabrics made from Avora polyester or Trevira polyester, but you may not know that these aren’t just “name brands.” The terms “Avora” and “Trevira” (technically, AvoraFR® and TreviraCS®) actually indicate significant differences in the chemical structure of the polyester fibers.

Prestige Velour, 100% TreviraCS®, is a beautiful option for custom stage drapery, as pictured above on Princess Cruise Line’s Queen Victoria (photo courtesy of Gridworks)

One way that these fibers are different is in the way the fibers respond to flame (and thus to the flame retardancy of the fabric milled from these fibers). This doesn’t mean that other polyester fabrics are not flame retardant (some are, some aren’t), but rather that Avora and Trevira fabrics tend to respond a little differently than other polyester fabrics when under flame.

To learn more about these differences in flame retardancy behavior, click here to open a pdf copy of our white paper “Avora, Trevira, and Just Plain Old Polyester.”

28 03, 2017

Flame Retardant vs Flame Proof

By |March 28th, 2017|Education, Fabrics, Products|1 Comment

With the focus of our business being on stage curtains for the music touring business, ensuring that the drapery we provide meets flame retardancy standards is a key issue for us and for our clients. However, we do find that some of our clients don’t fully understand the standards and ask for their drapes to be “flame proof.”

The reality is that no fabric is “flame proof.” Any fabric will burn in a fire. However, the goal of flame retardancy standards is to minimize that fire danger.

A fabric designated as flame retardant would be better described as “flame resistant” rather than “flame proof.” If a flame is introduced, the fabric may burn, but the flame spread will be “retarded” (or lessened) and, once the flame origin is removed, it will almost immediately self-extinguish. Flame retardant fabrics are typically designated as “FR” or “DFR/IFR.”

“FR” means that the fabric has been topically treated with a chemical to render the fabric flame retardant. As the flame retardancy chemical is on the surface of the fabric, it will be removed by laundering or other exposure to liquids. Multiple dry-cleaning may also diminish or remove the flame retardancy chemicals, and in time, even without cleaning, environmental conditions (such as high humidity) may do the same.

“DFR” (durably flame retardant) and “IFR” (inherently flame retardant) means that either the fibers have subjected to a durable flame retardant process during the manufacturing process this is typical of most, though not all, polyesters) or that the fibers are flame retardant on a molecular basis (such as Avora and Trevira). Since there is no chemical on the surface of the fabric, it can be laundered or dry-cleaned without any affect of the flame retardancy of the fabric.

Regardless of whether a fabric is designated as “FR” or “DFR/IFR,” we recommend (and some fire marshals require) that the fabric be retested and recertified annually by a certified flame retardancy specialist. This is because certain environmental conditions, such as surface dust accumulation or exposure to pyrotechnic chemicals, can cause an otherwise flame retardant fabric to become flammable.

For more information, please download our White Paper “What’s the Difference Between Flame Retardant and Flame Proof Fabrics?” (opens as a printable pdf) or visit the Flame Retardancy section of our website.

 

27 10, 2015

Debunking a Few Myths about Stage Drapery Fabrics, Lighting, and More

By |October 27th, 2015|Authors, Education|1 Comment

One of the greatest challenges I found in the development of our company and products was learning how to relate each particular fabric to how it would play under professional lighting.

Unlike the garment industry, where the cloth used for clothing will be seen under natural light – when it comes to theatrical drapery you might venture to say that the drapes are almost never (if albeit rarely) seen by an audience under sunlight or natural light.  The few exceptions are of course daytime festival events – or outdoor special events. Certainly not the bulk of scenarios that we are selling into.

Having no “formal” training in lighting design – it was often hard for me to relate to the output variance between, say, an LED light source and an incandescent light source.

Also – discovering that certain fabrics will absorb light – versus others such as polyester or nylon based cloth that will in fact react to and reflect light.  These small tips and tricks were often close to deal breakers in the beginning.

Hard to put all the rules of thumb into a few short paragraphs – but I did think it might be useful to some for me to pen a brief summary. With so many new players entering the softgoods construction marketplace – it might be helpful for some clients to know what they want to ask for.  Why not take advantage of what has been done wrong before you!

I’ll present as myths and facts – hopefully that works!

MYTH – you need to use white poly silk to do a backlight silhouette effect.

FACT – you can in fact use ANY color poly silk to do a backlighting silhouette effect.  Some of the most unexpected and dramatic silhouette reveals have been done with black silk in fact.  With a focusable light source behind the drape and the right amount of throw between the light / object / drape, you will get an amazing silhouette effect.  If you want a light colored drape – then go for medium grey silk rather than white – as it will show less dirt if you are planning on touring the piece. For the best effect, select from the “wide” silk color palette – the less seams in the drape, the cleaner the gag will be.

MYTH – you can’t kabuki anything but silk or ripstop.

FACT – honestly this isn’t so.  I have seen anything and everything dropped from kabuki solenoids – up to and including a full blown Austrian style drape.  It IS a fact that the cloth decision will somewhat affect the amount of flutter you get when the solenoids fire…….. however, in many cases a kabuki is in fact dropped or released when the stage lights are out.  In which case a silky cloth is irrelevant.  If you are touring – choose a durable cloth. Once the drape hits the ground (ever so gracefully), it will then be manually dragged off the stage (not so gracefully) by some Doc Marten-clad stagehand and shoved (more often than not) into a travel hamper.  If you plan to do this night after night, you might decide to go with a poly muslin over a poly silk.  Or a rip stop for durability.   Watch a “white poly muslin kabuki drop” hit the stage deck in this short video. (https://youtu.be/aPKPVNs7Zyw )

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MYTH – you can sniff or reverse kabuki any size drape

FACT – a reverse kabuki – or a sniffer as many in our industry call it – is in fact quite an elaborate piece of stage drapery motion control. You have both the functionality of a kabuki drop – as well as that of a drum motor. So it IS a science.  It’s certainly not a good plan to fail to calculate the weights, strength, durability and size of the drape as it relates to the system.  I always advise clients to get the drape from the company that is supplying the motion control.  That way you won’t have any issues.  They will calculate what drape will work and supply the motion control to give the desired effect.  If you need a referral for a motion control company in the LA area that offers Reverse Kabuki systems, let us know.  We will be happy to offer some local recommended vendors. Want to see a reverse kabuki in action? Check out our logo emblazoned sniffer drapes here in this short video showing the opening of the Foo Fighters tour. (https://youtu.be/Ss3HQRzq30w )

MYTH – using a stretch fabric for a roof treatment means that you can “pull it out tighter” and get a flatter ceiling installation.

FACT – this is about as far from the truth as we have ever found – unless the ceiling piece is “very” small.  For large fabric installations where you are looking to get a large surface area to stretch out tight…….. you want to select a material with the least amount of stretch possible.  That way you can “crank” it out into place.  But remember – you are only as strong as the weakest link…………… and that means that if you over stretch against your sewing lines you may well split the seams.  Our advice usually includes – stick with non-stretch fabrics.  Flat-fell seams when possible for added strength. Add some pick points for the inevitable spans of aircraft cable that may be needed to support extremely long runs.  AND – don’t forget to bear in mind the environmental factors such as: cotton will stain if it gets moist up in the ceiling of a tent overnight…………… vinyl will billow and eventually tear if water collects on top of it because you didn’t factor some method of runoff in case of rain………… no tent EVER seems to be the exact measurement that the plans said it would be.  When it comes time to install a ceiling, you will want to have factored in some “variance” opportunity to ensure that you can install onsite without having to have a seamstress to cut and sew.

MYTH – if you have a flame cert you won’t have a problem at the venue.

FACT – it’s a good start to have your flame certs – and we don’t suggest that ANY client ever hit a stage or venue without their certs and burn samples.  But just know – that when in Rome you will be obligated to do as the Romans do.  A fire marshal can legally demand a burn test – they don’t have to accept your certs if they don’t want to. They can demand a re-spray of your drapes, at your cost, if they feel it necessary or appropriate. Beyond that – there is no such thing as a certificate that fits ALL FR standards.  Every country has different requirements, as well as some states in the USA having their own standards beyond the national standard.  Basically – always go prepared and try to plan ahead with each venue so that you know their needs ahead of time.  MOST problems exist when arriving at a venue without the appropriate documentation.  A call in advance could be the difference between a show with, or without, drape. Learn more by reviewing our white paper section on fabric flammability and flame retardancy (http://www.sewwhatinc.com/flameretardancy.php )

MYTH – that you can create a portal style entry for your artists when you rent a traditional Austrian style drape.

FACT – you cannot effectively create an artist’s entry with a standard sewn Austrian.  If you want to lift the lines of a drape at different heights and or at different speeds to create a unique silhouette at the hem line you will need to order a CONTOUR style drape.  Be sure to know what it is you want the drape to do before you invest in such an elaborate drapery piece.  With so many different names to often describe the same thing it can get very confusing. We have lots of information that relates to Austrian/Pouff drapes and how they operate versus Venetian/Contour/Waterfall drapery styles on our website. Check out our Drape Descriptions page (http://www.sewwhatinc.com/stage_drapes.php)

MYTH – outdoor vinyl coated mesh isn’t see thru.

FACT – outdoor vinyl coated mesh – whether traditional solid color direct from the mill OR digitally printed with a custom graphic – will indeed be see thru if you have a lot of light behind.  Just be sure that you are selecting a blow thru product for use in the right places and for the right reasons.  Blow thru 73% vinyl coated mesh is great for outdoor use, where there is a concern regarding wind load (73% textile and 27% open space to let air pass thru).  This also means that it will only grab three quarters of the lighting that you throw at it – and that it will be significantly transparent.  It really doesn’t light that well in an indoor environment and is kind of glossy looking.  Stay clear of vinyl products unless you have a specific need for their weather resistance and or blow thru capability.  Here are some close up shots of some name brand coated mesh products – check them out (http://www.sewwhatinc.com/outdoor_textilene.php)

Just a few – plenty more where they came from but as Rome wasn’t built in a day, I shan’t share all the findings in a single blog post!

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15 10, 2015

Choosing Fabrics for Custom Stage Curtains

By |October 15th, 2015|Education, Fabrics, links|1 Comment

In the market for new custom stage curtains, but confused about what type of flame retardant fabric to choose based on your specific needs?  I can understand your confusion.  There are many different types of flame retardant fabric available, but not all fabrics work for all situations.  For example, one fabric might be great for blocking light, but you actually need curtains that allow diffuse light but still allow it to shine through.

If this sounds like you, we have a terrific resource available to you on our website.  It is called “Opaque, Transparent, or Translucent? Tips for Making the Best Fabric Choice for Stage Draperies.” In the article, we explain the differences between these three terms as well as give you specific examples of situations and fabrics. To access the full article in Adobe pdf format (to download, print, or read online), click here.

Super-Vel-eSwatch-page

Another helpful resource is the eSwatches section of our website.  This section lists a number of different fabrics, categorized by fabric type, and identified as to the most common areas of use for each fabric.  When viewing a specific fabric eSwatch page, photos of the fabric’s color range are provided as well as additional information on that fabric (such as suggestions on when to use the fabric, more details on whether it is opaque, transparent, or translucent, and more.

Of course, another great resource is our experienced staff members.  Feel free to contact us online or by phone – we would be happy to advise you on the fabrics we think would work best for your project.

10 09, 2015

The Basics of Fabric Flammability and Flame Retardancy

By |September 10th, 2015|Education, Flame Retardancy|3 Comments

So, you have recently heard about flame retardancy (perhaps from a fire marshal who asked you if you have a flame certificate showing that your digital backdrop is flame retardant, or you were told that the new custom stage curtains that you plan to purchase need to be flame retardant), but you don’t have a clue what that means.  No need to worry – this blog post contains the information you need to become familiar with this complex subject.

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Fabric Flammability

Fabric flammability is an important issue to consider, especially for drapery that will be used in a public space such as a school, theatre or special event venue, since government regulations require that drapery fabrics used in such spaces be certified as fire retardant. Although all fabric will burn, some are naturally more resistant to fire than others. Those that are more flammable can have their fire resistance drastically improved by treatment with flame retardant chemicals.

Certain synthetic fibers are extremely flame resistant, including glass fibers and modacrylic. Other synthetics, including certain polyesters, are slow to ignite and may even self-extinguish. However, once synthetic fabrics ignite, they will melt rather than flame. The resulting substance can lead to severe burns if it comes into contact with the skin.

Natural fibers typically do not melt. Wool and silk burn slowly, are difficult to ignite, and may self-extinguish. With other untreated natural fabrics, such as cotton and linen, the fabric can ignite quickly, resulting in a fast moving flame spread. Fabrics that include a combination of natural and synthetic fibers, such as polyester-cotton blends, can be particularly troublesome, as they combine the fast ignition and flame spread of the natural fiber with the melting aspect of the synthetic fiber.

The ignition and burn factors of fabric are also affected by the weight and weave of the fabric. Lightweight, loose weave fabrics will burn more quickly than heavier fabrics with a tight weave. In addition, fabric flammability can also be affected by the fabric’s surface texture, with napped fabrics (such as velvets and velours) igniting more easily than fabrics with a smooth surface.

Fire Retardancy of Fabrics

The good news is that the flammability of fabric can often be drastically reduced through the use of fire retardants. Many natural fibers, including cotton, can be topically treated with a chemical that reduces the fabric’s flammability to the extent that it becomes nearly non-combustible. During a fire, the chemical reacts with the gases and tars generated naturally by the fabric, converting the gases and tars to carbon char, thus drastically slowing the fabric’s burning rate.

Some polyester fabrics are considered permanently flame retardant. This is because the fabrics are manufactured utilizing fibers for which the flame retardant properties are built directly into the molecular structure of the fibers. Fabrics manufactured utilizing Trevira™ and Avora™ polyester fibers are considered inherently or permanently fire retardant. Other synthetic fabrics may be considered durably fire retardant, fire retardant, or non-fire retardant. “Durably fire retardant” refers to a process in which polyesters are chemically treated during the manufacturing process with a non-water soluble chemical. In other cases, synthetic fabrics may be topically treated with chemicals after the manufacturing process (in the same manner as natural fibers such as cotton), or may be untreated (or untreatable) and therefore considered non-flame retardant.

When a fabric is designated as “inherently flame retardant,” “permanently flame retardant,” or “durably flame retardant,” the flame retardancy will typically last for the life of the fabric, as long as the fabric is properly maintained. The drapery can be laundered or dry-cleaned as recommended by the drapery manufacturer. In the case of fabrics that are designated as “flame retardant,” that have been topically treated with chemicals, the flame retardancy of the fabric will dissipate over time, particularly with repeated cleaning. These fabrics must be dry-cleaned with a non-liquid cleaning agent. Typically, the flame retardancy of topically treated fabric is certified for one year, though the actual length of time in which the treatment remains effective will vary based on the number of times the drapery is dry-cleaned and the environmental conditions of the location in which the drapery is used. It is recommended that drapery be re-tested for flame retardancy on an annual basis, and topically treated by a qualified professional as needed. 

Flame Retardancy Regulations

In the United States, there is no federal law regarding fabric flammability.  Instead, most states have instituted laws requiring that fabric used as hanging drapery in public spaces must meet NFPA 701 and/or NFPA 705 standards, created by an industry group, the National Fire Protection Association.  To meet these standards, fabrics are laboratory tested (NFPA 701) or field tested (NFPA 705). There are a number of factors involved in these tests, but essentially samples of the fabrics are set on fire and must self-extinguish within a certain amount of time.

Although most states and cities require that drapery (and other hanging fabrics) are certified to meet NFPA 701 / NFPA 705, there are a few exceptions. California law requires that fabrics meet a different standard, Title 19, with a similar (though not identical) testing method, and that fabrics, flame retardancy chemicals, and flame retardancy applicators / testers be registered with the Office of the State Fire Marshal. Though New York City regulations are based on NFPA 701 standards, that city has its own specific requirements, as does Boston.

Internationally, flame retardancy regulations vary widely.  In Europe alone, there are different regulations in the UK, Germany, and France, just to name a few. Australia has its own regulations as well.  There is no international standard for fabric flame retardancy.

Certification of Flame Retardancy

Sew_What_Flame_Certificate

When purchasing custom stage curtains or flame retardant fabric, always request a Certificate of Flame Retardancy from the drapery or fabric supplier.  This certificate (commonly referred to as a Flame Certificate) certifies that the fabric (as a sewn drape or as raw fabric) meets specific flame retardancy standards.  In the United States, this usually means that the fabric meets NFPA 701 standards.  Some (but not all) suppliers can also certify for California standards and/or New York City requirements. Occasionally, a supplier can certify a fabric for another country (such as the UK or Germany), but this is the exception rather than the norm.

A Certificate of Flame Retardancy is typically valid for one year, after which it is recommended that the fabric or curtains be re-tested for flame retardancy.  This is because a variety of conditions can affect the flame retardancy of fabric (even fabric that has been certified as inherently flame retardant).  Depending on the fabric and the type of flame retardancy (FR, DFR, PFR, or IFR), a fabric’s flame retardancy can be affected by a number of factors, including laundering, repeated dry cleaning, dust accumulation, use of pyrotechnic chemicals near the drape, and more. Therefore, it is prudent (and some fire marshals require) to have the drapery tested and re-certified periodically by a certified flame retardancy applicator / tester, and to retreat or replace any drapery that does not pass periodic retesting.