Burn, baby, burn!

In my last post, we discussed the revelation that Simonnot Godard sells at least two different sorts of chambray. For most of the people who randomly stumble on this blog, that is surely the least interesting news you could possibly hear. But, for the half-dozen or so of my regular readers, it is potentially earth-shattering.

Well, it turns out, that’s not the end of it. Rumors have been floating about the past couple of years that the “old” chambray (the rougher, denim-like, internet-famous stuff) is actually part polyester. Carl Goldberg, of CEGO shirtmakers in New York, was first to rouse suspicions over the matter. Sadly, he was quickly laughed out of the room. Everybody knows that Carl knows his stuff, but it just seemed like too much to swallow. Sure, there were reports of pilling after moderate wear and the shirting seemed to be mysteriously springy, but we all wrote-off any odd qualities as “character.” It must be the 18th century looms!

Then, I thought to ask the European distributor that sold me the “new” chambray about what was really going on. He let me in on two facts: (1) Simonnot Godard sells exactly two sorts of chambray today, and (2) the old version is, in fact, a cotton-poly blend (20% polyester, to be precise). He got the latter bit of information directly from an invoice.

Not suitably shocked yet? What if I lit stuff on fire? Carl deserves vindication and everybody knows the worst sort of treachery is French treachery. So, for the greater good, I got my hands on a sample of the “old” chambray.

It turns out that cotton and polyester behave very differently when burned. Pure cotton burns very much like paper. That’s to say, quickly. It also releases white or grey smoke and emits a pleasant, woody scent. The ash should be brittle and dusty. In contrast, polyester burns much slower and will appear to melt, shrinking away from the flame.

The video shows the results quite plainly. The new chambray lit up rapidly and was fully engulfed within moments. When pulled away from the flame, it continued to burn until fully blackened. In contrast, the old chambray burned at a far more gradual rate and stopped shortly after being removed from the candle. Moreover, and perhaps most telling, it left behind a small pool of gooey, bluish residue–as if some of the fibers in the blue yarns had melted.

I’ll leave it to the textile experts to deliver a final verdict, but combined with word from an official Simonnot Godard distributor, I’d say the safe bet is that the “old” chambray is not all it’s cracked up to be. While it’s likely they didn’t always make it with polyester, it’s quite disappointing that they do now, or ever would. At the end, I think it just shows how easily we can delude ourselves when we really want to believe in something.

By now, you may be skeptical of your own fancy French chambray. No worries. I’ve got matches to spare.

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