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Destructive testing of aerial fabrics
on The Machine That Breaks Things

Phil Servita
aerialist at frobmob dot org
May 2007 - ???
Last updated: 14 july 2007


Various fabrics used for aerial apparatus are pitted against The Machine That Breaks Things.
The Machine That Breaks Things always wins, of course. Results are reported. Clicking on small images will get you larger images. All force units are lbf.

Fabric #1:

The first fabric tested was used on a weekly basis by an group of people who have a weekly practice in the Boston area. In addition, this fabric was occasionally used for performances. In specific, it was a 105 inch wide 12 yard long bolt of 40 denier tricot, composition 100% polyester nylon. A small sample produced clean white smoke when burned and left behind a clearly yellowish bead.
To determine the weave construction of the fabric, pictures of the front and back were taken with a microscope. Front of Fabric. Back of Fabric. It is made with spun yarn, with the yarn appearing to be made of about 15 individual fibers. Stare at these pictures for a while, and you can determine the weave structure. It is, in fact, a Single Guide Bar Tricot Weave. The diagram comes from page 12 of the _Journal of Textile and Apparel Technology and Management_, Vol 4, Issue 4, Summer 2005.
This fabric was purchased in April, 2005, from Fabric Depot, a company in Garwood, Texas. The actual catalog number was FT300FU. Many aerialists procure their fabric from this source. The fabric was used until October 2006, when it was retired. At the time it was taken out of service, there were no signs of any defects, other than smelling like a high school gym locker room. The fabric has been kept in a dark cool place since that time, waiting for its ultimate demise. Three separate sections from this fabric were tested.

Testing Results Here

Fabric #2:

The second fabric tested was provided by Laura Witwer. This fabric had been purchased from Unicycle Voltige in 2000.
age of fabric/usage: 7 years old, used in around 25 shows and literally hundreds of class hours over two years (guestimated 500 hours of class time).
Material composition and weave type were unknown when the fabric was shipped to me. Fabric was retired because it was showing significant signs of wear (scalloping around the edges, less stretch, etc.)

Burn Test.

A sample of the fabric was ignited. While in the ignition source, it burned with a black smoke and smelled somewhat acrid and sweet. It dropped melted drops which hardened into a black residue. When removed from the ignition source, the sample would self-extinguish in a short time period. Under the microscope there seemed to be only one type of fiber. Microscope photo of fabric. The yarn is a spun type and is made of approximately 20 individual fibers. Composition of this fabric is almost certainly 100% polyester.

Only a single side photo is needed to determine weave type here, this one is a very simple Single Weft Knit.

Testing Results Here

The author would like to test many more samples of fabric than he has on hand.
Fabric donations will be accepted. If you have any fabric samples you are willing to sacrifice to the cause, please contact the author at the address at the top of this document. New or used; it's all useful. A 3 yard section is sufficient for the above test. a 4-5 yard section would allow a double-sided test.

The reader is STRONGLY CAUTIONED that the results reported here say *nothing* about the results that might be obtained with different fabric constructions, different fabric compositions, different rigging techniques, different suppliers, different manufacturers, etc. They might not even say anything about the next sections I test *from the same sample pieces*. It's unlikely, but these results *could* just be a fluke.

Happy Flying.