Textiles that won’t fuel the fire

25 May, 2023

Textile works developed for public spaces generally have to meet specific fire-safety requirements. To ensure we provide makers and their clients with relevant advice, the TextielLab researched all the fire-retardant options. In this article, you’ll read about the choices involved in this process. 

When a maker designs a textile project for a public building, they’ll have to think about making the work fireproof and the sefety requirements the client asks for. Fireproof does not necessarily mean that a fabric is non-flammable, but that it does not fuel the fire or spread it quickly. The term used for textiles is ‘fire retardant’, or FR for short. For example, FR tests assess how easily a fabric catches fire, whether it releases dangerous fumes and how quickly it chars and burns out.

Choosing the right yarns, photo: Josefina Eikenaar


Strict, stricter, strictest

Various fire-safety standards and certificates exist. These influence the material you can use: the stricter the standard, the more limited the choice. Don’t forget that testing and certification cost time and money. Clients sometimes request a certificate for convenience’s sake, without realising that this reduces the maker’s creative options or that it can drive up the price and will increase production time. To help out makers, the TextielLab researched all the options. Thanks to all this knowledge, our experts can provide fire-safety advice early on, which saves time and money.

Smaller, free-standing works often do not need to be fire retardant. However, it is mandatory for applied interior designs that are part of the space, such as larger wallcoverings, upholstery, curtains and textile room dividers. The wallcovering for the restaurant in Paleis ‘t Loo and the lobby of the Royal Theater Carré in Amsterdam as well as the curtains for the LocHal building in Tilburg are examples of projects where fire safety was an important requirement

Inside Outside’s fireproof curtains in the LocHal. Photo Peter Tijhuis


What are the options? 

Je heb misschien wel gehoord van coaten of impregneren. Hierbij wordt een werk als het af is voorzien van een chemische beschermlaag. Het voordeel is dus dat het kunstwerk van ieder gewenst materiaal gemaakt kan worden. Toch is dit een keuze die niet snel aangeraden wordt door de productontwikkelaars van het TextielLab. De behandelingen zorgen voor een wat plakkerig laagje op de stof dat soms ook verkleuring, vervorming of verzwaring veroorzaakt. Bovendien verdwijnt de chemische bescherming zodra deze in aanraking komt met water en moet het proces eens in de vijf jaar herhaald worden.

Our experts would rather recommend fire retardant (FR) yarns. These are (semi-)synthetic yarns that have had a flame retardant added to the fibre during the production process. The benefit is that the textile doesn’t have to be treated once it’s done. The range of available FR yarns is limited when it comes to structure and shine. Nevertheless, there is usually enough variety to be found and we are in the process of expanding the range of FR yarns even further. This way, a work can still have any desired look; from smooth to fuzzy.

Bas van Beek and Lotte van Dijk working on the fire-retardant wallcovering for Carré. Photos Patty van den Elshout


FR yarns in action at Carré

A great example of a project where fire safety was an important factor is the new wall covering for Theatre Carré. During the renovation of the Loge Foyer on the first floor of Amsterdam’s Royal Theater Carré, several layers of wallpaper were found behind old panels dating from the time when this was the Carré family’s living room. The theatre commissioned artist Bas van Beek to design a new wallcovering inspired by the historical wallpaper patterns. He developed the work with our product developer Lotte van Dijk. To ensure fire-safety compliance, the client initially suggested impregnating the fabric, but the lab team advised using cotton-look FR yarns. This presented the challenge of incorporating the fine lines and intricate details of the design into the compact weave, which is composed of dozens of threads per centimetre. Eventually, some testing and alterations made the loom run smoothly, making the end result not only beautiful but safe too.