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In Fashion, what is a Burnout Pattern?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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A burnout pattern is a special type of treatment for tufted fabric which creates a distinctive look for jackets, scarves, coats, and skirts. More rarely, it is used in upholstery, usually as an ornamental accent. It is often used on materials like brocade and velvet, which have a thick pile, allowing the pattern to stand out much more clearly. The technique was developed in France in the early 20th century, and was extremely popular in fashion design during the 1920s. A revival of “roaring twenties” styles at the close of the century led to an increased interest in this style.

In the fashion industry, fabric with a burnout pattern is known as devore. Crafters call it "fabric etching," because of the technique used to create them. It starts with a chemical paste, commonly containing sulfuric acid, that is applied to the fabric to create the desired pattern. The acid eats away the fibers, leaving the fabric backing behind. The fabric is rinsed to remove the acid, which does not compromise the integrity of the garment.

Making a burnout pattern is relatively easy, and some fabric stores sell the necessary equipment. It is important for crafters to wear face, eye, and hand protection when working with acid solutions, to prevent injuries. Cautions on the packaging should also be followed, and the acid should be disposed of in a safe and responsible way. Ideally, the work should be done outdoors, rather than in an enclosed environment. It also helps to use a stencil to draw out the desired design before beginning, unless the crafter is confident with his or her freehand.

A garment may be accented with a burnout pattern, or the pattern may cover the entire textile, depending on the desired look and feel of the item. It shows as a sheer pattern within the thicker fibers of the garment, allowing the natural color of the skin to show through. These garments tend to be heavy, because of the weight of the base fabric, leading them to drape distinctively.

Botanical themes are most commonly used to make a burnout pattern, although geometric designs may also be used. The fabric is often also dyed innovatively, for a customized look, and it may also be crushed or treated to make it even more distinctive. The garments should be hand washed in cold water and laid flat to dry or hung, depending on directions.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a BeautyAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By healthy4life — On Sep 12, 2012

My boss has some beautiful shawls with a burnout pattern that she wears to work. They look like they are made of velvet, but the areas that have been burned out appear to be made of semi-transparent mesh.

I know that this is just burned out velvet, but it really does look like a totally different material. The areas that haven't been touched are thick and plush.

She has a pink one with a floral pattern. Flowers and vines of pink velvet wind throughout a cloudy background.

The shawls look like they would tear very easily. I would be afraid that I would get one snagged on something and ruin it.

By seag47 — On Sep 11, 2012
Many manufacturers use the burnout technique to make clothing look heathered. I have a couple of hooded sweatshirts that have this mottled pattern all over.

It really adds interest to a garment that started out as a solid color. I have a gray sweatshirt that now appears to have flecks of light gray, dark gray, and white because of the burnout pattern.

By orangey03 — On Sep 11, 2012

@StarJo – You could always wear a tight-fitting shirt underneath the one with the burnout pattern. This is what I do.

I buy shirts that are thin and skintight to wear as undergarments. Then, I layer a cool top with a burnout pattern over it in a color that matches or goes with it.

Shirts with burnout patterns generally aren't very warm, anyway. So, the undergarment helps keep me warm while the top layer makes me look cool.

By StarJo — On Sep 10, 2012

I think that I would feel too exposed in clothing with a burnout pattern. I don't like gauzy items, and I get the feeling that the areas that have been burned are basically reduced to gauze.

While these clothes may look really cool, I just don't believe I would feel comfortable in them. If the burned areas were just on the sleeves, that would be fine, but if they were on the front of the shirt, it would feel weird.

By live2shop — On Jun 05, 2011

Recently a couple of my friends tried their hands at making a burnout design on some fabric. They used a kit that they found at a fabric store.

When I asked them how it went, they laughed and said, "never again!" The design came out fine, but it took a long time, was messy, and the cleanup took forever. They also had to buy gloves, and masks for their faces.

Anyway, they decided that they would leave the "burnout creations" to the designers and manufacturers.

By Misscoco — On Jun 03, 2011

I've been looking at clothing online. The last couple of years, I've seen women's clothing labeled "burnout." Since I was only looking at pictures, I couldn't see what the design looked like.

From the article, it seems like a pretty complicated process. I'm surprised the clothes aren't more expensive. It always seemed like a strange word for fabric design. After reading the article, it makes more sense.

I'm going to have to go ahead and buy a couple of these burnout clothes.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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