Safety Conundrum & Regulations Run-around

Every year that I have been in the Newfoundland & Lab. Craft Council Christmas Craft Fair, I’ve had queries from people who wanted to know if I made baby quilts.

I have, in fact, made baby quilts. In recent years, I’ve been focussing my energies on decorative textiles rather than functional ones. Also, I’ve typically found making baby quilts to be either labour-intensive (for ornate, complex designs) or boring (for repetitious, simple designs) and make them primarily for friends and family. This year, I decided to get over it already and make some very nice, colourful, well-constructed quilts in an assortment of themes and patterns (I designed a few a while back with this project in mind) and charge more or less what they’re really worth.

So I called the Craft Council to get the standards for textiles, children’s stuff and quilting, just to make sure I had all my bases covered. Most of it is common sense; use natural fibres, do high-quality work, label things properly, don’t have cords, buttons or other kid hazards hanging on the piece…. the usual.

Then there was the phrase “must conform to industry standards”.

Statements like this, involving government regulations, normally make my heart quake with fear. Hoping for the best, I waded into the morass of the government regulations for textiles. For my purposes, the Guide to the Textile Labelling and Advertising Regulations (pdf file) covered the necessaries. I was doing fine until I got to page 25. Everything looked good. All I had to do was label things appropriately and we were copacetic, right?

Um, not so much. Page 25…… “Flammability Standards” – there exists a basic, minimum flammability standard for all consumer textile articles, in particular children’s soft toys, articles of bedding…. strict standards apply to children’s sleepwear…” See Health Canada for details. Swell.

So I spent some time at the Health Canada Consumer Product Safety site. Mattresses, futons and bedding are covered by one link, while Children’s Products are covered in another. I was able to discern that sleepwear and bedding are, in fact, categorized separately. Children’s sleepwear has to be extremely fireproof and there are all sorts of amazing regulations about the construction and fit. Resolution: never make and sell nighties for kids.

The real information was in this pdf, entitled “Flammability of Textile Products in Canada”. There’s an awful lot of complication stuff in there, but, for the purposes of flat, traditional-style quilts without any fuzzy fabrics or 3-D embellishments, the 3.5 second flame spread test applies. What’s that? Well, here’s what the Canadian Government tells us:

a dried piece of fabric measuring 5.1 cm x 15.2 cm (2″ x 6″) is mounted at a 45 degree angle to the horizontal, and a standardized flame is applied for one second to the surface near the lower end of the fabric. The flame spread time is the time taken for any flaming to proceed a distance of 12.7 cm (5″) up the fabric, and is automatically recorded by the burning of a stop cord.

Right. Okay. So technically, according to that, anyone selling textiles to be used either on a bed or to hang on a wall (textiles are still textiles, even if they’re art, according to Industry Canada) in Canada and especially folks selling quilts for use in beds by children should have tested their work for flammability. This means cutting up a sample and conducting several burns and finding an average time. It may also mean that all fabrics and batting, even traditional, natural materials, should be treated with flame retardants prior to use.

This strikes me as a little overboard. Don’t get me wrong; I do see the need for standards. I agree with most regulations like this because of the vast number of imported products that are made in places where standards and reason don’t prevail and where heaven knows what sort of batting is used. What I can’t fathom is the logic in this particular case.

You cannot buy quilt fabrics that are flame-resistant here (or if they are, they’re not labelled as such). In fact, I haven’t seen them thus labelled anywhere. The chemicals used to flame-proof fabrics are either not for use against the skin or have to be applied in a factory somewhere. Quilt batting may or may not be flame-proof, I don’t know.

My points are these:

  • anyone who smokes in bed with their child is asking for it anyway, regardless of how my quilt is made
  • if you have open flames in your child’s bedroom, you have other problems
  • natural fibres, which disintegrate into dust are preferable to artificial ones which melt and stick to a child’s skin, causing burns
  • a burn test is not as essential for childrens’ bedding as a flammability test. The question, “If a quilt falls out of the crib and onto a standard heater, will it burst into flames?” is a far more realistic query. It’s also one that’s not tested.

Anyway, the Craft Council is in the process of finding out some more information for me on this one. I wasn’t even able to find out from Health Canada if a typical, cotton, flat quilt comes anywhere near to failing the “burn test”. They had tests, but no guideline results. So I may be worrying about nothing.

In any even, for my own piece of mind (and because, hell any chance to play with fire is a good thing, right?) I’m going to do up a sample using my standard materials and batting and seem how she burns.

I’ll post the results (and the neighbours’ reactions) when I have them.


7 Comments Add yours

  1. Kim says:

    You may be able to satisfy the regulations with a disclaimer. I’ve purchased a lot of nightwear for my child in the nightwear department of stores and many of them have a label that says something along the lines of “Do not use for sleepwear.” In other words, the product didn’t meet flammability standards and it was up to me to decide whether to buy it for sleeping purposes. What a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo.

    Alternatively, how about designing and selling the patterns rather than making the quilts themselves? Like you, I’m bored with traditional baby quilt patterns, but I don’t want to spend a gazillion hours on something that is intended for use/abuse by a child.

  2. VickyTH says:

    Yes, my default option is to sell them as “play quilts” suitable for tummy time play on the floor. Whether someone puts it in the child’s bed after that is out of my hands. Still, though, I’d like to find out how quickly cotton quilts really do combust. Just for the record, in case any inspectors show up at the fair (and they do, apparently). And because I’ve wanted to play with burning fabric for some time now.

  3. Kim says:

    Just remember, if you keep a log, it’s science. If you throw kerosene on it, it’s arson.

    Be sure to take pictures. 🙂

  4. sarai. says:

    Vicky, I am curious if you’ve ever gotten around to testing this notion, or did I miss the followup?

  5. VickyTH says:

    No, I’ve not yet tested it. I’ve tried, but I’m having a hard time burning stuff deliberately. Must screw my courage to the sticking point and just do it. Thanks (really) for the kick in the pants! (even if you didn’t intend it as one!)

  6. kate8 says:

    I am doing textiles at gcse at the moment and i need to find relevant fire regulations for my coursework but i cant find any its ridiculous.
    So good look and i hope you get the results you want in the end.

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