Did you ever wonder that when you're shopping at your local thrift store or at a one-dollar-a-yard "undetermined fiber content" fabric table at Walmart? Well, I always carry a small lighter in my purse or glove compartment. You simply pull off 3 or 4 threads from the end of the fabric bolt or from an inside seam of a piece from the thrift store, then take it outside to a paved parking lot and carefully light the threads on fire.
If it's a "natural fiber" (like cotton, linen, or silk) or a "man-made" fiber (made from cellulose like rayon), the threads will burn away to just ash, but it won't smell. If it's a protein fiber (like wool, alpaca or cashmere), it will burn to ash, but will smell like burning hair (because that's what it is!). If it's a synthetic fiber (like polyester, or acrylic) it will drip and melt into a hard "plastic" ball when it cools. Of course, sometimes, Lycra will be added to cotton for stretch, or you'll have a mix of bit natural and synthetic fibers, but this usually works!
WARNING: Don't burn any fibers inside a store, or you could be charged with arson, always go outside, somewhere where it's safe, like a paved parking lot! Please use care and roll your sleeves up and tie your hair back when doing this, as sometimes the flames can get a bit high. I usually burn my fiber-threads over a sink full of water for safety. If you're like me and only like the feel of natural fibers next to you skin, or if you only want something permanent-press and prefer synthetics, you'll appreciate this handy trick!
By Cyinda from near Seattle