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Cultivating Bacteria to Produce Colour and Pattern on Textiles - Exploring the Biodesign Project 'Living Colour'

Cultivating Bacteria to Produce Colour and Pattern on Textiles - Exploring the Biodesign Project 'Living Colour'

 LIVING COLOUR   Image: Fabric dyed using bacterial pigment as part of  Living Colour  - A biodesign research project by  Laura Luchtman  &  Ilfa Siebenhaar

LIVING COLOUR 

Image: Fabric dyed using bacterial pigment as part of Living Colour - A biodesign research project by Laura Luchtman & Ilfa Siebenhaar

Dutch designers Laura Luchtman and Ilfa Siebenhaar have collaborated to offer the textile industry a natural and sustainable alternative to harmful synthetic dyes.

Through a biodesign research project titled 'Living Colour', Luchtman and Siebenhaar reveal the possibilities of textile dyeing with bacteria, whilst at the same time exploring ways to accelerate growth and manipulate the bacteria pigments into patterns through sound waves.   

The result of their research and development is fascinating, paving the way for future dyestuff that is safe, sustainable and could even nourish textiles with anti-bacterial properties.

Below you can see what I believe are the key stages in the development of 'Living Colour' as Luchtmann and Siebenhaar ask;

What effect do sound frequencies have on the growth of bacterial pigments?

Can we control the process of growing bacterial pigments?

Enjoy reading and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this innovative and inspiring textile dye project.


Biodesign is the cross-pollination of nature, science and design, where living organisms form an integral part of the design process.
— Laura Luchtman and Ilfa Siebenhaar of Living Colour

Bacterial Pigments

'Some bacteria species produce colourful molecules'.

At the beginning of the Living Colour project three different species of bacteria were selected for testing by Luchtman and Siebenhaar with pigments ranging from yellow to red to purple.

Alongside their pigment capability these bacteria species also boast clinical qualities like anti-bacterial and anti-biotic for example.

Add to that the environmentally friendly aspect of the dyestuff being biodegradable and you have what 'Living Colour' refer to as 'Super Heroes'.

Image: Fabric samples dyed with eco-friendly Janthinobacterium Lividum (JL) bacterial dye as part of Living Colour - A biodesign research project by Laura Luchtman & Ilfa Siebenhaar

Living Colour is an ongoing biodesign research project exploring the possibilities of sustainable textile dyeing with live bacteria and cymatic (sound) frequencies
— Laura Luchtman and Ilfa Siebenhaar of Living Colour

Cultivation 

Releasing Colour

As I understand In order to produce pigment the bacteria specimens were cultivated for a period of approximately three weeks before being made into a liquid which could then be used as a dye.

Image: Flasks in the lab as part of Living Colour - A biodesign research project by Laura Luchtman & Ilfa Siebenhaar

Growing bacteria as a dye factory could lead to a more sustainable way to colour the world.
— Laura Luchtman and Ilfa Siebenhaar of Living Colour

Pattern Manipulation

'What effect do sound frequencies have on the growth of bacterial pigments?'

With the help of a sound engineer Luchtman and Siebenhaar constructed a sound installation in the lab which helped them assess how textiles soaked with bacteria dye reacted to sound.

They concluded that fabrics subjected to sound were dyed more evenly than those which weren't. 

However the realisation of patterns formed through sound waves still seems like a hard thing to achieve according to Luchtman and Siebenhaar.

Image: Silk dyed using bacteria pigment and the Japanese technique of Shirbori as part of Living Colour - A biodesign research project by Laura Luchtman & Ilfa Siebenhaar

 

We want to see if we can grow bacteria in soundwaves, hopefully leaving visible patterns on the fabric.
— Laura Luchtman and Ilfa Siebenhaar of Living Colour

Sustainable Innovation

'Janthinobacterium Lividum (JL) is an excellent bacterium for use of textile dyeing.'

Of all three bacteriums selected for dye testing the purple coloured JL variety appears most successful adhering to most cotton fabrics and giving a variety of violet and lilac hues in varying patterns and intensity. 

Luchtmann and Siebenhaar noted that live pigments love thin and open fabric structures where oxygen can flow freely, like silk.

Image: Material samples dyed using JL pigment bacteria as part of Living Colour - A biodesign research project by Laura Luchtman & Ilfa Siebenhaar

We challenge the industry to make these bacterial pigments into dry dyes, since excessive water use is a big problem in the textile dyeing process next to chemicals being used.
— Laura Luchtman and Ilfa Siebenhaar of Living Colour

Final Thought

Bacterial dyes demonstrate benefits to human and environmental health highlighting the harmful toxins we may be absorbing through synthetic dye chemicals, not to mention the amount of hazardous waste as pointed out in the 'Living Colour' e-book;

'The global textile industry discharges 40,000 - 50,000 tons of dye into the water system.'

As consumers we are taking more notice of micro pollution within products and naturally processes are being questioned as wellbeing is put first and foremost.

Projects like 'Living Colour' encourage us to think about the future of textile dying and how we can tackle waste and health issues through creative thinking and experimentation. From a design perspective there are still many aspects to investigate such as colour variety, cost and consistency but the results of 'Living Colour' are a big step forward in understanding alternative dyestuff.

I really look forward to following the ongoing research!

If you would like to read about 'Living Colour' in more detail you can find the e-book here

Thank you Laura and Ilfa!


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