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Colour & Materials
Published: 21 Mar 2017

Living Colour: Dyeing with Bacteria

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Living Colour

Living Colour is a biodesign research project exploring the possibilities of natural textile dyeing using pigment-producing bacteria. Rotterdam-based textile designers Laura Luchtman and Ilfa Siebenhaar learned that subjecting the live bacteria to sound frequencies accelerates pigment production. The discovery could lead to a more sustainable way of colouring textiles.

The designers sought the help of sound engineer Eduard van Dommelen to produce a sound installation in a biomedical lab. They set out to explore whether exposure to sound waves would make the bacteria grow in patterns, producing patterned textiles. The method draws inspiration from Cymatics phenomena like Chladni figures and Faraday waves, which cause matter to form geometric patterns when exposed to sound. 

To carry out the experiment, they put textile samples covered with bacteria into petri dishes, and positioned them directly over the speakers. They discovered that the bacteria subjected to sound dyed the textiles in an even, plain and more saturated colour than the bacteria without sound. Janthinobacterium Lividum – a purple, soil-dwelling bacterium – proved to be excellent for textile dyeing under optimal conditions of 25°C. 

The finding could lead to ways of upscaling the bacterial dyeing process, potentially revolutionising industrial textile dyeing. Organic bacterial dyes also provide clinical characteristics such as anti-oxidants and agents with possible anti-cancer properties, which are beneficial to our skin and wellbeing. Read more in the Living Colour ibook.

Stylus explores more innovative strategies for reducing the use of artificial pigments and highlights new natural dyes in Considered Colour. See also Home Ground: Colour.

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