Growing fabric of the future
15 Mar 2018
My creative practice explores the natural world and my connection with it. I'm interested in natural processes that reflect the passage of time and how these relate to the transformation of materials.
I’ve always had a strong connection and fascination with the sea and I’m particularly drawn to the ceaseless motion and impact of the tide and how it changes and transforms the landscape. Only after time, do we become aware of the accumulation of these changes. This is where my research began and it was my aim to communicate the notion of change over time within my textiles work.
Early on in my research, I harvested a large supply of kelp from the sea to explore its potential as a fabric. Research led me to fashion designer Suzanne Lee and kombucha fabric that looked very similar to kelp.
Building upon Suzanne Lee’s standard recipe for growing kombucha fabric, I started to explore variations to the ingredients, quantities and time.
My own creative practice is process-led, engaging with materials learning about their properties, boundaries, and possibilities.
Kombucha fabric is grown from a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) with sugar, tea and cider vinegar. This originated as a by-product when producing the Kombucha fermented tea drink.
The microorganisms feed on the sugary nutrients in the liquid, building nanofibers of cellulose that bond together into layers creating a non-woven mat on the surface. Once it is grown (2-4 weeks) at an ambient temperature of 25’C, harvested, washed and dried, the resulting fabric can be as fine and delicate as tissue paper or as thick and flexible as leather
There's no waste as the fabric is biodegradable. Once the fabric is harvested the previous fermented liquid can be recycled and the whole process can be started again; it is a continuous cycle of reuse and regeneration.
I’ve found that I can control its thickness, translucency, surface and scale. It can bond to itself, absorb natural dyes and can also be stitched. As a living material it is unpredictable and dynamic.
Even as it matures, it continues to respond to the surrounding atmosphere. There’s a tension and excitement in this process in which I’m initiator, but not controller. Subtleties such as room temperature, light, atmosphere, different types of sugar, vinegar, and tea, all have an effect on the fabric.
It's intriguing how different textures can be created during the drying process dependent on the surface it dries on.
I want to highlight the material in such a way that these qualities are not disguised and are represented in their natural form.
Wanting to push the limitations of the Kombucha fabric and gain further knowledge and understanding, I set out to investigate whether increasing the scale would have any impact on the physical properties and aesthetic qualities of it.
I set out to construct a 3 metre and a 9 metre trough to grow it in. Due to the size, this had to be done outside with no control over the ambient temperature.The trough needed to be watertight and weather proof.
The growing Kombucha would be vulnerable to contamination from insects and debris at the conception and growing stages, so methods were put in place to minimise this.
I wanted to take my ‘grown’ fabric to where my ideas originated (i.e. back to the sea) to find out what impact seawater might have on it. To maintain some control over the level and duration of submersion, I chose to bring the seawater back to my studio, to monitor any impact closely.
This prompted me to create my own concentrated saline solution. As there are on average only 35g of salt in every litre of seawater, I wanted to increase the strength substantially to see what effect this might have.
I worked systematically exploring as many avenues as possible, using different salts, temperatures and sources of heat. The 3 main issues I had to consider were – saturation, temperature and method.
Interestingly, the growth of salt crystals were ever changing and unpredictable in outcome. I liked the inherent fragility and preciousness of the salt crystals; the organic nature and the tactility; the way the crystals not only sit on the surface but also seem to penetrate the fabric.
My aim next is to continue to explore kombucha fabric and push my ideas forward, conceptually and creatively, to produce work for national and international exhibitions.
Lee, S (2005) Fashioning the Future. Tomorrow’s Wardrobe. London: Thames & Hudson