Growing garments: the Kombucha project part 1

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Adding colour at the growing stage (photo: Sam Smith)

Growing textiles in fermented green tea is not something most fashion design students expect from their studies. But this semester, first year fashion students at QUT are doing just that.

In collaboration with the State Library’s The Edge, the students are working on the Kombucha Project – growing textiles from living bacteria.

 

The pellicle growing (photo: Mick Byrne)

The process begins by adding a scoop of live bacteria starter culture (similar to that of yoghurt or sour dough) to a sweet green tea, coffee, or plant food solution. Over several weeks, the bacteria produce a flexible curd or pellicle that sits on top of the liquid. This can be harvested, washed, and dried to make a material with characteristics somewhere between leather and paper.

The pellicle is made from cellulose, just like cotton and paper. But unlike cotton and paper, the individual fibres are much shorter and literally grow together to produce a non-woven textile.

 

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The pellicle drying (photo: Alice Payne)

According to The Edge’s resident science catalyst Peter Musk, the cellulose grown from the bacteria is one of the purest forms possible, and for this reason the pellicle has other applications in burns treatment as well as potentially growing replacement blood vessels.

In a fashion context, this unlikely material has been used by designers Suzanne Lee and Sacha Laurin. The attraction lies in the idea of literally ‘growing’ clothes, and from a material that is fully and safely biodegradable.

For the students, initial reactions to the Kombucha project ranged from enthusiasm to nausea – the latter unsurprising given the smell of the fermenting material, and the creepy skin-like texture of the harvested pellicle!

 

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Mick demonstrates adding the mother sludge to the mix (photo: Alice Payne)

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Past experiments at The Edge with kombucha (photo: Alice Payne)

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The partially grown pellicle in the solution (photo: Alice Payne)

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Students Shannon and Sam experiment with tie-dying the grown pellicle (photo: Alice Payne)


 But they have since embraced the project, and are currently exploring a wide variety of ways that the material can be manipulated, stitched, and coloured while wet or dry: further updates to follow.

In October, the students will exhibit their final artefacts made from the Kombucha pellicle at The Edge.

3 responses

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  1. Pingback: The Kombucha Project Part 2 | Creative Cluster

  2. avatar
    Sylvia Piddington

    I experimented with this membrane last year in the summer. I used it to line a basket ” Cauldron” which I exhibited as part of our Basketry SA exhibition ” ASSEMBLAGE” during the Adelaide Fringe. I am having trouble with insects eating holes in the membrane.

  3. avatar
    Daniel Rossi

    I brew my own and grow so many Scoby’s I don’t know what to do with them. They turn into 3cm thick mats and very heavy.

    Please take them off my hands somebody. They don’t last long out of the pot and need to be kept in starter culture.

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