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July 22, 2021

Growing Patterns | Kate Reed | Industrial Design | 2021

by katereedreads

Recap: I am an Artist in Residence at BosLab, in Cambridge, MA, researching new ways to use bacteria to dye textiles. I have successfully dyed textiles purple using Violacein.

I am fascinated with the patterns of the bacteria. Left to grow naturally, bacteria grows in beautiful fuzzy colonies, creating spotted winding paths that vein out at the edges. The patterns are so beautiful. I would love to be able to create textiles with such whimsical and natural forms.

For my first attempt to grow bacterial patterns on textiles, I placed the fabric swatches on an agar plate to grow bacteria, and I streaked the bacteria onto the textile. While I couldn’t see the bacteria from the streak, I knew that I had just placed hundreds of bacteria on the textile that would grow to be very purple. I put the plate in the incubator to grow for a few days. When I came back, the entire textile was a very deep purple. This, unfortunately, was not what I was hoping for. But I was able to get a lot more variation in the textile color and intensity, which was still exciting.

When I repeated the experiment, I noticed that the bacteria wouldn’t grow on parts of the textiles that weren’t touching the agar plate. This made sense, because the bacteria off the agar wouldn’t get the nutrients from the agar. This was a very interesting find as it allowed me to create some patterns and textures within the textile. I started to experiment with this more. I scrunched up the textiles and placed them in a plate. Again, the bacteria only grew where it touched the plate, creating the most beautiful random geometric patterns on the textile.

In my quest to create patterns, I also tried some Shibori dyeing techniques. This is a traditional Japanese technique involving methodically folding textiles into bundles to create even and consistent patterns. After I folded the bundles, I added them to the bacteria dyes, put them on heat. When I came back a few days later, the Shibori dyeing technique had worked wonderfully, creating the most beautiful square patterns.

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