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4. BioChromes


Play time!

This week we played scientists working with natural dyes, pigments inks and additionally bacterial dyes.

Here at the BDC we had the extra opportunity to learn about print making and begin the tour of our local bio-material library.

In my initial scan of areas of interest I looked to indigenous communities from my part of the world in North America. My sense is that all that we need to know about being kind to the earth and respecting her can be learned from our Indigenous populations.

After learning about Chilkat weaving I found a series of lessons on fiber dying in preperation for the weaving process. This is where I learned a little more about using barks to dye, a process which I appreciated as they have so much tannen that mordant is not required. Also, in my home in the Pacific Northwest it is easy to forage for fallen barks; not taking from nature but sampling from what has fallen.

Lily Hope describes the process she used to dye a animal fiber, wool, with bark.

I also looked to the work of Suzanne Deke who describes in detail her recipes and process for different barks. She emphasizes how preparing the bark, allowing it to soak and permitting significant time to allow the dye to express makes a difference in the appearance of colour.

Here at Fabricademy, my idol was Loes Bogers who made some seriously beautiful experiements with cabbage.

Finally we had the great pleasure of hosting Jess or @formalizedcuriosities here at the BDC her work with both bateria and fungus... wow. See our work together below as we move through this weeks activities.


I had two sources of inspiration, both of which I would like to persue further in the weeks to come.

First, was as always my environment. Here in Spain there are trees, only found in urban environements called Plane Tree. I loved the idea of these as urban camoflauge with their distinct peeling bark.

Plane tree inspo

Second, comes from the Zapatec people living near Oaxaca, Mexico. In the winter of 2021 I had the oppertunity to visit these weavers and textile artisans. This is where I first learned about Cochineal, a small bug that lives off of rotting cactus.

Zapotec textile artist inspo

Process and workflow

In the preperation of fabrics as per Ceclia's slides for this week we went through the following steps in order to create coloured textiles

Prepare Fabrics

First fabrics were weighed and modant was calculated accordingly

Fabrics were separated into plant based and animal based and simmered, not boiled in water in order to set the mordant then hung to dry

Create the rainbow

Now, it was play time. I will share the outputs of several of my classmates however my emphasis within the recipes was with Cochineal. In order to create pure Cochineal dye with which to experiment I worked with the following method:

6g of Cochineal was ground and added to water then simmered and filtered

Modifiers, Vinager, Iron, Copper Sulfate and Citric Acid alter the appearance of dyes. Fabrics are displayed in the sequence of wool, silk+linen, bleached linen

Dyes express in different ways on different fabrics depending on the type of fiber be it plant or animal. In the swatched above you'll notice the variance between different colours depending on the modifier and their expression onto the textile depending on the form of the fiber.

As I deepened my exploration into cochineal I created the following recipes/experiments in order to understand the interactions with my chosen dye, Cochineal.

Recipe results on bleached linen

Recipe results on wool

All swatches were simmered in the dye for 10 minutes in order to support colour saturation. They were later rinsed and dried.

Foraged Dyes

You'll note in the above images I include Plane Tree and Nettle samples. These do not have a recipe as they were foraged over the weekend and are without measurement or alteration. In order to re-create these colours I recommend the following steps after textiles are mordanted.

Plane Tree Bark:

  • Collect 1 cup of bark which has fallen off the tree
  • Crumble with your hands into smaller pieces
  • Simmer on the stove in water for 36 hours at a low temperature adding water as it evaporates.


  • Must be foraged fresh 1 cup of nettle chopped including stems
  • Put in ceramic bowl and mircowave 6 times for 2 minutes allowing to cool between
  • Most importantly - do not put in stainless steel pots and simmer as this will turn the dye into a brown colour and reduve the green

Ink Test

In order to create an ink I followed a very simple tutorial on Instructables which indicated a 1:10 ratio of ground Cochineal to modifier. Our scale could not go to such light weights and so I elected to do a ration of 1tsp Cochineal:10g modifier. I also experiemented with alcohol despite it not being listed on this site simply to see if anything would happen.

Modifiers: Citric Acid, Vinager and Alcohol created the above effects on both wool and natural linen

As you'll see both the citric acid and vinager had similar and very concentrated results on the fabric. Alcohol however had a questionable ability to transform the pigment into a dye.

Acrylic Resist

I was curious, given my camo inspo if I could create a physical resist using laser cut pieces of acrylic sewn or clamped together. My intention, time permitting was to use multiple dyes to create an urban and foraged camo.

Using the pre-set laser settings for my acrylic worked perfectly.

The form generated was based on this image traced in illustrator again echoing back to my interest in Voronoi and natural formations created using this idea.

Sunbleached, dead coral

While I was unable to get to the level of completion in the week in making a multi coloured camo, I was able to create one semi-successful dye using my Turmeric and Copper dye listed above. In future I would permit more time for the dye to permiate and work with a stronger dye in order to understand how the colour moves through the textile.

Clamping two edged and sewing through the centre of the 2 resist planes effectively stopped dye from entering the covered areas. External sew holes were not necessary in lieu of the metal clamps which were fast and easy.

Bacterial Dye

We were very lucky to have @formalizedcuriosities pop into our biosphere with all of her good vibes and cultures. She walked us through the process of creating bacterial dyes.

We followed generally Celia's method for creation of bacterial dyes found here and as depicted in the image below. Follow along with my details in order to dig deeper into the details of how this all works.

Janthinobacterium Lividium Samples, Preparing agar and LB food source, sterilizing all containers

Step One: Sterilize material and vessels in an autoclave or pressure cooker.

  • Prepare yourself by wearing a clean lab coat
  • Materials are fashioned into your desired form and placed into a petrie dish
  • Agar and LB bacteria food are prepared
  • LB and Agar vessels are sealed and positioned into the sanitizer with lids slightly left open such that they do not explode
  • Wrapped Petrie dishes are wrapped in foil then added to the sanitizer
  • All items are heated for 15-20 minutes at high pressure

Here, you see images captures by Laura Sanchez Montas of my space preperation

Step Two: Body Prep Prior to applying the bacterial dye it is critical that you avoid any potential contamination.

  • Mask applied
  • Hair tied back (if you have any)
  • Gloves applied + sprayed with alcohol
  • Limited body motion of other in the space to reduce the spread of small particles

Step Three: Space Prep:

  • Spray and wipe work surface with alcohol
  • Re-spray and wipe your petrie dish and LB liquid vessel
  • Have a secondary person help you to light a flame, creating a vaccum around your dishs and liquids

Here, you see images captures by Laura Sanchez Montas of my application of bacteria

Step Four: Feed fabric and apply of Bacterial Dye:

  • Draw the open mouth of the LB liquid toward the flame in order to sanitize
  • Opening the fabric petrie dish by only a crack in order to prevent contamination pour the LB across the textiles until saturated.
  • Return and cover the LB then sanitize your scraping tool within the flame
  • Apply the hot scraping tool into the agar portion of the sample bacteria to cool it
  • Swipe side to side across the coloured samples of bacteria
  • Close the sample petire dish and open the fabric petrie only a crack
  • Dab the colour about the saturated textile

Before and after of Bacterial growth

After the petries were innoculated we took the following steps:

Step Five: Growth Spurt * Petries were labled with the bacteria type, food type (LB), age of aquired sample, age of sample application and the designers initials * Using a specialized tape that allows the petie to "breathe" while sealing out other particles * Petries were placed into an incubator for 5 days

Step Six: And Ending a Beginning In order to treminate the growth of the bacteria it is important to sanitize the textiles one last time. The Petries are returned to the sanitizer for 20 minutes at high temperature then cleaned rigourously with a gentle fabric cleaner in order to stop the growing process.

Bacteria were influenced by the above folding techniqes

Silk (left) and Cotton (right) result a collaboration between fiber, folds, food and bacteria

Printing Naturally

We're very lucky here at the BDC to have access to a print studio.

In the studio they're able to use natural sources for their pigments and product bio-inks. In our demo we worked with latex which was coloured in two ways - one with turmeric and indigo and the other gray colour with graphite.

I'll walk you through the process in 9 steps:

Print demo by Irati, Print Shop Specialist at BDC

1 There are three grades of screens used in our print shop made of nylon each of which has a different density of weave of the fibres allowing for a different amount of ink to permeate and in order to accommodate different surface textures.

2 A negative is printed on acetate in order to create an image and emulsion is applied to both sides of the screen evenly

3 A machine primes the emulsion using heat in a lower drawer and then, using the acetate negative the image is set using the light in the top portion of the machine

4 After the frame has been clamped down to a printing surface, paper is cut to size and the acetate is used to define the image location within its frame

5 Using the acetate, taped to the paper as a reference, the image in the screen is aligned with the image taped to the paper. This ensures that the print will end up on the paper exactly where you want it.

6 Two side of the paper are aligned with plastic guides which are taped to the table surface. These guides ensure that you place your paper in the same location every time.

7 A large glob of paint is laid down at the bottom of the image while the frame is still lifted from the paper. Using a squeegee the paint is dragged up to the top of the image. The frame is then lowered and applying pressure at a modest angle, the paint is drawn across the image and paper below it.

8 The paint s carefully sprayed away and scrubbed if you would like for your emulsion to remain for a future date. A power washer is used to clean off emulsion if the screen is to be wiped completely clean in preparation for a new image.

9 Just take a look at that cutie will you?


Fabric Dying:

  • Weigh scale
  • Pestle and mortar
  • Element and enamel pot
  • Bamboo/silicone Spoon

Bacterial Dying:

  • Weigh scale
  • Bunsen burner
  • Pressure cooker
  • Scraping tool
  • Incubator
  • Glass petrie dishes
  • Heat/pressure resistent screw top vessels

Last update: 2022-11-01