Growing Bacteria Dyeing Textiles

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This project aims to find more sustainable solutions for dyeing textiles, fibers and yarns than the ones that are currently in use.
We have been experimenting with dyeing various types of textiles with a number of different living bacteria.
The project and research was initiated by the TextileLab Amsterdam, where the first experiments took place.
The TCBL network provided the contacts and possibilities for collaborating on this topic with other labs, as a consequence, the Athens Making Lab with it's wide range of equipment and facilities was able to test and continue the exploration of this technique more in depth.

Step 1

Introduction - background, starting point and the issue

At the TextileLab Amsterdam we love to experiment in a very multidisciplinary context, combining knowledge coming from different laboratories and field to both come up with interesting new materials, machine or solutions and to solve issues or find relevant alternatives to what we identify as pitfalls in a specific context.

In this case we were specifically looking at the dyeing industry for textiles and fibers, looking for interesting experiments to conduct in order to find alternatives, by using both our heritage and technological knowledge, to the chemical and polluting way of dyeing we are used nowadays.

Personal research coming in the Natural Dyeing combined with knowledge coming from our WetLab brought us to look at what microbiology could do interacting with textiles and fibers.

Step 2

The bacteria & it's potential

During some sessions at the WetLab we had discovered that some bacteria produce pigments of various colours.
The bacteria colonies are grown, the pigment can be harvested and transfered to create more or it can be liquified and sterilised, to then applied as a colour by itself. With these pigments it's possible to paint on paper or they can be mixed to fibers to create coloured paper.

Here the first question aroused: can we dye textiles with these pigments? will it fasten by itself? will the textile need to be mordanted before hand? do we need to treat is as a usual dye or can the bacteria grow on the textile?

We collected information about the conditions needed to the bacteria to grow, oxygen necessity, typology of medium needed, what agents were effecting it's growth and so on. So we decided to give it a try.

Step 3

the first experiments

After some research we started experimenting with various ways of growing the different bacteria, both by themselves and with various textiles.
The first experiments, after a couple of days showed some funny shaped growths on the textile, some bacterias were growing really well on the silk chiffon, on other more tight and less airy materials, they were not growing really well.
Some bacteria were also much more aggressive than others, growing faster and quickly covering the entire petri dish in two days.


The textile industry is one of the most polluting in the world, in which one the most environmentally disastrous processes is the dyeing of fibers and textiles of the clothes we wear. Chemicals are released daily in nature destroying the environment around us to satisfy the colour demands that we create as designers, industry and consumers. Very few options are being explored in this fast changing fashion, clothing and textile industry, in which the list of chemical treatments is only expanding. We are simultaneously trying to identify the real environmental costs we are paying and researching for less harmful alternatives.

The TextileLab Amsterdam and Making Lab Athens have been researching about bacterial dyes as an alternative, on one side focusing on creative experimentation and on the other side exploring scalability and impact of this process and outcomes. Together with other TCBL key players in exploring relevant candidates, documenting the process and evaluating the possible impact of this project we are working on bringing these experiments to real industrial life.

This project could answer many questions around the textile and clothing dyeing processes, providing a non chemical solution and an organic natural cold dye bath. Lowering chemical-environmental impact of dyes and possibly creating a higher energy efficiency for this industry. Testing this with real industrial parties for real life impact is were we see this going.