Students Use Kombucha to Make Fabric

A group of Brisbane students are adopting a traditional fermenting method to create a new form of textile for the fashion world.

The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) fashion department is using the fermenting method kombucha to grow a sustainable material.

The pungent process is similar to brewing beer or creating sourdough bread where a yeast medium is used to feed a culture creating a curd like substance which becomes the textile.  Based at The Edge at the State Library, students are using coffee, tea, red wine and molasses bases to start the process.

Senior fashion studio lecturer Dean Brough says the process is both fascinating and forward thinking.

“It is actually quite scary and gross. The medium is slimy and thick and it can be smelly, yet the excitement comes more when the garment is produced,” he said.

“From an engagement point of view it is exciting, students are reimagining what textiles can used be for making garments.

“It is never too zany, I love when science meets the fashion world!”

The kombucha method

The project has been made possible thanks to a collaboration with The Edge’s Mick Burn, who houses dozens of fermenting trays at the studios at Brisbane’s South Bank.

Mr Brough says getting the fermentation process right is key with jars and vats of yeast mediums fed daily with sugar.

“The medium has a feeder and a culture which creates a curd on top which we use then as the textile,” he said.

“The broth needs a medium to eat so it can be tea, coffee, red wine or molasses; wonderfully each one of these mediums gives a different answer.

“We are in the early days of exploring but I know that coffee can give a different texture. It is amazing to think that you can use different food to create a different textile.”

He says the texture is similar to skin which becomes thinner once the medium has had a week to dry.

“Since it is made up of mainly water it changes as it dries, the students then place it in the washing machine to wash. It is a very strong fibre.”

A sustainable textile

Fellow QUT lecturer Alice Payne says students have been experimenting with the medium by dying it, spray painting it and colouring the different feeder bases.

“It is a cross between paper and leather, depending on what stage the drying is at it can be quite gummy, hard or soft and sometimes like tissue paper and for that reason you can treat it in different ways,” she said.

“You can use it for top stitch, a bind for fabric, cut it into segments and stitch it into panels, or you can use it like leather and make a full garment.”

Coping with the smell of fermentation

Mr Brough says the smell is similar to brewing beer which some students enjoy.

“It does smell. But like with brewing beer, you want the end goal so you cope with the process,” he said.

“The end product does not smell though, you conceal it and waterproof it, it is a very strong fibre.”

The fashion lecturer says traditional clothing industries waste 20 to 30 per cent of fabric when creating clothes.

“Reinventing how textiles can be made growing your own forms and shapes is exciting; even the smallest wastage with this you can remould it and keep working with it,” he said.

QUT fashion student Alexandria Stokes says it has been fascinating working with a living material.

“It is very experimental and it has been really interesting to be able to get into the science side of things and learn more about it and do different things with it,” she said.

Her friends think it is all a bit strange.

“No-one really understands it until you touch it and play with it and smell it I guess too,” she said.

The pieces created from the project will be on show towards the end of October at The Edge.


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