Mushrooms are incredible living organisms, not only are they the connective force of a forest floor, but they also hold many benefits that we can utilise in order to become more sustainable. Mycelium is becoming evermore popular as a compostable material, but what if we could utilise mushrooms in other ways. Liene Kazaka has created a new system for dying clothes with the Blue Elf Cup mushroom, which sees the organism being printed. This “Living Printer” hopes to replace harmful textile colour finishing.
Textile colour finishing is estimated to be responsible for one fifth of industrial water pollution. The use of harsh chemicals, heavy metals and copious amounts of water can cause a huge amount of damage to water systems, as well as damaging wildlife. But Kazaka asks “what if there is a way to achieve colour by nurturing nature instead of destroying it?”. This is why she looked to the forest floor. Here she found a piece of wood that had been dyed by a mushroom. The turquoise colour came from a brightly coloured mushroom called the Blue Elf Cup, which is common in UK forests and has traditionally been used in woodwork for centuries.
A pigment is released onto the surface that the fungus is growing on, which gives it a rich turquoise colour. The hope is that this simple dying technique could replace the use of chemicals in the textile industry as it simply needs two materials. Essentially to create the colour all that is needed are simple nutrients as a food source and the fungi. Research has shown that the pigment also holds equal colourfastness measurements to commercial dyes. Questioning how it is then justifiable to use damaging techniques, when we can be using living organisms to create competitive alternatives.
The process of “Living Printing” sees half-controlled designs as the organism grows to a preselected pattern as it, and its food source, is deposited by the printer. Although, essentially the mushroom creates its own pattern in the end. This production method relies on the choice of substrate material and life-friendly conditions in order for the fungi to grow. Methods such as this have the potential to change how we interact with nature, as well as how we manufacture products, such as industrial material finishing methods. Ultimately this project also helps us renew our connection with, and appreciate its incredible qualities.