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Soft Systems

Ruth Lloyd

Ruth is a London based design researcher, exploring sustainable, circular and regenerative systems of colour.

Throughout her Textiles MA she has developed practice-based research focused on the creative potential of microbial pigments, investigating how these living colour systems present solutions and replacements to the global reliance on toxic petroleum-based colour and dye systems. 

Ruth engages with design education, research & development and industry partners within the context of Future Systems

The journey continues as Ruth embarks on a PhD at the Living Systems Research Lab at Central Saint Martins, London in September; and takes part in the first Creative Residency at Colorifix, a UK based start up working to develop and commercialize bacterial dyes, where she will further explore the capacity of colour producing microorganisms to create human designed patterns.


With thanks to the John Innes Centre for Research & the Truman Lab.

Re:imagine \\ Streptomyces Coelicolor \\ Sunset Hues.

A re-imagining of textile colour systems focused toward planet-positive solutions.

The last few months have seen the development of a collaborative relationship with the bacterial strain Streptomyces Coelicolor M520. Days and weeks have been spent learning its preferences and desires, how it thrives, what will encourage its growth, and what will cause it to shrink away or cease to grow at all. Significant time has been spent understanding this micro-organisms agenda and in-built systems of living, so I am able to work alongside it in a collaborative manner, creating intentional parameters to produce natural colour and pattern.

Through this research I have developed a systematic explorative framework which allows me to investigate the creative potential of a colour producing micro-organism through the use of scientific protocols in combination with traditional and innovative textiles processes.

I am still learning, each day, the nuances and subtlety that comes with this bacterial strain and how I can adapt my thinking and processes to produce not only an abundance of pigment, but skilfully manipulated pigmented patterns.

Streptomyces Coelicolor \\ Sunset Hues \\ Process Diagram. — Working process exploring solid state fermentation and liquid culturing of the pigment Undecylprodigionsin.

Experimental lab protocols and explorative print room processes allowed the development of an in-depth understanding of this micro-organism an its unique colour system.

Direct growth of bacterial pigment onto textiles. — Pigments are at their most vibrant when still alive, the challenge is to retain the colour once the bacteria has been neutralised.
Growing bacterial pigments directly onto fabric. — A variety of large scale direct growth plates fresh from the incubator.
Microscopic imaging of Streptomyces Coelicolor

A wise man once told me 'Streptomyces rarely does the same thing twice'. (Dr David Widdick 2021)

While I have found this is often the case I have also learnt to enjoy the journey of working with a living organism, one with it's own agenda and needs, which pays no attention to my aims of creating intentionally patterned textiles.

Timeline of direct growth of pigment onto silk.
Dye bath samples - Silk, Bamboo, Wool.
Dye and print technical sample book [4 of 18] — An important part of this research work has been keeping detailed records of all samples produced, both successful and unsuccessful. At this stage over 100 dye paste combination have been tested. All samples have been tested for wash fastness and a method of fixation has been discovered.

The practical-research portion of this project began with an in-depth study of the growing patterns of Streptomyces Coelicolor. Stages of growth were recorded each day through liquid culturing and solid state fermentation on plates and directly onto textiles.

Fabric Library
Fabric Library — Red \\ Fuchsia \\ Magenta \\ Mauve \\ Scarlet \\ Purple \\ Orange. Images show plates in various stages of growth and fabrics before and after the bacteria has been neutralised and the fabric washed and treated.
Live Pigment Growth - Silk/Linen blend.

Direct growth of pigment onto fabric in a range of fibres and compositions.

Images show live plates in various stages of growth and fabrics before and after the bacteria have been neutralised and the fabric washed and treated.

Modified growth environments
Large scale direct growth samples — Samples dyed by growing pigment directly onto the fabric in large scale petri dishes. Intentional patterning created through the use of printed resists.
Printed Resist Sample

Intentional patterning is a phrase developed specifically for my work with microbial pigments because it signifies a desire, not just to develop methods of printing with these pigments using traditional and innovative textile patterning techniques, but also the intention to manipulate the natural patterning that occurs through the organisms inbuilt systems and movements.

The Worshipful Company of Dyers

The Society of Dyers and Colourists

The Oppenheim-John Downes Trust

Yorkshire Ladies Council of Education

Funds for Women Graduates