I will summarize the studio practice on this page.
GSMD 500 – F031
Making a gift to a classmate who we picked their names in the first class. I made a bag with tea bags inside for my partner as a gift.
Material: Canvas dyed with natural indigo dye
After interviewing my partner, the keywords I got from her were: sea, handmade, playful, peace, seasonal, custom, and nature.
I converted the keywords into a pattern called “青海波(Seigaiha),” wave pattern. It represents her favorite place, the ocean, but the pattern itself also has meanings. The pattern in Japanese means “wishes for continuous happiness and peaceful life for people.” I tried to embed the wish for her happiness in her school life and peace of mind.
Process snapshot. I like paying attention to details when I make things. I was stitching the edge so it’s not easily torn when she uses it.
The reason I used the indigo-dyed fabric that I made before is that it’s deeply related to my cultural background as well as my design practices.
The picture on the left is the pieces that I dyed with natural indigo by myself. Depending on how long and how many times you soak the fabric into the dye pot, the color pops up differently.
Indigo’s values in addition to the color
The fascination of indigo is not only about the color, but also the different functions such as strengthening fabric, preventing fire, insect or snake repellent, anti-biotic, and medication. You can also eat and drink the indigo leaves! I shared the indigo tea that I got from Japan with everyone in the class at the end of my presentation. I hope they enjoyed it!
The material I decided to work on with this prompt is “bacterial cellulose” and “paper thread.”
What is Bacterial Cellulose?
At my work in UBC’s lab, I am growing bacterial cellulose known as one of the bacteria to make “Kombucha.” When we brew Kombucha, we get “SCOBY(symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast)” on the surface. This floating SCOBY is pure cellulose which is the same material as “paper.” I am trying to control the shape and growth to develop applications.
What can I make with a bacterial cellulose “thread”?
I found a way to make bacterial cellulose into a thread.
My co-workers (scientists) first question was “how strong is it?” My question as a designer is “what can I make with it?”
Exploring “crochet” method and making prototypes
Whole process to grow bacterial cellulose thread takes 3 weeks, and I cannot make a long thread due to the limit of the size of the equipments in the lab. The components of bacterial cellulose thread is “cellulose” which is categorized in paper. Thus, I decided to make prototypes with commercial paper thread to explore potentails of bacterial cellulose thread’s applications.
Discovery 1: Patterns are a mix of simple stitches
I was practicing single, double, half-double, and zigzag crochet. I thought it would be very difficult to make patterns, but it’s just combinations of those simple techniques. Once I’m used to the type of thread, I think it’s not too difficult to come up with my original patterns.
Discovery 2: we use so much thread to make textiles!
The one commercial paper thread has a 50m length. I was wondering how big a shape I can make if I use all 50m. It turns out I could only make a 30cm diameter disk. It was very thick thread and rough mesh by comparing general garments. How many kilometers of threads do we use to make one T-shirt?
Discovery 3: Stiff material is hard to work on!
This disk took 3-4 hours to complete. Since I aggressively need to push through the crochet needle, I got sweated after the practice. Also, my hands turned red as the rough surface of the paper thread scratched my skin a lot. I found that it was harder to work on this material for a long time by comparing the general wool yarn.
I have been working on this bacterial cellulose thread project for months now. I can describe how bacterial cellulose behaves and what are challenges to work with confidently. But if people ask me emotional connection or value of bacterial cellulose from a cultural point of view, it’s not easy to answer for me.
At this prompt, I tried to look back at my whole process of growing bacterial cellulose and tried to develop a “subjective perspective” that I cannot develop in the lab experiments.
How to grow bacterial cellulose
The process of preparing Komubucha (1st batch)
Every day, my day starts by saying “Good morning” to them.
It’s getting cold. The room temperature is around 20℃ if I don’t turn on the heat. I know bacterial cellulose loves warm temperatures (around 30℃) but I cannot turn it up that high. I set up the temperature to around 25 every day. I found that it’s the best temperature for both of us to be good roommates to each other. Unlike the lab bacterial cellulose, Timmy’s membrane is unstable. I can start seeing the white line on the edge of the surface after 2 days, but it doesn’t grow evenly. It starts to form colonies that look like molds and it scared me. On day 8th, I started the second batch.
How to develop emotional attachment to materials?
After working at my position: industrial designer developing prototypes to demonstrate material properties of new bio based materials for a year and half, I got a strong feeling in my mind. “I want people to use the new bio based material in a proper way.” Those new materials could be alternative for plastic products, but it doesn’t mean we would solve everything if we replace all plastic products to bio-based materials. We need to look back at the relationship with products and change our consuming style. As an industrial designer, what can I do to help people thinking about the relationship with materials? How could I possibly change their consuming style? How could I slow down the consumption? To answer those questions, I started to explore emotional attachment and how I could grow it to materials.
Can we develop emotional attachment with materials by talking about the process to others?
This is the process of making “kami-ito” (paper thread in Japanese) which I got an inspiration for my bacterial cellulose project. I decided to do a poster presentation with this technique with science point of view (material properties) in my research group to talk about “story” and see audience reactions.
The audience was interested in this technique and enjoyed listening about my story. But the most frequent question that I got was “how to scale up?” The beauty of this technique is the calm atmosphere that this process can make: slowing down yourself, focusing on the texture, feeling the material, appreciating the time and material. Therefore, the point that I wanted to talk about was not about efficiency or scale up view point, but that part was not easy to convey to scientists. From this experience, I got other question “where is the sweet spot of hand craft and industrial process?”
Does unique experience (growing Kombucha) help developing emotional attachment?
After the prompt 3, I kept growing the Kombucha (name:Timmy). I made a couple of different batches and observed them. I talked to one of container everyday, to the other, not talking. I didn’t find any difference in terms of growing level (not interesting). But I found that they love green tea for some reason. I used a premium green tea from Japan that I like, so this result made me happy because they like the green tea that I like.
From the experience, I found three points that I could see emotional connections with the material growing.
- Long time to grow: inefficient but developed lots of “care” because I need to pay attention to how they are doing.
- Live together: I saw them everyday and they became part of my life. Especially, accommodating the temperature high (over 26℃) to make both of us (me and Timmy) happy pushed me to think about Timmy on experience base.
- Name them: They are not just Kombucha, but my roommate “Timmy.” I feel their personality when I observed unique reaction when I grow them with a name.
Sharing Timmy to the class and get their opinions
- It felt “different” from the kombucha that I drink from a grocery store. It’s because I heard about your story around kombucha. I felt it’s more precious.
- The fact that the drink (kombucha) is still alive makes the drink more special. When I saw the dry membrane (=bacteria is dead), I didn’t feel “something,” but drinking Timmy was different experience.
From this trial, I could see the potential of developing the emotional connections with materials. I could feel “care” to the material and it was conveyed well in the class. For further exploration, the key question will be “how to share the story to others.” My classmates could feel the material this time because I talked about the process for two prompts and they experienced (=drunk) it. Materials that I’m working on is not always edible. How should I make the experience part precious if it’s not edible?
Directly attaching “emotional connection” to the material
I tried dyeing the bacterial cellulose membrane with the natural dye that I have emotional connection with.
When I was an undergrad student, I tried natural dye with the professor Heather’s support. After graduation, I visited her garden and she shared a madder plant with me. Madder is a red dye plant which takes 2-3 years to grow as we use its roots for dye. Their leaves and stems are spiky, so it is not pleasure to touch, but I’m impressed with how sturdy they are. They are green even late November, and it comes back early in Spring. When I see the plant, I always remember Heather and the conversation with her. I don’t live in the same place as her, but I feel very close with her thanks to the madder plant. On the day, we used Heather’s madder which is the sister plant of mine.
The dye attached on the membrane very well. I was happy the result in both ways: scientific success and the memory with her is transferred into a different shape. However, it was not easy to convey how happy I was and value of this dye to my classmates. I think it’s because it’s not easy to feel empathy without experiencing/knowing the process. It was a heart warming experiment for me, but it would be different for others. If I would like to use this experience for growing emotional attachment, I would need to involve end-users in this process.
For future exploration
I’ll list up feedback that I got for future exploration.
- Look at positive & negative sides of emotional connections
- Research about the products that our emotional connections are detached. i.e. smart phone: two years contract is common now a days. As a result, lots of us enjoy upgrading phones every contract and we don’t feel sad by finishing our old phones.
- Explore the risk of emotional attachment. If we have too big emotional connection with a product and when it brakes, how would it impact users emotions?
- Explore how “Time” would contribute to develop emotional attachment. Time could mean “history” as well.
- Reach out to the prof Gregory Paradis from UBC. He is researching about sustainable development as a material scientist.
- Start making a questioner to ask people “Do you have something that you have emotional connection with?” “If yes, what is it?” and “Why do you have emotional connection with it?” so you can understand potential factors that cause emotional attachment.