In the Netherlands, there is an estimated 2 million kilogrammes of wool that are thrown away each year.
In the Netherlands, there was a long-held culture of herding sheep for landscaping and grass-mowing purposes. As industrialisation evolved and machinery and fibres were optimised for cloth weaving, the wool from the Dutch sheep became abundant. Sheep in Australia and New Zealand were much more optimised for their fibre production, and eventually logistically closer to where they could be processed. Especially for the protection of the heather landscape, a unique ecosystem in the Netherlands, sheep kept being held by farmers and herdsmen. Eventually, these sheep-owners began to see the wool grown by their beloved animals as waste, even though wool has many unique properties not to be matched by synthetic materials. Wool can withstand very high temperatures, pressure and it has excellent isolating and acoustic properties, so what prevents us from using it instead of throwing it away?
Wool is mainly not used because existing industries do not leave room for other ways of working with the wool into usable material. The common understanding is that wool has to become yarn.
Not holding onto the dogmatic ‘Yarn thinking’ designer Eline ten Busschen chose to make non-woven material, combined with 3D printing. The combination with 3D printing makes for using all lengths of fibres and different applications for the non-woven.
The designer explored different interventions for existing production processes to exploit existing waste streams. This all starts with fundamental research into how these (consumer)systems and material streams came to be. Often the systems and their efficiency are hiding their flaws. When working with the wool, washing, dyeing and reinforcing it the designer wondered what other materials could be added.
In the food industry in the Netherlands, large amounts of starch are a surplus in processing, for example in potatoes. PLA (polylactic acid) was invented as a solution to create a high-grade material more valuable than the nutritional value of starch. This led to the use of 3D prints, such as PLA is very compatible with a 3D-printer.
Using plant dyes for the wool they wondered if this could also be applied to PLA. The advantages and effects are obvious when choosing to work with bio-based materials, but they often fit other aesthetics than we are used to. Especially with natural colours, people tend to think of a muted palette, Eline shows new hues and intensities of plant pigments.
The qualities of the colour indigo in terms of lightfastness are unequalled for centuries, but due to that long history, the use of it can become dogmatic somehow.
Through using indigo as a pigment in PLA, this is much more efficient in volume than synthetic polymer dyes.
Information submitted by the maker and edited by the Future Materials Bank.
Sheep wool, botanical dye, botanical pigment, PLA
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