Made by moths
‘Made by moths’ is an investigation of the potential of clothes moths and their digestive enzymes in breaking down textile waste which contains keratinous fibre, such as wool.
Clothes moths serve the ecosystems with their uncommon ability to digest keratin, which is contained in materials such as wool, fur, feathers and hairs. This special ability -there are only a few others animals in the ecosystem that feeds on keratin- is often considered detestable and they have been often regarded as pests due to their propension in attacking and feeding on our beloved woollen clothes. In this way, clothes moths have evolved unusually powerful enzymes to digest keratinous fibres such as wool. Harnessing the power of natural evolution and the biological function of clothes moths for the natural environment ‘Made by Moths’ aims: to highlight the possibility of looking at nature and biological systems to solve compelling issues such as the abundance of textile waste that we are currently unable to recycle efficiently; to look at clothes moths - which are usually considered as pest - in a positive light as the embodiment of a potential solution for a bioinspired regenerative circular future.
The fashion and textiles industries are among the most polluting industries in the world and approximately 73% of textile waste is sent to landfill or incinerated. Within this system, the blend of fibres is especially problematic to recycle. Despite wool and silk accounting approximately for 1% of the global textile production, the recycling process in place is limited especially when these fibres are blended with other materials, resulting in difficulties in recycling them through a close-loop system and becoming often downcycled.
This project investigates the potential of using clothes moths and their digestive enzymes in selecting and breaking down keratinous fibres both in mono-materials textiles or within a blend of fibres and materials.
‘Made by moths’ investigates at two different scales the potential of clothes moths in breaking down keratin-based textile waste.
On a nano-scale the project offers the initial point for a research journey in the investigation of clothes moths’ digestive enzymes and system to recycle wool fibres in a context of circular economy. This aspect is investigated in collaboration with molecular biologists at the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products, Department of Biology at the University of York.
On a ‘human scale’ the project investigates clothes moths farming, looking at how clothes moths eat different materials and how they digest and break down keratinous fibres, transforming them into a dust-like material: their biowaste. This biowaste can be crafted into artefacts that will naturally biodegrade and rather than polluting the environment they will nurture it.
The final artefacts are communicative tools representing the idea of clothes moths farming, the biowaste collection and the bioware valorisation through the object crafting, such as the brooch made of biowaste blended with a natural biodegradable resin. They represent the circularity of the underpinning concept: clothes moths eat and break down keratinous based textiles waste (Prototype 1 - The Farm); their droppings -biowaste dust-like material- are collected (Prototype 2 - The Biowaste Pile); the biowaste is crafted into an object, in this case, a brooch in the amplified shape of the cloth moth larva, which can be used for example on a jumper either to close or to highlight a clothes moths hole (Prototype 3 - The Brooch).
Clothes moths biowaste, damar gum, wood, metal, perspex and textiles.
Chiara Tommencioni Pisapia
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Chiara Tommencioni Pisapia uses moths to transform unwanted clothing into "precious" bio-waste material (Article)
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Moths Used To Help Recycling Clothing (Article)
Professor Simon McQueen Mason, Dr Federico Sabbadin