Fibre fabrics

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Fibre Fabrics Liwen Zhong Hannah Green Josefine Leonhardt

Foreword ‘Self Moving Materials and Artefacts’, a course run at the Köln International School of Design (KISD), acted as the catalyst for this project ‘Fibre Fabrics’ to take place. Spread over the course of 4 months, guided by Professor Dr. Carolin Höfler and Professor Andreas Muxel, an interdisciplinary group of design students collaborated to explore the concept of material and movement. Starting with an open brief involving state changes such as liquid to solid or liquid to light, the enthusiasm for the creation of new materials was born. This project was exhibited as part of the ‘KISD Parcours’, a showcase of student work from 17th July - 23rd July 2015 in Köln, Germany.





As a Masters of European Design student, she is currently spending one year as an exchange student at KISD. Originating from the Glasgow School of Art, she will spend one more year abroad at ENSCI Les Ateliers in Paris, before returning to Glasgow to complete her degree. She has a background in service design and a growing interest in sustainability and materials.

As a Masters of European Design student, she is currently spending one year as an exchange student at KISD. Having previously studied at ENSCI Les Ateliers in Paris, she will return this year to her home school, The Glasgow School of Art, to complete her degree. She has multidisciplinary design experience with a special interest in eco-fiendly and user-centered design.

As a Masters of Integrated Design student at KISD, she was involved in this project as part of the masters course. She is preparing to write her thesis, which will be on Urban Farming. Graduated from Tongji University (Shanghai) in 2010, her background is in Environmental Design. Her interests are in sustainability and biomimicry.

Introduction This booklet aims to provide an overview of the development, creation and design of a new material made from psyllium. As a group of design students, we have been bold, passionate and naive in our experiments, using our curiosity to guide us through the process. This project stemmed from the desire to design a new alternative material, inspired by bioplastics, that is low tech, plant based and biodegradable, as a sustainable way to create temporary forms and disposable products. Focusing on the seed husk of the Psyllium plant as our main source for material creation, we investigated how to get as close to a stable and usable material form as possible. Using 'trial and error’ experiments and learning from what we saw, felt, smelt and played with, we gradually got closer to understanding the properties and limits of our material. This booklet documents our process and outcomes.


Psyllium - The material -


The Plant Psyllium is a plant found as part of the Plantago genus, containing over 200 species of small fleawort plants. Commonly known in German as Flohsamen, it has a variety of names such as Ispaghula, Isabgol, Indian Plantago or Desert Indianwheat. These plants, specifically Psyllium, are known for their traditional uses in herbal remedies and Ayurvedic medicine. As a commercial product, it tends to be sold as psyllium seed husk. However, it can also be found as whole seeds, powdered seeds, whole husks and powdered husks. It is commonly used as a fibre supplement, laxative and as ingredient in other medicinal products. In particular, it is often used in vegan or gluten free baking due to the way it creates a gel when mixed with water. It is similar in this way to Linseed or Flaxseed, as it shares similar properties of swelling. Industrial uses are predominantly in landscaping, to prevent soil from slipping during flooding, and use in building materials. Its most attractive property is that it contains a high amount of mucilage compared with other plants. Mucilage is a polysaccharide substance extracted as a viscous or gelatinous solution from plant roots or seeds. It is also known for being an adhesive and having gum like qualities. Marshmallow, the soft squishy sugary treat, was traditionally made from the mucilaginous root of the marshmallow plant. Therefore, the consistency and texture of a marshmallow is a good way to imagine how the psyllium gel forms. Mucilage is also used as a glue for a variety of materials, a common example being postage stamps. Given its abilities to form this glue like substance it seemed like a good choice for experimentation into the world of ‘green’ or bioplastics and DIY polymers. Through our research into the plant, we found very little information on anyone else exploring the use of the plant’s seed husks as a primary ingredient for material development, without using mycelium. It has been used to help grow materials out of mushrooms, such as, the work of Ecovative. Therefore, we hope what we have been doing will contribute to the wider development of materials in the future.


From liquid to solid - The production process -


The Process From the dry husk of the psyllium seed to a malleable, tactile and diverse material, we applied our basic knowledge of baking and polymers to start to formulate a paste. Whilst the quantities of the glycerin we use are small compared with the psyllium and water, a main proportion of our progress and the durability of the material was due to the addition of glycerin to the basic mix. Glycerin prevents the material from drying out, keeping it soft and shatter proof, as well as preventing mould. Useful when experimenting with whole seeds, it prevents sprouting. In line with our ethos and idea, we used only plant derived glycerin to try to maintain as sustainable ingredients as possible. If this was to become a truly sustainable initiative we would also ensure our glycerin did not contain palm oil. Glycerin is biodegradable. We are not aware of the environmental impact of the production of glycerin at this point in time. Making small scale batches, it is easily done at room temperature with simple kitchen equipment such as measuring spoons, a bowl and a jug of water. The time scale for the initial mixture is very short, it needs to be stirred thoroughly so that there are no lumps and to get an even finish. Leaving it after the gel is ready can cause it to harden making it harder to pipe into strings or spread as a sheet. For the psyllium husk, the rule is to mix the water with the psyllium first. Then add the glycerin to stop pockets of dry material forming which would then interrupt a flat surface. In contrast, psyllium powder needs the reverse. Experimentation is always needed when preparing the material as the mixture will depend on the type or purity of psyllium that is being used. The time between mixture and use of material can vary due to the conditions of the room. It must air dry in order for the excess liquid to evaporate and form a malleable material. In direct sunlight in a warm room it could take a few days but a cold damp room will slow down the process in excess of a week and can cause mould to grow. Material that has already dried and is ready for use will not grow mould, whatever the weather. A video can be found of the process on our vimeo channel ‘Fibre fabrics’ 5

Ratio - Psyllium husk, water, glycerin -


water psyllium husk glycerin 7

Ratio - Psyllium husk powder, water, glycerin -


water psyllium husk powder glycerin 9

Ratio - Psyllium powder, water, glycerin -


water psyllium powder glycerin




Ratio - Heat experiments -


2.0 tblsp psyllium husk 6.0 tblsp glycerin

2.0 tblsp psyllium husk 6.0 hot water 0.5 tblsp glycerin

In search of the optimum way to prepare the mixture and create the material, we tried different ways of applying heat. We investigated how this would affect the drying time, strength and texture of the material. The hot water seemed to speed up the time it took to form a paste. However this was not easy to control and meant the material did not disperse easily. Using cold water but gradually heating the mixture and ‘cooking’ it briefly seemed to worsen the material. The water was absorbed too quickly and evaporated in an

2.0 tblsp psyllium husk 6.0 water 0.5 tblsp glycerin prepared over heat uncontrollable manner. We were left with a very gummy, thick and uneven holey material. Creating the mixture as usual but kick starting the air dry process by heating it in the oven did have some success. It gave the material a feeling of added strength and was ready for use much quicker. However, the water evaporated faster causing the material to shrink in a way that would be difficult to manage if a thin string or specific shape was needed. For producing the material in winter, rather than summer, this would still be a considerable option provided the oven was under 150 degrees Celsius. 15

Ratio - Water experiments -


brackish water 2-3g salt/100ml water

seawater 3,5g salt/100ml water

We took into consideration the accessibility of the creation of our material and tried to think whether a lack of clean running water would be an issue. In order to test other types of water people might have access to, we tried 3 different salt water solutions. As fresh water contains only trace of salt, we regarded our normal experiments with tap water as an acceptable simulation. We tried to mimic brackish water, sea water and hyper-saline water which is found in tide pools. The saltier the water the stickier the material felt once it had dried out. There is no obvious visual differences between the various salt

hypersaline water 4-5g salt/100ml water

water solutions, or the tap water. What we hope the addition of salt will add to the properties of the material is that it will become more resilient to changes in weather. If salt water is used as a disinfectant, and salt also acts as a preservative, we hope that this would prevent the growth of mould if the drying conditions were unfavourable. An issue that would need more research into how the local ecosystem affects what is inside the water. For example, the effect of contaminated water on the hygiene and safety of using the material in daily life. 17

Other materials







Test Properties - Destruction -



Test Properties - Burning -



Test Properties - Windproof -



Test Properties - Wet environment -



Test Properties - Tapioca waterproof coating -



Test Production -Add colour -







Test Production - Create grids -





Test Production - Weaving -





Test Production - Make moulds -





Test Production -Modular shapes -



Test Production - Embossing -



Test Production - Wire frame -



Test Production - Laser cutting -



Design Experiments - Petal pattern -





Design Experiments - Mesh bag -





Design Experiments - Malleable sheet patterns -



Design Experiments - Foldable flexible sheet -





Design Experiments - Circular mobiles -



Notes on Images OTHER MATERIALS In parallel to, and contributing to our exploration into psyllium husk, we looked closely at seeds and starches we felt might either share similar properties or add other qualities to the material.

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We considered plants whose seeds and grains acted in a similar way to psyllium such as chia, flax (linseed) and amaranth. Used both on their own and in combinination with the psyllium, as well as utilising other plant products such as poppy seeds, in an attempt to create strength and texture, and agar to maintain a lightness. Other avenues explored included those that might give scent or colour. Using an oil based chilli powder, for example, gave an interesting result whilst the textures of orange peel and lavender pods raised interesting surfaces in the material. Understanding polymers was also integral to our process. Exploring starches such as tapioca, potato and corn, and the use of vinegar and glycerin versus oil, all added to our understanding of developing a usable material. Chia seeds were the predominant ingredient we carried forward into our designs and material by combining it with the psyllium husk powder. The ratio and process to make this material involved grinding the seeds and then seperately mixing ground chia seeds with water (ratio 2 chia/5 water) and preparing a husk powder paste (ratio 15 water/2-3 psyllium husk powder/1 glycerin). When both mixtures have reached a paste like consistency they can be stirred together and applied.

Test Properties DESTRUCTION

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A full video of the destruction of our various materials can be found on our channel Recording the destruction of a material through scrunching, pulling, tearing and playing with it, allows the texture, strength and visual properties of the material to express itself.


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As a further test of destruction and exploring the effect of heat, we attempted to set the material alight. The sheet material seemed fairly fire retardant. Only when a fire source was directly in contact with an edge, did it manage to set it alight. On the material where there was a higher ratio of glycerin and water, it seemed to ‘melt’ the material a little making it stickier. In general, fire did not do much more than singe the edges of the sheet. However, the strings did burn, but once the flame source had gone, the fire did not spread.

One of the attributes of our material that we think could be very interesting to develop is its resilience against the wind. We experimented with tying it loosely to a frame and using a hair dryer to mimic strong gusts of wind. If you stand behind the fabric, you feel no breeze. An idea for a product that would benefit from this would be a fully biodegradable wind breaker for the beach, as the material would provide shelter from both wind and sand.

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As glycerin is soluble in water and psyllium can disintegrate if over saturated, we knew waterproofing would be an issue. Withstanding the weight and intensity of rain as well as being submerged in water, are not yet viable options for our material. However, we were unsure of how it would react in a humid environment. We tested this by creating a bath of warm water where we placed a sheet of material a few inches above the water in a sealed environment. After a few days the material started to disintegrate and unusually, given the proportion of glycerin, it started to grow mould. It is also worth noting that during our experimentation phase we had a week of unusually cold and damp weather. In this situation, the room we worked in had no air flow and little sunlight, and therefore the material also grew mould.


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By adding a layer of a tapioca polymer (tapioca starch, water, glycerine, vinegar) that is spread over both sides of the material, it gives the psyllium bioplastic a waterproof quality. We sprayed it to mimic rain and submerged it in water to test the limits of this. It can then be removed and dried out with no change to the original qualities of the material. The only possible issue is the aesthetic it leaves, as the tapioca remains in white flecks on the surface of the psyllium giving it a grainy look.


Test Production ADD COLOUR In line with our ethos of using plant based ingredients, we used natural dyes to add colour and to investigate the aesthetic of our material.

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Using vivid colours from spinach, beetroot and berries brings potential for further aesthetic experimentation and use in design. The intensity of the dye must however, be acknowledged as some colours fade over time, creating more earthy and neutral palettes.

Dying the mixture before letting it set, allows the possibility for patterns to be created. The combination of piping strings and making sheets mean that almost any bold pattern could be designed using the psyllium. Combining the different types of psyllium such as the soft yellowy husk with the tough leathery seed material, also adds potential to create patterns that are textural and natural, as well as having a visual impact. This combination of the two also creates a strength but flexibility that cannot be replicated with the individual materials on their own. To start the process of testing the potential of limits of our fabric, we moved from 2D sheets into thinner, more delicate application to explore the potential for 3D shapes. The psyllium works well both decoratively as a flat sheet and as a loose structure, giving it the potential in a fast drying environment to be worked with in 3D. The application of the material is also different as we piped (like icing) rather than spreading the wet material into shape.

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A natural continuation from making grids was to start to weave thick threads. Two approaches consist of producing our ‘yarn’ in long thick strings and creating a pattern using a small sheet and threads coming off it. The long threads are left to dry fully, this way they can be weaved into large sheets and patterns, maintaining their strength and easy to handle. The second is more intricate with the one day old pattern, still sticky and breakable, to be placed on top of a structure or mould, and woven around. Once dry, the woven piece is removed from the structure, leaving a 3D basket or object ready for use. We think the potential in weaving for psyllium is particularly exciting in terms of larger scale application and future design.


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Due to the malleable, stretchy fabric like qualities of the material, it has interesting properties when put in moulds. We tried a variety of shapes and sizes, working thinly but also experimenting with solid thick shapes. The medium thickness psyllium holds well but does have the tendency to collapse, making it unsuitable for a rigid shape but ideal for something with more flexibility and curves. Very thinly spread material gives the shape an almost paper like quality, with clean and smooth edges, giving the possibilities for striking but delicate shapes.

In a similar way to the weave possibilities, the progression from moulds into structures and 3D designs gives way to the concept of modular shapes that connect into a larger piece. Removing the psyllium material from the moulds whilst still sticky, allows the material to stick to itself, forming a whole pattern rather than singular pieces, without using an additional adhesive.

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Similar to moulding the material but this time on a more detailed level, creating an embossed surface works subtly on the material. Working whilst wet produces interesting potential for text, patterns and information that is understated but eye catching in an interesting way. More prominent embossing can be seen on pages 62 and 63 where we created our own moulds to give the text a strong raised effect.

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As an alternative approach to moulds, we used thin wire frames to shape the material. Starting with the sheet material, whilst fairly fresh, the wire is laid on the fabric and the edges folded over the wire back onto itself. Initially utilising the frame of an umbrella, the potential here is for structures that morph from closed to open or small to large, just how the fabric of an umbrella would display and hide itself.

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As a tool for making designs, patterns and intricate nets, the success of laser cutting could be very beneficial in the use of this material. Clean, non fraying lines are produced and due to the heat resistance of the material, it does not weaken it. The only element that does not always stand out is engraving, as it is subject to the colour of the psyllium (based on purity) and the age of the material after engraving. One interesting perspective is the idea of hidden information. When you hold it up to the light, the engraving becomes visible, yet when it is on top of an opaque surface you can’t see much of the detail.


Design Experiments PETAL PATTERN

Taking inspiration from the flower of the psyllium plant, we created a design based on the petals. Using the embossing technique and a mixture of the different materials we were able to create decorative pieces that give the fabric a more appealing look and feel. Seeing the petal patterns on the sheet material we hoped would provide inspiration to others who might be put off by its natural brown look.

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As a further exploration into using the laser cutter, we attempted to turn the sheet material into a 3D object. Stemming from observations of recyclable string shopping bags or paper lanterns, we created a 2D pattern. Through adding weight, gravity turns the sheet material into a 3D bag that you could carry small items in.

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By using individual pieces as part of a wider sheet, we were able to create 3D and more tactile looking sheets of material. Applied wet onto the flat sheet, after a couple hours of drying, it is squeezed and moulded into the right shape. Once its dry, it takes on the form of the triangular mould. The benefit is that one sheet/mould can produce many different patterns depending on the initial positioning.

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As an extension of the scrunched triangle sheet above, where the plastic sheet was removed once dry, we tried to create a flexible form that could be squeezed and manoeuvred into different forms. In this way, the wooden triangles are embedded into the psyllium material while it is wet and become part of the fabric.

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Using the same technique behind the wire frames, we created circular mobiles in a variety of sizes that will hang all together as an installation piece as a part of our exhibition. Bringing the psyllium husk powder and chia mix into the material, it gives each mobile a subtly different appearance.

Additional Comments ROTATIONAL MOULDING Our attempts at rotational moulding did not seem to benefit the production of material or application of the psyllium paste. Due to the thick and very sticky nature of the paste, it seemed there was not enough pressure or force to get the psyllium to cling to the outer walls rather than stick to itself. In addition, the need for air drying would mean that the mould would have to be opened in some way to allow for the material to form, thus then breaking the form. This however needs further exploration with the consideration of more liquid and a perforated mould.

3D PRINT We thought at length about the possibility to 3D print (or using similar techniques) our material and it has not been ruled out. The barriers that we would need to overcome would be creating an environment so that the material could rapidly dry and offer some structural support so that the object would not fall in on itself. You can print potato starch in 3D so we know that with some guidance and the right technology we might be able to print psyllium in the future.

MYCELIUM Growing material using mycelium is something that has inspired us throughout this project and, like 3D printing, is something we would have liked to explore. However, this tends to be done in a controlled environment similar to a lab which we did not have access to. Using mycelium to grow the psyllium into a material is a challenge that might inspire future projects and collaboration with others working in this field.


Photo Credits PSYLLIUM

WIKIMEDIA - photo of “Plantago ovata“ by Stan Shebs < wiki/File:Plantago_ovata_form.jpg> 2005 (accessed on 19.05.2015)


PLANTSYSTEMATICS - photo of “Plantaginaceae Plantago ovata“ by Dennis Stevenson < http://www.plantsystematics. org/users/dws/6_10_05_3/Plantago7/Plantago_ovata4.JPG> 2005 (accessed on 29.05.2015)


SEA SALT - photo of “Italian Trapani Sea Salt“ by Unknown < cache/1/image/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/ 0/1/018-1000_3.jpg> (accessed on 03.07.2015)


All other photos shown have been taken by Hannah Green and Josefine Leonhardt.

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Information and Inspiration DESIGNERS Eben Bayer Erik Klarenbeek Suzanne Lee Emma van der Leest Maurizio Montalti

ARTICLES & PUBLICATIONS Material Alchemy by Studio Aikieu Biofabrication 101: Taking biological design beyond GMO controversy and DNA hype Recipes for Material Activism by Miriam Ribul material_a



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