Sustainable Colour exhibition in the Craft Museum of Finland 11.9.-5.12.2021

“Are we ready to look at colour with fresh eyes?” asks the Sustainable Colour exhibition in the Craft Museum of Finland in Jyväskylä. The exhibition discusses dyeing with natural dyes, dyeing trends, future and sustainable development, as well as various dyeing techniques and their ecology. BioColour-project is one of the collaborators in the exhibition. 

Sustainable Colour exhibition from 11 September to 5 December 2021
Craft Museum of Finland, Kauppakatu 25, Jyväskylä
Openin event Friday 24.9. at 19-21 (in Finnish)
Exhibition program at Craft Museum website (in Finnish)

The colour splendour of textiles is day-to-day norm and the presentation of personality for us, but what lies behind the colours? Natural wool yarns have been trendy for a while now, but dyeing of textiles is hardly going away. The traditions of textile dyeing date long back to human history and dyeing is one of the oldest crafts, but the needs and customs of dyeing have changed throughout the centuries. Dyeing has changed from a craft profession to an industry and, on the other hand, also a hobby.  

In the Sustainable Colour exhibition, the Craft Museum of Finland, the BioColour project led by the University of Helsinki, and the Finnish Dyer’s Guild celebrating its anniversary, dive into a colour tank and study the dyeing of textiles from different perspectives.   


The exhibition includes works and dyeing samples from the following artists: Ama Essel, Aino Favén, Päivi Fernström, Päivi Hintsanen, Maarit Humalajärvi, Ulla Lapiolahti, Saija Lehtonen, Tupu Mentu, Terhikki Mäkelä, Katri Niemi, Katja Syrjä, Pirjo Talvio-Pasanen, Päivi Vaarula, Krista Vajanto and Kristiina Valolahti, as well as numerous members of the Finnish Dyer’s Guild. The exhibition also introduces examples of biochemical research work in the BioColour project.

Basically, dyeing is simple: you need a dye, a mordant, and usually water.  The most common dyeing method is simple, because in boil dyeing, the dye is first extracted from the plant by boiling, the yarns are pre-mordanted, and the actual dyeing takes place by keeping the mordanted yarns in hot dyebath long enough. However, the reality is much richer and surprising than one might expect and the world of dyeing is like an adventure in the world of chemistry with the Mad Hatter. In the Sustainable Colour exhibition, you can travel from the traditional profession of dyeing and industrial dyeing to today’s plant dyeing hype and reach out to the future of dyeing with us. 

In the textile industry, synthetic dyes have replaced natural dyes, but many other things have not changed. Chemical treatment and dyeing of textiles still account for one-fifth of the industrial pollution that destroys waters. Efforts have been made at many stages to try to minimize the impact on nature of plant dyeing – which is not always automatically the most ecological option. Throughout history, natural resources have been deprived with no hesitation, and the abundant collection of dyeing plants has caused some plants to end up on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s list of endangered plants. For the dye industry, rivers and lakes were both sources of used water and landfills to which wastewater from dyeing plants was discharged unfiltered. Large quantities of substances harmful to the environment and their users ended up in the waters with dye liquids.   

Replacing synthetic dyes with natural dyes would require a solution to many problems. On the artisanal scale, natural dyes are in themselves ecological and harmless to the environment, but their use cannot be scaled to a very large scale without environmental harm. How can colour plants be grown without a large amount of arable land and without consuming huge amounts of water and energy? How can dyeing plants be collected without disturbing the balance of nature? How to make the dyeing process itself as ecological as possible?  

Environmentally friendly solutions can be found, for example, in the production of raw materials: whether to use perennial, carbon-binding colour plants, by-products of the food and forest industries, or perhaps low-resource-consuming microbial dyes grown with synthetic biology. The future of bio-dyes in industrial-scale production requires a careful study of the entire dye production chain. How is the dye isolated for use and are their compounds safe from an environmental and human health perspective? The dyeing process itself studies dyeing methods, conditions, and excipients used, and the durability of the resulting dye under varying conditions. One solution for the future may be a completely anhydrous dyeing process.  

The type of dyes that will be used in the future depends a lot on our attitudes and demands on colours. Could colours produced from bio-based sources be a natural part of our way of life, where the origin, sustainable production and recycling of materials would be emphasized more and more? Step into the colour dyebath with us and let’s consider together what colour textiles we will wear in the future!   

The exhibition is part of the joint COLOUR theme year for cultural services in the City of Jyväskylä. In addition to exhibitions, the diverse cultural repertoire also includes musical performances, children’s events and colour-themed lectures and workshops along the autumn of 2021. The event programme will be updated on the Craft Museum of Finland webpage.