Experiments with Microbial Leather

I read a Popular Science article about Suzanne Lee and her work with microbial fabrics. When the article gave a recipe to try at home, I knew I just had to try it and compare the results to real leather to see if I can create my own supply of leather substitute in my own kitchen.

Growing the Material

I followed the instructions on the Pop Sci website. The recipe uses live Kombucha culture. Since I was new to the world of Kombucha, I was a bit unsure about some of the terminology, but I went with a live “scoby” culture. It didn’t take long to put the recipe together, and then I waited for a month, periodically checking the results.

Microbial Leather before drying
Microbial Leather before drying

After a month, I had a 0.2 inch thick mat of material floating on the surface of my container. It was wet, rubbery, and smelled like vinegar (which goes away after it has dried), but it held together nicely and didn’t need gentle treatment.

I left it out to dry, occasionally flipping it over to get even drying. After a week, it was dry and had shrunk from 0.2 (about 12-13oz leather) inches to 0.02 inches (about 1oz leather). Only the thickness shrank appreciably. The other dimensions remained roughly the same.

The Initial Results

Microbial Leather after drying
Microbial Leather after drying

The resulting material is a little rubbery compared to leather and has a slightly tacky feel, but it feels strong enough to use in leather projects. It picks up textures from the drying surface. I dried it on a sheet of parchment paper which wrinkled when it got wet, so my sample has a slightly textured surface which imitates leather somewhat – if I really wanted the effect, I would dry it out on some textured plates.

My first tests are going to test how well it takes to dying and finishing, but so far, this looks like it has promise as a substitute in garmet-weight projects.


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