Natural Dye Workshop

Thank you to everyone who came out last Thursday to our first workshop! There was a great turnout with students from across the entire RCA community. The approach of the evening was on creating natural dyes from edible ingredients and we used spinach and beets, as our colorants.

For each dye we used:

  • 1800ml of Water
  • 150ml of Salt (mordant)

The colorants were:

  • 200g of Spinach
  • 500g of Beets

The more each ingredient is broken down by chopping or grinding the more colorant is released into the water.

In order to set the color in the fabric, dyes need the help of mordants or fixatives which are either metals (iron, copper, aluminum, etc) or minerals (salt, vinegar, baking soda, etc).

Depending on the material being dyed a variety of ingredients can be used as mordants. We experimented with salt for our workshop. Once everything is mixed into the water, it takes about an hour of boiling.

Link to the dye making guide

We saw first hand how different fabrics absorbed or resisted the dye depending on whether the fibers were natural, synthetic, or a blend. Natural fibers and dyes are great to work with – but they won’t mix with anything synthetic.



During the workshop recipes and best practices were exchanged. One student shared this ingredient guide from France, and another offered advice about grinding up ingredients passed down from her grandmother from India.  It was exciting to hear from students what expertise they have and collectively a fun learning environment was created that enabled students from different courses to meet and chat.

Stay tuned for the next workshop and our inaugural open-crit!

Welcoming Drinks: highlighting the subjects of interests for this year

Thank you to everyone who came on Wednesday to say hi! It was a pleasure to meet everyone and to hear everyone’s ideas and views on climate change.

The goal of this event was to grasp the topics of interest related to climate change and to plan the year accordingly to the students’ interests.

We were able to highlight five key themes:

Climate and Action:
To communicate about climate in a positive way; to take action rather than spreading awareness; to encourage individual actions; to fight apathy;

Climate and Cities:
To investigate the role of cities within climate change; to use cities as an experimentation ground for innovation; to find fresh air in cities;

Climate and Health:
To push the boundaries of the definition of health for sustainability; to correlate mental and environ-mental health; to investigate sustainable aspects of sound; to think of the Planet’s health; to understand the land use and deforestation; to investigate the impact of human activity on wildlife and environment;

Climate and Materials:
To understand the degradable aspects of materials; to tackle the plastic problem; to investigate the consequences of textiles production; to question and experiment with new materials

Climate and Migration:
To apprehend the movement of human and non-human population; to find ways to incorporate cultures and preserving heritages;

Climate and Responsibility:
To ask about responsibilities and ethics when it comes to climate action; to explore the role of responsibilities in societies; to encourage positive responsibilities; to question what humans need;

We are looking forward to building on these themes with you during the year and stay tuned for our upcoming event on the 18th of October! It will be a natural dye workshop being held at the making space at White City from 5pm.

REPLAY: Economics for Art School with Kate Raworth and John Thackara **watch it on YouTube**

If you missed out at the end of the summer term, or just want to watch it again, we are very happy to announce that this lecture is now available on YouTube – recorded live in Lecture Theatre 1 at the Royal College of Art on 26th June 2018.

We would like to thank the RCA Student Union and the RCA Service Design department, whose support made this event possible. Special thanks to RCASU Co-President Jazbo Gross for editing the film.

Question: What do Design and Economics have in common in the 21st Century?
Answer: Doughnuts!

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 21.02.29

The back story…

It was last autumn on a trip to CERN – the European Centre for Nuclear Research in Geneva –  that I first started to think about economics in a design context. The trip was the start of a project to see what applications a bunch of service design masters students from an art school might imagine for atomic research, that might also address the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Nothing major.

Inspiration during the week came in the form of presentations from the scientists working on everything from cryogenics and particle detectors, to dark matter and computer simulations, all of which play their part to support the elusive founding mission – to discover the particles which gave birth to our universe. Since CERN’s inception in 1954, their research has led to the discovery of the Higgs Boson and perhaps most significantly the birth of the World Wide Web from Tim Berners-Lee’s small office.

At the end of the week, the main takeaway for me was the the steadfast humility that underpins the motivation behind CERN’s work. By their own admission, they estimate that we know less than 5% of all the particles in our universe; it is their mission to keep searching for the other 95%, the ‘dark matter’. Famous for their Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – a 27 km long underground ring doughnut, where they smash together atomic particles at unfathomable speeds – the scientists work shifts to keep watch for any even smaller, new particles that might be found in the emerging fragments. Essentially they are repeatedly simulating a mini big bang, filming it and watching it back in ultra-slow motion. For me the dedicated curiosity and humility behind CERN’s enduring experiment stands in stark contrast to a discipline, which during the 20th Century, has sought to emulate a science. That discipline is economics.

The current neoliberal capitalist narrative which dominates eocnomic systems across the world, whilst operating in a scientific fashion with its automated electronic stock exchanges, Fintech startups and cryptocurrencies, has a mission which feels myopic compared to CERN’s raison d’être. Rather than seeking to understand the full extent of the universe that economics operates within – Planet Earth with 7.3 billion humans and over 8.7 billion other species – our economic system is currently designed solely around the human species, with arguably a very narrow focus at that. Its remit to deliver increased growth and profits above all else is ignorant to anything beyond its own purpose. As the system now shows signs of imploding (economic crises), and ‘externalities’ start to feel uncomfortably close (climate change, rising inequality, housing crisises etc.), a logical conclusion to draw is that our current economic model is in desperate need of a redesign, and might do well to take inspiration from CERN’s founding principles.

With this in mind and still crunching away at our project brief, (trying desperately to land on something more tangible than our entire economic system), I was excited to click on the link a classmate sent me for a lecture at the London School of Economics: ‘Doughnut Economics: seven ways to think like a 21st century economist’. I signed up immediately.

The lecture theatre was packed, with a queue to get in and a queue for the book signing afterwards. And with good reason; the lecture was an enlightenment: all the knotted information, scribbled ideas and scrunched up bits of paper in my head from the past few weeks, were arranged into logical sequence as Kate Raworth eloquently unpacked, demystified and rearranged the discipline of economics. Describing herself as a ‘renegade economist’, Kate has a rigorous academic background with two degrees from Oxford covering economics, politics, philosophy and development, yet she has the curious and critical mind, visual lens and grumpy optimism more akin to a designer. Not content with the logic of the theories she was taught, she has sought to rewrite economics and re-educate the next generation through the publication and dissemination of a more holistic perspective which she calls Doughnut Economics.

I waited patiently at the end of the book signing to speak with Kate. I told her about SustainLab RCA and that students of design as well as economics needed to hear her lecture. And so, a few twitter threads later, we had a date for her first art & design school audience during the Royal College of Art 2018 graduate show: Designing Doughnuts – Economics for Art School with Kate Raworth and John Thackara.

Kate’s lecture at the RCA was followed by a conversation with design and cultural researcher John Thakara, a Senior Fellow of the RCA, who also chaired Q&A from the audience. With his decades of first-hand research in communities and institutions across the world, John provided a great design spin on Doughnut Economics and its implications for the next generation of changemakers.

We hope you enjoy watching this as much as we did. On reflection, the lecture and this post are perhaps the more philosophical outcomes of our trip to CERN last autumn. If you’re curious you can check out some of the more applied concepts from the project here and here.

Author: Becky Miller, 19 August 2018 (@beckymiller33)

Designing Doughnuts: Economics for Art School with Kate Raworth & John Thackara, 26th June

Kate Raworth & John Thakara

Question: What do Design and Economics have in common in the 21st Century?

Answer: Doughnuts!

At the crescendo of the academic year, SustainLab RCA are excited to welcome renegade economist Kate Raworth and prominent sustainable futures researcher John Thackara, to speak during the Royal College of Art Graduate Show, exploring the big questions of how and why art & design graduates might make a positive contribution in the 21st Century.

FREE Tickets on Eventbrite

Kate Raworth will give a lecture to share her internationally acclaimed idea of Doughnut Economics which has been widely influential amongst sustainable development thinkers, progressive businesses and political activists, previously presented to audiences ranging from the UN General Assembly to the Occupy movement. Kate is the creator of the Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries – published as a book last year – which succinctly describes the economic mindset needed to address the 21st century’s social and ecological challenges.

John Thackara will be in conversation with Kate after her lecture, to discuss how our work as artists, designers and their associated institutions, might build on Kate’s framework in order to make positive tangible contributions to society and the planet given the current global context and the challenges of inequality, climate change, biodiversity loss, population growth, urbanisation, pollution etc.

The lecture will be interpreted by a BSL interpreter (British Sign Language). If this service will be important to you, please make sure you select the ‘BSL ticket’ so we can reserve a suitable seat for you.

This event has been made possible with support from the RCA Student’s Union and the RCA Service Design department.

Kate Raworth - Doughnut Economics