Colors of the Oosterschelde

Can seaweed be used as an alternative to chemical textile dyes? In the Oosterschelde area, a Dutch coastal zone sheltered from the Northsea by a storm surge barrier, more than twenty different species of seaweed were collected to experiment with. This resulted in over 300 samples of colored fabric and yarn. Presented at Dutch Design Week 2015, the installation showed tests with silk, cotton, wool and synthetic yarn, as well as a series of larger silk pieces demonstrating the rich variety in color that can be achieved.

Seaweed grows fast and does not take up agricultural land as it can be grown in the sea. But most importantly, seaweed farming could significantly contribute to balance out CO2 levels in the water as it uses CO2 to produce oxygen. Key to making the dye method more sustainable, is the use of salt (sea)water. The salt water not only replaces precious fresh water, of which an overload is used in the current industry, it also fixates the color, which is colorfast beyond expectation compared to other natural dyes. All waste is organic, and therefor not harmful to the environment. The waste can even be used other processes, as the agar in seaweed serves as a thickening agent or binder.


The Oosterschelde has a peculier, manmade ecosystem because of the installation of the major dams that shield the Netherlands from the sea. It leaves the former estuary filled with a diversity of seaweeds. For this project, a basis was found in natural dyeing processes with plants. The recipes served as a starting ground for experimentation. Through structural testing, changing one parameter at a time, results were achieved. First with just slight color, then stronger and more diverse. Each seaweed produces a range of colors that can be obtained through different methodologies: from fermentation, to extraction and plain cooking.

The experiments were part of a collaboration with textile designer Nienke Hoogvliet, who researched the use of algae as a base for sustainable yarn or textile. This project was supported bij Creative Industries Fund NL.