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Fabrics of the future preserved for posterity

Published: 
10 April 2003

An investigation into whether today's cutting-edge fabrics might stand the test of time is underway at the University of Southampton's Textile Conservation Centre. This "Innovations" project with the Victoria and Albert Museum is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB).

Techno textiles and smart fabrics are already entering museum collections as examples of fine art, haute couture and high-tech sportswear. They are frequently made with materials such as ceramic, glass, carbon or plastic and it is vital to work out how they can be conserved for future generations.

Examples already in the shops include permanently perfumed hosiery and tights, which will moisturise the wearer's legs. They contain tiny capsules built into the fibres, which break gradually during wear to release their contents. Vitamins or insect-repellent can also be incorporated into these fibres using the same technique. Italian designers have even come up with a shirt that shortens its sleeves in hot weather.

In the near future, fabrics could contain tiny computers built to atomic specifications, which will remove all dirt by pushing it to the edge. Clothes may be tailored to the wearer's personality and body chemistry instead of looks.

Mary Brooks, who is leading the project at the TCC, said: "These new fibres are presenting curators and conservators with, as yet, unknown issues in preservation to ensure their survival for future generations. This work aims to investigate the unknown and unpredictable."

This one-year study by the TCC in conjunction with the Victoria and Albert Museum is a funded by a £52,000 Innovations award from the AHRB. The team includes Dr Capucine Korenberg, University chemist Dr Paul Wyeth and Professor Graham Martin and Dr Brenda Keneghan, Conservation Science at the V&A.

Notes for editors

  1. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University, which celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 2002, has 20,000 students and over 4,500 staff and plays an important role in the City of Southampton. Its annual turnover is in the region of £235 million.
  2. The Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) funds postgraduate and advanced research within the UK's higher education institutions and provides funding for museums, galleries and collections that are based in, or attached to, HEIs within England. The AHRB supports research within a huge subject domain - from 'traditional' humanities subjects, such as history, modern languages and English literature, to music and the creative and performing arts. The AHRB makes awards on the basis of academic excellence and is not responsible for the views or research outcomes expressed by its award holders.

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