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Discovering the Materials Collection at LCF

  • Written byN Brathwaite
  • Published date03 December 2021

The Library at London College of Fashion, UAL is based at our John Prince’s Street site. It is home to an exciting range of information resources, from your typical books and magazines to their amazing special collection of artist’s work – all of which are available as reference for students of LCF and UAL, to support their learning.

The LCF Library is also home to the Materials Collection which hosts a range of material samples, where students are invited to interact with and learn via the different sensory experiences.

As our students continue to work with materials, we encourage them to visit the Materials Collection to aid the development of their understanding of how things are made and the impact they have on aesthetical and environmental outcomes.

We spoke to the Materials and Products Co-ordinator, Billie Coxhead about what the Materials Collection contains and how students can engage with the collection.

Billie Coxhead, Materials and Products Co-ordinator at LCF and Central Saint Martins (CSM) Billie Coxhead, Materials and Products Co-ordinator at LCF and Central Saint Martins (CSM)

What is the LCF Materials Collection?

The LCF Materials Collection holds samples and swatches of textiles, yarns, fibres, fabrics and other materials that are used across the Fashion Industry. The aim is to hopefully mirror what students will find in design houses when they finish their studies and move into working in industry.

We try and showcase materials that are not only used in industry, but also reflect the subjects students study at LCF. For example, the collection features the raw natural fibres that are grown and used to make fabrics, so students can learn about the processes and base materials involved in fabric making.

The collection also aims to inspire students with material innovations such as SeaCell. SeaCell is a seaweed yarn used by mills to make fabrics that have a positive effect on both the skin and the environment. We have samples of the extracted cellulose fibre and a selection of fabrics made from this fibre.

Hung fabric samples from the Materials Collection at John Prince’s Street Hung fabric samples from the Materials Collection at John Prince’s Street

How can students use the Materials Collection at John Princes Street?

If you are looking for something specific e.g. woollen fabrics, there are three main ways to identify what you are looking at; the Fabric Colour Legend, the hanging labels and the coloured cubes on the hangers, which help guide you to a selection of manufacturers and other relevant details.

Once you have chosen your fabrics, the next step is to research the manufacturer or fabric mill by visiting their website and contacting them to source materials to use in your project. Some of the labels and websites will lead you to the company’s online shop, where you can purchase the material or request samples. Others will have contact information so you will need to reach out to them to request price lists and/or samples. Some of the manufacturers provide catalogues of their current range - these are located on the shelves in the collection.

In relation to students using the Materials Collection, we recommend that on your first visit you come with an open mind; interact with the samples and materials, touch them, smell them to see what inspires you.

Samples from the Materials Collection Reference Box at John Prince’s Street Samples from the Materials Collection Reference Box at John Prince’s Street

How do you go about selecting/acquiring new materials?

Visiting trade shows is key to finding new materials and meeting manufacturers or mills, to build a relationship with them for the university and the students. I meet the manufacturers who are often happy for me to take some samples from the tradeshow or who I can contact once back at the Library, to specify what we would like to showcase in the collection.

The development of the collection is also informed by student support sessions. For example a student might be looking for reactive, technical textiles and would like to see samples in person; to help with their design ideas. Students can then use the library's journals and/or books or using the online manufacturer lists for research.

The student degree shows are also a great place to learn about new materials and acquire student work for display in the collections. We showcase student work that has a strong material focus or story in the collections.

A selection of sample binders from the Materials Collection at John Prince’s Street A selection of sample binders from the Materials Collection at John Prince’s Street

What resources can students use to obtain their own samples? What advice/tips do you have?

Students can use the Materials Collections as a starting point for finding their own samples. The best thing to do is to look through the samples and look out for the label attached to the material of interest. Once you have this, you can go onto the website to find out about obtaining samples. The manufacturer may have an online shop or will need to be contacted directly for prices and potential samples.

My top tips for sourcing fabrics:

  1. To begin, make sure you have done some research and found out about the manufacturer and what they do. It might be that they manufacture the yarn, so if you are looking for fabrics that use the yarn, you will need to find out who their collaborating fabric mills are.
  2. Think about the supply chain before reaching out to the manufacturer - so what does the company do, do they sell the materials, or do they manufacture them? This will be useful to get a good overview and inform your sample request.
  1. If you can, I would recommend telephoning the company and speaking to someone in the marketing department, let them know that you are a student at the UAL and you would love to use their fabrics/materials in your work and that you will credit them.
  1. Ask the mill or manufacturer if they have any end of roll, deadstock, offcuts or samples that they do not need.
  1. Do not get disheartened if a manufacturer does not reply to your email, find another way to contact them e.g. via trade show directories OR find another manufacturer of the same or similar material.

The Sustainable Angle have created a sustainable mill student sourcing directory, which includes information about mills who are happy to work with smaller order quantities or samples.

Trade show exhibitor lists or digital marketplaces can be used to source free swatches. For example, if you are looking for Performance fabrics or sportswear fabrics, Performance Days is a recommended site to visit. TECHSTYLE is also useful if you are looking to source sustainable fabrics such as plant-based leather/skin alternatives.

You can also get in touch, if you need some guidance by emailing materials@fashion.arts.ac.uk