The Living Archive: facilitating textile design research at undergraduate level through collaboration, co-creation and student engagement

With an emphasis on reinventing dress histories through a CAD approach, fashion and textiles archive, The Collections Resource Centre in Leicestershire, United Kingdom, was utilised as the springboard for a visually rich and materially vibrant exploratory investigation. The project married historical artefacts with creative digital technologies in order to redefine fashion/textile objects from the past through practitioner-research. The study focused on textile design research from an Integrated Digital Practice perspective within Higher Education, in relation to learning and teaching at undergraduate level. The archive was employed as a fundamental pedagogical basis to aid research – visual, historical and contextual; observational; hands on experimentation; and design demonstration by investigating archives as pedagogy. The overarching aim was to tease out novel findings by exploring a palette of digital tools, methods, techniques, processes and parameters that may lead to the acquisition of new knowledge, skills and design innovation relevant to academia and industry. This was achieved through a 10-week student bursary scheme at Loughborough University that enabled: institutional and external collaboration between the student-and-staff and the studentand-archive; student-staff co-creation; and by the student engaging with outside organisations, institutions, places, people, events and media relevant to the project. Employing a collaborative and interdisciplinary methodological framework supported the concept of the archive as ‘having life’, based on the initial study, exploration and digital interpretation of selected archival items which resulted in a comprehensive portfolio of artistic ideas, CAD developments, technical enquiry and scientific experimentation. As such, an environment which enabled a dynamic design-research study within a scholarly context was established. The research process was substantiated by the involvement, experience and expertise of academic and technical staff whilst encouraging autonomy from a student perspective. This steered the research and helped to identify potential areas for further work beyond the scope of this project.