School of Design

ULITA – an Archive of International Textiles

The Synthetics Revolution: man-made fibres and everyday fashion

Terylene sample box

Terylene sample box

ULITA has teamed up with the Enterprise of Culture project (School of History)  and the Yorkshire Fashion Archive to look behind the scenes of the synthetics revolution with the aim of bringing the story of man-made fibres and how we interact with them to life, from stories of technological developments in the early part of the 20th century to the role of advertising following the Second World War.

The rise of man-made and synthetic fibres has placed ‘miracle’ materials at the heart of the modern fashion system. Today, these high-performance test-tube materials are found in clothing, furnishings and household goods. From the mid 20th century, firms such the DuPont Company, ICI and Courtaulds revolutionized people’s relationships with fibres by making and promoting a family of man-made and synthetic fibres, including rayon, nylon, polyester and acrylic. As the world’s largest fibre manufacturer, DuPont publicised one new material, acrylic, as a ‘better fibre by design than a sheep produces inadvertently’.

Drawing on two university archive collections, this exhibition explores the rise of the synthetic fibre in everyday clothing in the twentieth century, with particular reference to the Yorkshire region. It showcases the Yorkshire Fashion Archive and ULITA – an Archive of International Textiles, both based in the University’s School of Design. It offers a glimpse into the range of items these two archives have in their collections and encourages audiences to engage with them. It includes ULITA items from the Fibre Collection and Department of Textiles Industries Collection, some of which have only recently been discovered.

The Synthetics Revolution: Man-made fibres and everyday fashion is curated by Fiona Blair (Enterprise of Culture), Claire Watson & Elaine Evans (Yorkshire Fashion Archive) and Jill Winder (ULITA).

The exhibition is financially supported by HERA II (Humanities in the European Research Area) and the EU-funded Rethinking Textiles project.

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