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Researchers at Dundee University are working to help build image retrieval systems to help textile designers.

Researchers at  Dundee University are working with fashion house Liberty and the Victoria & Albert Museum to help build image retrieval systems to help textile designers.

Engineers in the School of Computing at Dundee are leading the £1.4m project which aims to build sophisticated image-based versions of a text-based search engine.

Fashion and Apparel Browsing for Inspirational Content (FABRIC), as the project is called, has been funded by the Technology Strategy Board, Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (BERR), (formerly the Department of Trade & Industry).

‘Designers rely on images to fuel their creativity. Unfortunately, the visually complex and abstract nature of many designs mean that they are often hard to describe when cataloguing, and as a result, they may be very difficult to access. What we are looking to develop are systems that don’t rely on words to extract the images designers are looking for, but rather use elements of the visual image,’ said Dr Annette Ward, Scottish Power research fellow and development manager in the School of Computing at the University.

FABRIC brings together the School of Computing at Dundee University as the project leader, London collaborators Liberty Fabric, System Simulation, the Victoria & Albert Museum and a Dundee University spin-out company, Calico Jack.

Together the consortium will develop and evaluate the software for desktop, mobile phones, and handheld computers.

‘In order to successfully bring textiles to market, designers conduct extensive background research that involves collecting forms of inspiration, many of which are contemporary and historical images,’ said Dr Ward.

‘For instance, textile designers at Liberty Fabric access Liberty’s own design history through an archive of over 7,000 images comprised of textiles of a myriad of fibres, fabric construction, colouration, and surface treatment; original artwork; and garments. Careful cataloguing has organised these images into an impressive collection that may be accessed using keywords.’

‘However, succinct descriptions of textiles do not always provide the most meaningful way to browse a database for design inspiration, especially when the user doesn’t have a specific image in mind. A more effective approach will be tested that allows designers to peruse the database visually.’

Museums, libraries, and galleries also offer millions of images for design inspiration. Over 40,000 images from the Victoria & Albert Museum’s impressive digital collection will be incorporated into the browsing database for designers to access. Images from the V&A’s historical collection are excellent sources of inspiration and will be tested with users, including students and educators.