Fashion-Focused Digital Resources: VADS: The Visual Arts Data Service

The Visual Arts Data Service (VADS) is an online resource for visual art and design images. The service, based at the University for the Creative Arts campus in Farnham, Surrey, holds images from several significant archives from institutions across the United Kingdom.

Collections focused specifically on fashion and textiles include but are not limited to: London College of Fashion’s College Archive, Cordwainer’s Shoe Collection, Gala Archive, Paper Patterns, Victor Steibel Archive and the Woolmark Company Archive, The Textile Collection at the University College for the Creative Arts, Goldsmiths Textile Collection & Constance Howard Gallery and Central Saint Martins Museum and Study Collection.

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The database has over 100,000 images that are available free and copyright cleared for the purposes of learning, teaching and research in the United Kingdom (North American and international readers: this means that unfortunately they are still copyright restricted outside of the UK). The website is minimal and easy to use, with a simple keyword search bar on the home page to get your research started. An advanced search option is available to narrow your search by date, artist/creator, title, description, material and other factors, as well as the option to narrow your search to certain collections.


Every individual image is accompanied by a core record with additional information on the item. A quick search through the London College of Fashion’s Paper Patterns collection revealed many high resolution images of paper pattern envelopes, each accompanied by additional details including the date, size, pattern number, original price and the item’s corresponding accession number within the collection. To keep track of one’s research, users can create an account and save images to their ‘lightbox’ for later reference (a feature which was temporarily unavailable when I accessed the service, but will hopefully be available again for use in the future).

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VADS also offers ‘advice and guidance to the visual arts research, teaching and learning communities on all aspects of digital resource management from funding, through delivery and use, to preservation.’ These services include advisory services for digital projects, depositing data to VADS and web development for visual arts organizations and projects. There is also a list of links to learning and teaching resources, including the Fabrics Forming Society module from the Designing Britain 1945-1975 collection and Hand-Blockprinted Textiles: Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher from the Crafts Study Centre at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design.

VADS could therefore serve as a valuable tool for both students and teachers alike, as the collections held in the online database may serve as the starting point for a new research project or visual and educational resources for classroom presentations.

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