Dr Sarah Mills

The Powerhouse Research Fellowship

March 2022

Project Title: Artificial Fiber Intelligence and Modern Australian Textile Design

Sarah Mills
Image: Dr Sarah Mills.

Dr. Sarah Mills examines how the invention of plastic fibers shaped Australian textile design and weaving around the mid-twentieth century.

The extensive development of synthetic material in the 1930s promised advancements in the function of everyday items with no change to their appearance. A jacket, for example, would feel like cotton cloth but have steel-like durability, becoming “body armor” for its male wearer. By midcentury, however, form changed as new texturally and structurally expressive textiles emerged.

In studying fiber artifacts collected by Arthur de Ramon Penfold, a Powerhouse curator and later director from 1927 until 1955, and fabrics by Ingot Mills and the Eclarte textile company, Dr. Mills will assess formal and structural transformations resulting from material shifts in international industry and Australian studio weaving.

Sarah Mills is a modern and contemporary art historian whose research focuses on weaving theory and fiber design in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. She has completed research fellowships at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institution and published in the Journal of Modern Craft and Textile: Cloth and Culture. Dr. Sarah Mills is an Assistant Professor of design history at San José State University.