I used to
like to travel, until
I discovered that it wore me
out. More recently, though, I have been
teaching myself how to sustain myself and find joy
even when away from home. So when in
Detroit to visit family last week, I
explored on foot & in a car,
with my camera and
an open heart.
for treats & coffee
may be a cliche, but it's a
thing. Delicious coffees and pies in
interesting places run by cool
people warms my
body and my
energy, as does witnessing
creative Little Free
gardens on street
corners inviting me to
I found myself
sitting with Aunt Al waiting
for the dog walker to arrive and,
later in the day, celebrating my godson's
14th birthday on the 14th with a
celebrated 'Bumpy Cake.'
In the midst of it all,
I was surrounded by strong
women figuring out how to find joy
in various messy places - from
You got it.
Compost. I just
can't not seek it out.
In this case, I explored Detroit
Dirt, a thriving organization that processes
food waste and animal manure
between old warehouses
and the highway.
As I stood among
the eight mounds of compost,
trying to keep warm as it snowed and
the wind blew, I felt the power of earth's capacity
to renew itself. It takes energy to create
life from waste, but that is just
what the amazing Pashon
Murray is doing.
Three days before
the Women's March 2020,
I was surrounded by strong feminine
energy, the kind of energy that changes the
world. Scraps to soil. Soil to plants.
Plants to life-giving energy
so that we can
Dirt, I visited the Anna
Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory
in Belle Isle Park. Anna's story is impressive,
but while there, warm and protected from freezing
breezes blowing off the Detroit River, I thought about the
power of focus - - When we focus on one thing, often something
right in front of us, there is clarity and purpose. Trying to
see and do it all just gets confusing. It's funny to
me how I notice the bird sculpture more
when it is blurred in the background,
than when I tried to get it and
everything else in focus.
So when not
exploring and playing
with extended family, I made
time to read and sew, taking a media
holiday of sorts. I hadn't planned it this way,
but it turns out I read about another inspiring and game-
changing woman, Rebecca Burgess and the Fibershed Project.
The subtitle "Growing a Movement of Farmers,
Fashion Activists, and Makers for a
New Textile Economy"
connects to, well,
It seems that
2020 is turning into
a year for making connections
among people, places and possessions,
in particular, clothes. Compost remains the focal
point, but clothes and their relationship to our identities
may be a parallel story line...We'll just have to see.
But I'm having fun being with people I love,
meeting people who inspire, and
feeling the power of the
I have been thinking
about fixing and mending.
To me, fixing involves a tool kit used
to solve a specific problem which, when repaired,
provides a clear solution. Once fixed, we
move on, glad that the problem
has been resolved.
a few days ago when our
furnace stopped working and two
guys came to repair it. It took some time
to diagnose the actual problem, but with their tool
kit in hand, they solved the issue. Done.
House warm again. We move
on with our day.
which, for me,
involved mending - an
act that feels different from fixing.
Yes, there is a problem to solve - a lost button or
holes in a pair of joggers - But the problem
does not feel urgent, like a furnace
not working in the middle
of yesterday's mending
pile, for example, consisted of
things with problems we had been living
with for years...literally. This tie on this vintage duvet
cover had been broken for longer than I can
remember, as had the missing button
on another duvet cover
in the pile.
does not have
to be perfect, either.
Clearly, my stitches on the
duvet are a bit messy and the button
and thread color do not match
what was there before on
this night shirt.
was simple: Get
the job done & move on. That's
what I do in January. Finish projects,
clean up, clear out, and, as if often the case, mend
things, whether a missing button, a huge rip in my favorite
gardening clothes, my son's joggers,
or, perhaps, even the
I started to mend the
huge rip on the back side of these
overalls, I got distracted, as can happen sometimes,
and decided to add some color, because, as it turns out, I had been
consolidating our thread collection earlier in the week and
happen to have found this fabulous
green (ooh I love run-
And I thought
it would be fun to add
some curves to this otherwise
set of straight lines. So suddenly my 'get-
the job done' mending turned into
something else entirely.
entranced by the
colors, shapes and textures
that emerged. I know. These joggers
are completely absent of
textures were so
cool and the feeling of the
wool fabric I used to repair the holes
so soft, I just had to share these
images and this project
I realized, in the
midst of it all, that mending
is about tending to an ongoing relationship
with something or someone, whether it's a piece
of clothing, your dog or your son. Yes, there is a particular
problem that emerges at the moment, but in the process of mending
it, you change the actual structure of that which is being
mended by adding thread, new fabric, new
colors or new shapes.
it turns out,
you can change the
structure of yourself as well.
Or at least, that's what happens to
me when I sit and sew. I hang out with my
dog, who hangs out with me. We both breath more
slowly. I have no idea what he thinks about,
but I stay focused on each stitch,
mindfully mending in
as I sew on buttons
and patch holes in joggers,
I'm thinking, always thinking, about
all those big issues out there in the world
for which we want a quick a fix, but which, in my
heart, I know may not be able to be fixed with a single tool
box at a single moment. The problems we face are just too big. But
it helps me to address them when I adopt a mending state of mind. Knowing
we will be in this for a while, I focus on relationships of all kinds and not
worry about perfection by knowing what is good enough
and by making sure I am open to altering my
plans by adding color here
my blog or following
me on Instagram, you'll know
that I was planning to include my altered
Cotillion Dress in my current
solo show at AVA
If you've been
to AVA to find the dress,
you'll know that it's
me how the creative
process works, and how hard
it can be to separate one thread from
another when they all feel
integral to each
evolved from last
year's curiosity about how
I could share Walt Whitman's poem
"This Compost" in a colorful and affordable
manner by embroidering it on old
things, like a pillowcase or
a cloth diaper from
I listened to numerous
podcasts about art, women,
the climate crisis, racial justice and
the idea of white fragility. Each voice I heard
inspired me to rethink my past and
my relationship to it. And then
I remembered the white
dress in the attic...
it all began
because I love the
colors of compost and so
started taking pictures of it all the
time...until, magically, I had
what they call a 'body
of work' worth
what you love most just
has to stay home. In this case, I am
grateful that I gave my work to the Exhibits
Director at AVA and let her decide. The dress, even
though it seemed essential to the show for
me, just didn't fit and would have
been a distraction.
I am grateful
to this beautiful piece
of silk and lace for inviting me
to explore my own identity as a creative
person, not just with a camera,
but in life. The dress, as
My first solo show opens in 11 days.
What is the story I want to tell?
Is it about the cool colors,
textures and shapes of my Compost Compositions?
Is it about the stories
those Compositions tell about
food, culture and the regenerative
power of waste?
there is more.
Behind these photographs
there is me, a woman in mid life
choosing to share her work
and, by default, her
story - -
A story that
begins with a beginners
mind - - a willingness to explore
not just content that most
ignore, but process
that is why last year I had
so much fun dismantling and composting
my Harvard and UVA Degrees.
Why not explore?
that is why I am OK
sharing my first attempt at decorating
a silk dress with embroidered
imagery of my own
that it is Show Time
the connections between these
In a world filled with fear,
I am no longer afraid to reframe my
relationship to garbage or
To learn more,
you'll have to come to
the show. The opening is October 11
at AVA Gallery in Lebanon, NH. My Artist's Talk
is November 1 at 5pm, also at AVA Gallery.
Or, you can just keep reading this
blog. More will be
I wore these
boots from November
to May this year. Finally, a few weeks
ago, they went into the storage box, from which my
summer sandals and other cooler shoes emerged. Time for the
seasonal assessment. If I haven't worn something for
a year or if it doesn't work anymore,
it goes in the spring give
think, with 26 pairs
of work boots, athletic shoes,
dress shoes and casual shoes, I'd have
enough. But I don't. My athletic shoes are worn out
and I've never really found the 'just right' pair
of casual sneakers...and with this
trip to London, it became
clear that I needed
I'm focused on shoes
and clothes with a story. If they
haven't been well worn by another before
me, I want to know that the materials
used are ethically sourced, the
stitches made with care,
and the resources
there I was, in Kentish
Town, London, at The Third Estate,
on whose racks and shelves are clothes, shoes,
bags and socks made with love. Each
brand, it seems, has its own
story to tell.
So I had some fun.
Light or dark Ethletic Fair Trade Vegan Sustainable Trainers?
Breathable and light
"BreLite Collection" shoes
whose soles come from recycled
tires and uppers are handspun cotton.
They truly are the lightest shoes
ever - - only 250 grams!
A perfect travel
up with dark, cute,
comfy and filled with love.
They make me feel like I'm flying.
Maybe that's why The Third
Estate has a bird on
what I'm learning
about this thing called
"Slow Fashion." It's not about
how fast something is made, it's about the
stories embedded in each fiber and in the transaction
itself. Angela, who helped me, wanted me to
feel good. She knew about each
shoe company and
Most shopping expeditions
leave me exhausted, but after I left yesterday,
I found myself in an unexpected area, ready to explore.
Who knew that by going to The Third Estate,
I would also experience this
colorful and nuanced
part of town?
seemed so quiet and
peaceful, but then I followed
the curve of and light on this living building...
curious as I tend to be, about the
relationship between the
...and I found
myself in an entirely
unexpected place, where the
buildings were alive in
a different kind
So I guess
shoes really are a
thing for me. Comfortable
feet matter but so does my actual
footprint. I think it's cool
when I can care
for slow fashion,
meandering explorations, and
the simple joy of taking
time to care.
dresses out for a dance
and I played dress-up.
Our mother took
they hung in my
attic for over a decade...
until it was time to
let them live
went to our
local theater company
and others went to goodwill.
A few stayed behind
well, they just
I resist those colors,
textures and the spirit of my
Not exactly me.
I'm a mender
(see last week's blog
post), not a maker or re-maker, but
maybe there was a costume designer with
the imagination I needed to help
re-create these in my
Rebecca Sewart, owner of
Pins & Needles Garment Company. She
saw the potential and, probably with her upcoming
work with Joseph and the Amazing Techni-Color
Dream Coat in mind, started with the
dress. The entire process
gift to have an
person who loves fiber
come to my house and lovingly
transform a complicated fabric into the
coolest pair of 'retro' trousers
a gal could own.
approve, because I feel
her spirit when I wear her re-imagined
evening gowns, which now contain Rebecca's energy
as well. Stay tuned for our next shared
creation...It seems that
My sister is the incredible maker, Sarah Swett, who plays with fiber and is currently enamored with making her own clothes. My mother is Shiela Swett, who loves to take photographs of nature out her back door. I learned about Rebecca from the owners of The Pink Alligator, a consignment store in Lebanon and Hanover, NH. Rebecca is now creating costumes for a production of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat for a theater company in Massachusetts.
Final thought: I have to assume that those who made my grandmother's clothes and the fabric from which they came earned a living wage, since they were either hand made or couture, but I don't know for sure since working conditions varied fifty years ago. In today's world of fast fashion, though, I am trying hard to use the fabrics I have and keep things as local as possible. This project brings me complete joy because it honors my grandmother's standard of owning well-made clothes that last and my standard of embracing the ethic of slow, sustainable fashion. And in the process, I have clothes that make me feel powerful and beautiful, but which I never would have bought off any rack in any store. Thank you, Gram.
cotton object that rips
when I touch it. It's
just a t-shirt,
No. It's more.
It contains memories:
My first years of marriage;
Playing squash with my husband;
Being in my 20's and feeling
invincible; It's so much
more than just
near and far, I got
out a needle, some light
purple thread, and got to work.
I want to wear this fragile
cotton shirt again.
I love it. It's
in our throw-away
society, mending matters.
And because it's cool
the art of
also known as Sashiko
When I love
something, I care for it.
When I love someone, I care
for them. Love takes time and patience.
It can be messy and slow and it
is always imperfect. But
it's possible. We just
have to show up
have a sense of humor.
For 26 years, I have only seen
colors, shapes, & an artist's signature.
When I told my husband about this project,
he asked: "Oh, your dancer shirt?"...
"My what? No, the one with
cool colors and
It turns out I had never
actually paid as close attention to
this shirt I love as much as my husband had.
Sometimes I guess we just see what we see. What's
cool is that I didn't feel anything like a
dancer back in the 1990's, but
I definitely do today. It's
now more perfect
to my mother for
teaching me how to sew.
Happy Mother's Day
Evelyn R. Swett celebrates
how creativity and climate action converge to inspire transformation and joy.
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