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
Pinch me. Is it true?
Is 5 year's worth of work
really assembled in a real art gallery
for others to see?
It must be,
showed up to celebrate
the launch, my
gathered again this
past Tuesday for a conversation
about Waste & Our Material World with
Marc Morgan, Director of the Lebanon, NH Solid
Waste Facility. I love how what began
as an isolated exploration of my
backyard compost has
connected me to
so many cool
who run Umpleby's Cafe &
Bakery in Hanover, NH - - I get all
my coffee grinds and other
large masses of cool
I meet at various events
who wonder at my composted
degrees and share their own stories about
celebrating the past while also
when a vision becomes
reality - - when showing up to
something seemingly mundane, like my
compost bin, could inspire not just
me, but also all those who
come in contact with
this work. Who
share the joy and
experience the wonder
that is our waste at my artist's
talk next Friday, November 1. It will be
at AVA Gallery at 5pm. Oh, and it's also my
birthday and I was thinking how great
it would be to share it with others
who care about all this
stuff. See you then
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
sticks into the Gulf
of Maine. It's 1.5 miles from
our family's house and is a destination
when it's high tide and the beach is covered.
What's the point, you ask? Besides the wild flowers
blowing in the breeze, the waves crashing on
the rocks, and the knowledge that next
year it will still be here, the point
is that today I saw multiple
I stood and
watched them play - -
gliding in the wind and resting
on the bay laurel. They made me happy - -
their telltale orange and black contrasting with the
green shrubs and the blue water beyond.
And they made me sad. Will
they survive or not?
What's the point?
I closed my eyes and imagined
what it would be like to be surrounded
by thousands of these delicate creatures at their
final destination in the mountains of Mexico and understood
that all I needed was that association and idea to invite a momentary
massive flurry of wings which, when I opened my eyes,
were everywhere and no where. At this
point in time, I'm happy to stay
right here. No plane travel
needed. Just me and
What's the point? Our imaginations.
Wherever you are,
consider how far you can go
by going nowhere. Look at something in
your yard or in your home and imagine a place far
away. Feel the air, hear the wind and see the
wonder. Then open your eyes again and
be grateful for your imagination.
It's a gift we often overlook.
This was my view a few
days ago while hanging the laundry.
It takes my breath away every
time I go onto our
in a great mood
because I had set the day aside
to work on a major embroidery project
I'm exploring this
kept getting in the way.
You know how it can be - managing the
compost, changing toilet-paper rolls, drinking water
to stay hydrated on a hot day, cleaning up
after the dog made a mistake...
and, of course, doing
I think I was
able to finish about
half a leaf between each
interruption. By the time I went
out to hang the laundry, I was feeling
really frustrated by how slow my progress was.
I'd been feeling bad about other things too. Like the fact
I hadn't written a blog post for more than a
month and that I hadn't finished
the next playbook
in my series.
But while standing
on the terrace and hearing the
baby birds and seeing a monarch butterfly
head toward the volunteer milkweed in the orchard
we planted, I remembered that not long ago,
none of this was here: no terrace, solar
panels, shrubs or perennials, and
no monarchs or baby birds
learning to sing.
I also remembered
how exciting it was to see
these peonies and iris bloom together
after we had transplanted them that first year
with the terrace garden - that
was 8 years ago.
I have to remind myself
that over time, lots of little actions
accumulate and become something larger
than themselves. A single stone becomes a terrace. A
single flower becomes a garden. A single
stitch in a small leaf becomes a
just have to consciously
remember how things really work,
which is why when I dumped the compost and
took yet another photograph, I remembered the power of
showing up and of big little things. 10 pounds of compost a week
adds up to 500 pounds a year -- a ton over four years.
That's a lot of food diverted from the landfill.
It's also a lot of photographs
So this week
I'm celebrating Big Little
Things. Like the fact that after creating
thousands of Compost Compositions, I finally have
two in a juried show this summer and I'll have a few dozen in
a solo show this fall - - All at AVA Gallery in Lebanon,
NH. Friends told me that if I kept showing
up for my work and for myself,
cool things would happen.
They were right.
the simple climate
action of composting would
lead me to become a photographer?
Who knew that photographing that compost
could lead to learning about embroidery and the craft
of remaking old clothes? Who knew that the
act of remaking old things would
inspire new ways of thinking
and new ways
the Big Little Things
in your day or your week?
Remember: When you show up for
yourself and those you love,
cool things can
Messages for the Future @ AVA Gallery
AVA's 2019 Summer Juried Exhibition
July 12 - August 21
Monday Morning's Activities (not listed above):
Writing & mailing post cards to daughter and mother-in-law;
Emptying the dehumidifier in my basement studio;
Packing up some college supplies for a friend, who happens to be passing through, to take down to DC so that we won't have so much to manage in August when our son goes to college there;
Managing a broken nail that I got while packing those supplies;
Receiving a packet of pachysandra from a neighbor with whom I had just spoken during my morning walk - - She mentioned she had more pachysandra than she needed; I mentioned I could use some. I thought the plan was for me to go over and harvest it. What a gift!
And it all happened between 9am and 1pm.
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
Spring at last.
I look at the tulips slowly
emerging from the soil and think:
And not just for the
mourning doves mating on our
terrace or the hosta lace appearing from
beneath the snow.
I'm actually going
to have my own show this
fall at AVA Gallery in Lebanon, NH!
There they will be - four years of Compost
Compositions, priced, framed,
curated and composed.
I was unsure
when the exhibit director
suggested I show my work like
photographs are usually seen: printed
on paper, framed and behind glass. I had liked
the immediacy and simplicity of canvas.
But then I saw them framed and
understood. Wow, these
really are cool.
compost is my teacher,
reminding me to be aware of my
assumptions. For me, canvas was the point -
an invitation to literally 're-frame' my beliefs about
art and how things are 'supposed' to work.
More than just immediacy, canvas
seemed simpler, with fewer
materials and less
But then I
handled all the
cardboard and tape
and compared this to the
small packet needed to ship ten
times as many prints on paper that I
could then have framed by local artisans...
and my thinking changed about
the waste and I realized the
in the very idea
of a show
Is it good enough?
Am I good enough for all this?
Then I look at the work and experience
an uncontainable surge
I see that
the canvas is actually
too simple, too much like a poster
I could order from CVS. The paper, frames
and glass give this gorgeous garbage
a presence that it deserves
and I have earned.
Am I allowed
to say such things? Yes.
Because this work celebrates the
convergence of creativity and climate action
and in the process inspires joy and new ways of being
not just for me, but maybe for you as well. We
will only know, though, if it gets out
there...So get ready.
Evelyn R. Swett celebrates
how creativity and climate action converge to inspire joy
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