my sister and I
pledged to not give each
other presents on birthdays and at
holidays. We are allowed, however, to give
each other this or that when the mood feels right. In late
2018, she sent me this bracelet she had woven with, among other
fibers, coffee filters. Who knew that coffee filters would become one of
her muses throughout 2019 and into 2020? It made sense, then,
that when I went to visit her a few weeks ago, I would
bring more filters from my compost collection
collaboration with Umpleby's Cafe
in Hanover, NH.
when I came to
her studio a few days
after arriving and found that
she had already begun transforming
those filters into fiber, testing the differences
between the Umpleby's filters and
others she receives from
friends near and far.
It was also
no surprise that
within a few days, she
had given me a copy of her
design for A Sweater Somewhat Slanted
and had taken me to The Yarn
Underground in Moscow,
ID to find just the
all the beautiful
wool at the yarn store,
I kept returning to this particular
pinky, reddy, orangy shade with a hint
of yellow mixed in. When I started knitting the
first few rows, I realized that this was uncannily similar
to the colors of two childhood sweaters -
one made by my grandmother in
1972 and another by my
mother in 1974.
It's a bit
neither my mother
nor my grandmother was
a big knitter. It's also odd that
with all my purges and clean-outs,
I had saved these two sweaters and had
actually just taken them out of
storage a few days before
going to Idaho. Clearly
I was not in charge
of my color
a week, we
knit, together and
apart. I discovered that my
hands remembered how to create
a sweater out of wool and that I could
even read and knit at the same time. I had seen
Sarah doing this and thought it was one of
her superpowers, but it turns out it's
not so hard when you're working
with a simple yet elegant
pattern like the ones
I love that
our relationship is no
longer about who's thinner or
prettier or more accomplished. Both in
our 50's (for a few more months), we now explore
our creative lives and the world in general
together. We can finally admire our
differences and celebrate
all that we share.
allowed her superpowers
to evolve over the past decades.
It's taken me a bit longer to discover mine,
and to let them flourish. I love that I embroidered my
first stitch at the same time she sent me that coffee filter bracelet.
It was like a subversive invitation to just go for it, whatever
'it' might be. And here we are, more than a year
later, and I've embroidered an entire dress
and she is working on her second
knitted coffee filter bag.
neither one of us
knows where our respective
superpowers will take us. We do know,
however, that when the shit hits the fan and life
throws us curve balls, we will harness our
gifts & create beauty out of
are at hand.
“Whatever our gift,
we are called to give it and
to dance for the renewal of the world.
In return for the privilege
- Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
home & am thrilled
to snuggle with my dog and
to hang out with my beautiful compost.
That said, nothing can replace how I feel when
I am with Sarah. I wonder what gifts we will unwittingly
exchange next? You can be sure, though, that
salvaged coffee filters will be part of
the mix and that we will be
making it all up
as we go.
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
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.
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
the light shine!
It's daylight savings time.
And maybe, just maybe, the snow
will melt by April and the
will be above
Green New Deal, Part 2,
I get real about our energy conservation
at home. And since we're talking
about light, I thought I'd
We have lots
of them - 67 in fact -
that are essential sources of
light and stunning ways to frame
views of our garden and Vermont. But
in terms of energy, even our 15
year old double-paned
Over the years,
we have slowly added
insulated and other shades to
help keep the house warm in winter
and cool in summer. Some are even color
coordinated, while others are thin,
cheap roll-ups. We even
have plastic in the
have a hodge-podge.
Of course, my favorites are the
ones I made when first married in 1992 and
the re-used ones from my grandmother's house that
I found in her attic when she died and then
hung in our living room a decade
ago - - just to try
I've been thinking
about the idea of 'window
dressing,' of giving a superficial, but
misleading impression. Most of the 1930's New
Deal murals I studied in college (see last week's blog
post, My Green New Deal, Part 1) were colorful
celebrations of the American Dream,
a dream that for millions of
people at that time
was a broken
I feel surrounded by
broken promises - - The dream
of a house, but no one tells you how much
money it takes to maintain it; The dream of filling the
house with things you need and love, but no advertisement
reveals the true cost and impact of those objects.
So now we have ten years to adapt to
the realities caused by our
Ok. That is way
too heavy and way too
guilt-ridden for my tastes. So
let's go back to light, color, texture
and the glorious convergence of creativity
and climate action. I love this time of year. It's still
cold and inside projects still beckon, like
making the curtains in my studio
warmer by sewing old linen
napkins onto them...
our family's Green New
Deal. We have a decade to make
the rest of our 67 windows as energy efficient
as they can be. To achieve that goal, we will take stock
of what needs to be done, prioritize and make a
plan. For now, though, I will continue to
appreciate this crazy mix of window
'dressings' that continue to
keep us warm and I will
keep noticing the
Happy New Year!
but I decided to embroider
excerpts from Walt Whitman's
poem "This Compost." While he may
have written about dead corpses following
the American Civil War, I re-imagined
his words and considered waste
instead, and the power of
the earth to renew
We have that
same power. Every
January 1st to begin again.
Whitman's is an optimistic poem
reflecting our innate American optimism.
I celebrate this poem not just because
2019 is the 200th anniversary of
Whitman's birth, but also
because his message
is more important
now than ever.
stitches might be uneven
and the text written on an old pillowcase
may be awkward, but seen from afar, the colors
are bright, cheerful and make me want
to smile. Optimism is all I know.
So here we come 2019,
on stitch at a time...
my online climate
'coaching' class and am
petrified. What if no one is
interested or needs what I have
to offer? But I show up,
one week, one stitch
at a time and
know it is
I came home
from Mexico to find
that my anxious dog had
peed all over the sheepskin rug
I stand on to write these blog posts.
Frustrated? You bet. But what's a gal to do?
A few squirts of soap, some aggressive
massaging of the fleece and some
patience while it dried was all
that was needed. This is
what I tell myself.
New Year. New
So here we are.
It's 2019. The UN Climate
Report says we have twelve years.
Our job is to show up, support each other and
get the job done. For me, that involves
persistence and patience and a
whole lot of bravery as
I creatively try new
"Behold this Compost! behold it well!
Celebrated in the UK. For
most people it means a day to hang
out with family, eat leftovers and enjoy gifts
given and received. But historically, it was also a day
to give "Christmas Boxes" to the servants, who would go home
and celebrate Christmas with their own families after
having cared for you on the 25th.
Or, perhaps the
term 'Boxing Day' comes
from the nautical tradition whereby
great sailing ships carried a sealed box of money
for good luck which, upon return, would be given to a priest
who would distribute the money to those in
need on the day after Christmas.
Here in New England,
we get back to work - - there is
no "Bank Holiday" for us. But over the past
decade, I have created my own "Boxing Day" tradition.
Photographs that are labels on Christmas Day, or beautiful holiday cards
become decorations on a box the next. And all that wrapping
paper gets a longer life, glued to a sneaker
box or packing box and used
year after year.
It started with
a desire to save paper and
reduce holiday waste. But over time,
it became something more - - A kind of compulsion
to fix what I had using materials at hand -
not just cards and paper,
but fabric as well.
One year, I redid
our recycling container.
The next, I created boxes to use
for grocery shopping. They were so admired
at our food co-op, I made some as gifts
for the clerks. Apparently one of
the boxes is now the bed
for a very happy cat.
What makes me happiest,
is that my son and daughter love to
find their custom gift boxes under the tree.
No need for labels. And certainly no
need for new wrapping paper.
It's become a tradition - -
own Boxing Day.
To me, that's what makes our
current time so inspiring. There are opportunities
for the creative re-making of the world as we know it.
As I discovered with a bunch of cards, paper
and fabric, beauty is everywhere.
What might you create or
discover this last
The Spruce: What is Boxing Day?
Evelyn R. Swett celebrates
how creativity and climate action converge to inspire transformation and joy.
is a bi-weekly viewsletter that hopefully inspires joy & transformation. It will include links to recent blog posts, updates about my work, and, best of all, inspirational action prompts for you to explore your creativity and passion for the world you love. Oh, and I promise I won't share your information (that would be so uncool) and I don't actually do promotions, but that text is required.