Michael Swaine darns at the Alexandra Palace bus-stop, October 2008. Photo by Rob Kennard.
This was an important project, in two ways. It was the first for which I received direct Arts Council England support, rather than via an organisation (although it was a feature at 2008 The Knitting and Stitching Show, and the then director Andrew Salmon had initiated the project). But more importantly it was the first time I worked with an artist who was directly concerned about repair and sustainability, through both stitch and community engagement, themes which have recurred in my practice ever since.
Michael Swaine is an American artist who trained in and still teaches in ceramics and other materials (first at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, more latterly at University of Washington). He is also part of artist-activist collective Futurefarmers, and has a long standing project “Reap What You Sew/Free Mending Library” where he mends and makes on city streets, as an act of social engagement. There have been several films about his project, one of which, by Andrew Galli, can be seen here.
In 2008 we brought Michael to London for his project ‘Door to Door Darning’, where he stayed with different hosts each night and traveled by foot and public transport with a box of mending tools, engaging with different communities and knocking on strangers’ doors to see who still mend their socks. He darned in a community centre, a shop, a children’s nursery and at least one pub, as well at at the Crafts Council’s Origin craft fair, and ended up in a four day mini-residency at The Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace in London. In just 10 days over 700 people filled his questionnaire about mending, and thousands more saw him at work.
Michael is a very wonderful human being, as well as a talented artist and teacher, and I very much hope we will work together again one day.
Image: Michael talks darning with furniture-maker David Gates at Origin 2008.