Once a month for the past 11 years, Michael Swaine has mended clothing for free on the San Francisco streets.
At first, he did a five-mile route through the city, from dusk to dawn, with a sewing machine covered by an umbrella on wheelbarrow wheels. He loved the route, but it was exhausting and often folks didn't have their torn clothes with them when he rolled by. He eventually settled at the Luggage Store, a nonprofit artist collective in the Tenderloin District, a tougher part of town. He's so committed to the project, the Free Mending Library, that he's only missed three months out of more than 130.
Swaine is an artist, an active member of Futurefarmers (a loose collective of artists, designers, farmers, and computer programmers), and a ceramics instructor. “Most people think of me as a fibers artist. Or a social artist,” he says in a video. “There’s all sorts of strange words [that] people say to me. I try to ignore them.”
I first came across Swaine in Fashion and Sustainability: Design for Change, a wonderful little book about the folks who are rethinking fashion and trying to create a more sustainable clothing industry. Swaine took the time to chat with me about the beautiful things that happen on streets, our throwaway culture, and the strangest thing he's ever fixed.
Q. What exactly is the Free Mending Library?
A. Everyone is welcome. Everyone is welcome to bring something to be mended -- and equally people are welcome to come and help mend. Those are the days that I love the most, when there’s a really wonderful balance -- people coming to help mend, people sitting and telling stories, people bringing things to be mended. It’s nice when all of those things are happening at once.
Q. I love the guy who has six pairs of the same black Levi’s and you've fixed each pair several times. What’s the community like that’s sprung up around this?