Written by Haley Brucato
Photos by Gil Riego Jr.
Michael Swaine sits behind an unusual looking cart in the middle of the sidewalk, as he mends clothing for free every month in a district of San Francisco that needs the most mending of all: the Tenderloin. With his brightly striped sweater that hangs loosely over a neon green shirt and brown pants, his artsy persona shines through kind eyes that hide behind long grayish brown hair and an unshaven beard. Not only is his style quirky, but so is his wooden cart on wheels. It is complete with a vintage sewing machine attached precariously to the top, while a growing pile of jeans, shirts, sweaters and jackets hang over the edge, and await his expertise.
The 40-year-old mends for the people on the 15th of every month – his cart has a permanent home in the crime ridden neighborhood.
“My friend Manna and I were walking around and we saw an old, empty lot,” recounts Swaine. “She asked me if I could do anything I wanted in that empty lot, what would it be? And so I told her, I’d stick my old sewing machine in the center of it and mend things for people.”
His pride and joy – a century-old sewing machine – was left on the side of Grove street and rescued by Swaine, it was soon brought back to life. With money earned from an art show at The Luggage Store, a non-profit artist run multidisciplinary arts organization, Swaine bought wheelbarrow wheels and built his trademark wooden cart.