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The Man Who Sews

02 January, 2012
Michael Swaine sews on the streets of San Francisco.
Michael Swaine sews on the streets of San Francisco.

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Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight. I'm Ryan Geertsma.

Voice 2

And I'm Robin Basselin. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1

The quiet man comes here on the fifteenth day of every month. He pushes a two wheeled cart into this poor area of San Francisco in the United States. Attached to the man's cart is a sewing machine. The man uses the sewing machine to mend, or repair, torn clothing. He invites people to bring him clothes that need to be mended. He fixes the clothes for free. People bring trousers, shirts or coats to be fixed. They come because they want the man to mend their clothes. However, often, they also come to visit the man and to talk to him about their lives or current problems. The man's name is Michael Swaine. Michael sees his work as a way to mend clothes and mend lives. Today's program is about Michael Swaine.

Voice 2

Michael Swaine is an American artist. He trained to be an artist at schools in two large cities in the United States - New York and Chicago. In 2001, another art school in San Francisco invited him to take part in an art show. This art show would present projects about kindness and giving. The show was called 'the Generosity Project'. Michael accepted the invitation.

Voice 1

For his project, Michael built a small cart. It is just a box on wheels, like the cart used by people who sell fruit or other food in the street. On the cart he attached a foot operated sewing machine. He named his art project "Reap What You Sew." This name uses a play on words - it uses the fact that two different words sound the same. "Reap what you sow" is a common English saying. It means that a person harvests in return what they plant or "sow" in the world. If a person plants goodness and kindness, they will receive kindness in return. However, for his project name, Michael changed one of the original words in the saying. He replaced the word sow – s-O-w, which means to plant seeds in the ground, with the word sew – s-E-w, which means to mend torn clothing.

Voice 2

For a week he pushed his cart through the streets of San Francisco. He stopped to mend clothes for poor and homeless people. But he also stopped to help wealthy or famous people. For everyone he met, Michael fixed any clothes they brought to him. And he did it for free.

Voice 1

In the United States, it is rare to see a person mending clothes in a public area. People who sew or mend work at home or at a sewing store. Many people noticed Michael's sewing cart. And many people wondered why he was there.

Voice 2

Over time, people began stopping at Michael's cart with small clothing emergencies. Some people had a tear or a hole in their clothes. Other people were missing a button to keep their clothing closed. Many people stopped to use Michael's sewing services. However, some people began stopping just to talk to Michael. Many people liked his kindness and the way he worked for people in need.

Voice 1

Michael recognized that something important was beginning to happen. People were noticing his acts of kindness. Many people wondered why he was there. Many were happy that he cared for their needs. Michael's project was also noticed by news organizations. A film-maker filmed him as he mended clothes for people. And a writer for the Financial Times asked Michael to tell his story. Michael said:

Voice 3

"For a week, I pushed the cart through the city. Added to the normal clothes that people asked me to mend, I fixed a knee pad for a dancer and a sleeping bag for a homeless man. And I talked to them. It turned out that sewing was the perfect starting point for talking to each other."

Voice 2

A local arts organization asked Michael to set up his sewing cart near their building. The organization is in a bad area of the city. The area has problems related to drugs, sex workers, and street crime. But the area is also famous for its arts community and for a busy night-life.

Voice 1

The people of the community slowly began to trust Michael. Many people came, especially poor or homeless people. They came to see Michael at work. They brought clothes that needed to be mended. They were happy for his free help. They were also happy to have someone listen to their life stories and understand their problems. And some people whom Michael had helped began to give back. Some shared food with him, or brought him water or coffee to drink. One person gave him an umbrella to protect him from sun and rain while he worked.

Voice 2

Michael could not work every day for free. He had other art projects that he needed to work on. However, he enjoyed his work with the sewing cart. So, he decided to continue when he could. Michael now appears with his cart only on the 15th day of every month. Although he now sews only one day a month, he has kept the project going for nine years.

Voice 1

Michael saw how necessary it was for street people to have someone to talk to. He told the Financial Times Reporter:

Voice 3

"I would not have kept up with this project for so many years if it was not for the people. Mending time is story time. It is amazing how many honest talks I have had with people who would normally just walk on by: a young street person with a broken back-pack, a man with the coat of his best friend who had died, a woman with a pregnant daughter who needed a coat fixed to fit her growing body."

Voice 2

Artists often want people to recognize their art. People of the streets reacted to Michael's art in ways that he did not expect. But he was pleased with the people's reactions. He said this to the reporter:

Voice 3

"I started my mending as an art project, but today it is something different. My cart has created a little community. It has been one of these beautiful little events that helped me understand that people are alike - we are all "from the same thread".

Voice 1

All of us know that acts of kindness are important to society and to the whole world. That is the big picture. But how can one person make a difference? Michael Swaine found a way in his community. Start with simple acts. Be there for people. Give them time. Listen to them. For Michael, that was how strangers became friends.

Voice 2

The writer of this program was Jeff Carpenter. The producer was Mark Drenth. The voices you heard were from the United States. All quotes were adapted and voiced by Spotlight. You can find this program and others on our website at This program is called "The Man Who Sews." We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye!


duong uyen

duong uyen said on October 25, 2010

this lesson is very interesting and meaning.i like it very much. i think that the lesson is more vivid if there are many pictures.the man in this lesson is very good nice.his act is admirable .if only there are more nice people like him.


kosta67 said on October 27, 2010

Thank you very much for your very interesting programs, they helped me learn English !


what said on October 27, 2010

Dear Spotlight,
MY name is Nguyen Trong Hong,
I am very like this web, it is help me about speaking and listening
I want to be improverment my skill English, can you help me?
My grammer is very bad!!!


Narath said on January 20, 2012

My lesson learn in this topic is that I should take time even though a little bit to participate in social activities to be one part of helping the whole world because there are a lot of people are waiting helping from us .Cambodia

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