Long Thread Podcast: Sarah Swett, Fiber Artist & Adventurer

Season 7, Episode 3: With her playful approach to life and textiles, Sarah Swett discovers her passions for nature and fiber, time and again.

Anne Merrow Jul 1, 2023 - 5 min read

Long Thread Podcast: Sarah Swett, Fiber Artist & Adventurer Primary Image

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Don't try to put Sarah Swett in a box—if you do, she might just weave a bag on it.

Growing up on the East Coast, Sarah found herself more enchanted with knitting sweaters from farm yarn than the traditional college track. She spent her young adulthood as a ranch hand and cook in Montana and Idaho, where she brought her yarn in by pack mule. She fell in love with the Palouse region of western Idaho for its rolling hills and agricultural bounty, settled there, and began to explore the possibilities of home. She is as inspired by the sweeping landscape as by the tiny discoveries of making cordage from milkweed and dandelion she finds in her garden.

Small tapestry on the loom with two houses Sarah's fringeless tapestry series often incorporates cordage and coffee-filter yarn in the weft and features little woven houses. The slits in the tapestry allow light to shine through. Photo by Sarah Swett

When Melanie Falick featured Sarah in her 1996 book Knitting in America, she was equally enchanted with knitting, spinning, and weaving; she also pursues stitching and dyeing. Aside from a few years when injury kept her from knitting, it has been a constant companion, and she handspins nearly all of the yarn she uses for both knitting and weaving. But Sarah's most important craft is fiber play: weaving grocery lists into monumental tapestries, weaving iris-leaf cordage into tiny fringeless tapestry book covers, creating balanced plain-weave strips on backstrap looms, and sketching comics of a squirrel and crow weaving those bags around cardboard boxes.

Cardboard box covered in warp with tapestry weaving in progress

"When is a box not a box?" asked Sarah Swett in her Winter 1997 article in Spin Off. "When it's a loom. Not just any loom, however; a box can be a portable, cheap, three-dimensional, endlessly variable loom." Photo by Sarah Swett

Sarah's tapestries have appeared in dozens of exhibitions, but she prefers not to stray far from home herself. Her Substack newsletter gives readers a weekly peek into her intriguing imagined and real worlds. What she most hopes to share, though, is not her playful approach to her life and art, but permission for others to explore their own. "I would like everyone to be enchanted by their life," she says, "and I would like them to be enchanted by what they're enchanted by—not what I'm enchanted by."

It hardly seems possible not to be enchanted by Sarah's work, even if it ultimately inspires us just to get out and play.

Tapestry, mainly red and blue, with three women riding spindles like broomsticks "Three of Spinsters." 1996. 60" X 48" (152 X 122 cm). One of Sarah's handspun, hand-dyed wool tapestries, this piece depicts the artist and two of her handspinning friends. Photo courtesy of Sarah Swett

This episode is brought to you by:

TreenwaySilks logo

Treenway Silks is where weavers, spinners, knitters and stitchers find the silk they love. Select from the largest variety of silk spinning fibers, silk yarn, and silk threads & ribbons at TreenwaySilks.com. You'll discover a rainbow of colors, thoughtfully hand-dyed in Colorado. Love natural? Treenway's array of wild silks provide choices beyond white.

If you love silk, you'll love Treenway Silks, where superior quality and customer service are guaranteed.

Peters Valley School of Craft logo

Peters Valley School of Craft enriches lives through the learning, appreciation and practice of fine craft. For more than 50 years, accomplished artists and students have come together in community at our craft school for powerful creativity and joyous life-long learning in the beautiful Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

We are firmly dedicated to inclusion, diversity, equity, and access through all of our programs. We value and welcome the experienced professional artist, the new learner, the collector—and everyone in between who can be touched by the power of craft.

Visit petersvalley.org to start your journey today!

Sarah Swett's website
The Gusset is Sarah's weekly Substack newsletter
Fringeless: Four Selvedge Warping, Sarah's class with Rebecca Mezoff
Wild Textiles by Alice Fox
Lurie-Larochette Tapestries
Velma Bolyard, paper textile artist
Susan Martin Maffei, tapestry artist
Michael Rohde, tapestry artist
Archie Brennan: Tapestry as Modern Art
Melanie Falick discusses Kids Weaving and Knitting in America in Season 6 of the Long Thread Podcast
Sarah's fully illustrated guides range from storytelling to practical design direction