Meryl Prendergast: The artist behind the new exhibit ‘Stitching Earthly Scars’

Courtesy+of+Meryl+Prendergasts+Instagram.

Courtesy of Meryl Prendergast’s Instagram.

By Hadera McKay, Opinion Editor

English indie-pop singer-songwriter Dodie is seen wearing Northeastern University student Meryl Prendergast’s clothing collection, “Stitching Earthly Scars,” on a late night of February this year

Dodie took to the stage for another performance on her Build a Problem tour, this time in Silver Springs, Maryland. The singer sported flowy wide leg pants made from sustainable fabric, printed with photos of an Arizona tree burnt by a forest fire with a dark green overlay. 

The ensemble was part of 23-year-old Prendergast’s sustainably made clothing collection and multimedia exhibition. A cropped green blazer paired with the pants, with the bagginess on Dodie creating the perfect blend of style and comfort. 

The outfit had been designed nearly two years earlier, made from sustainable pieces that blend cuteness, color, and references from American landscapes. Prendergast’s “Stitching Earthly Scars” works to tell the story of climate change through clothing. The collection is at the Distillery Gallery at 516 E 2nd St in South Boston from now until April 29. 

The project began with Prendergast’s deep passion for cute, affordable, and sustainable clothing. 

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“I was really frustrated that when I went to buy clothes, they were very bad for the environment,” Prendergast said. “All the sustainable clothing was ugly and expensive. I wanted to figure out how to make sustainable clothing that was potentially not that expensive, but was also cool.”   

After teaching herself how to sew during the initial March 2020 COVID-19 quarantine, Prendergast set out to do just that. 

“I knew the best way for me to do this, if I was going to undertake this, would be to go and actually look at these places,” she said. 

In November 2020, Prendergast renovated a pink RV she fondly named Mable, and began a road trip across the U.S. from her home in Canton, Massachusetts. In her safe and secluded RV, she traveled during the first year of the pandemic. Prendergast took photos and collected data from the many diverse landscapes of the U.S., which she eventually used to create the print patterns for her collection and current exhibition.

Growing up, Prendergast never wanted to be just one thing, and that is reflected in her art.

“When you’re younger, there’s not a lot of opportunities for unconventional art,” Prendergast said. “You have art class and that’s about it. Unless you dance, which I never did, there’s very few avenues for art.” 

As Prendergast matured, she recognized the limited avenues for alternative forms of art and creativity in her early schooling, causing her to lean into performance theater as a form of creation. 

Both Prendergast and her younger sister, Lydia, took up performance theater, which later became the birthplace for their sewing education for theater costuming. 

“My mom has been sewing and doing costumes for our whole lives,” Lydia said. “We kind of saw that from a young age. I guess in that way, she was kind of a role model for us. She showed us all of the amazing ways you could create something out of nothing.” 

Now a fifth-year theater major with minors in global fashion studies and photojournalism, Prendergast has found a way to unite this passion for unconventional art, sewing, and clothing in her studies and “Stitching Earthly Scars.” 

Along with selling clothing and custom decorative resin records on her shop to invest in the project, Prendergrast applied for a plethora of creative grants offered by Northeastern. All of this helped her fund her months-long trip documenting the various effects of climate change. 

Prendergast opted not to design pieces while she was on the road, but to give herself time to observe and process these environments. 

“I took my time going across the country and visited all these places,” she said. “I talked to local people about where they lived and how they felt about it.”

When Prendergast returned home, she was expected to submit a progress report under stipulation of the grant money she had received. Using inspiration from the photos and ideas that had been brewing in her head from the trip, Prendergast designed the clothing collection for submission in four days.

“I designed four mini collections that kind of flow into each other based on the ocean, the forests, the grasslands, and the desert,” she said. 

However, the traveling, documenting, and art-making process was not all butterflies and rainbows. 

“It was rough,” she said. “Art-making is rough, sometimes. Traveling in an old RV is rough. I broke down so many times.” 

Prendergast also occasionally went without water in an effort to not burst frozen pipes and waste her RV septic tank. This, paired with the struggles of designing the collection, had her ready to call it quits. The encouragement of a university seminar for these outside, university-funded projects had Prendergast getting back on the horse and ultimately hand-crafting all of the clothing. 

Prendergast used deadstock fabric, which is slated to be thrown away in landfill, from a Massachusetts based fabric company called Sewphisticated. She also used her own sustainably printed photos on textile from the company Contrado—which uses plant-based material, less water for its dying processes, and pays its garment workers living wages. 

Prendergast sewed from 6 a.m. to midnight every day for four weeks, even going so far as to sew on the road during her second road trip, where she invited friends to model the clothes in locations that ranged from the desert to the Colorado Mountains. 

Prendergast’s family witnessed the hard work that went into her project and supported her through it all. 

“[Meryl] was stressed a lot of the time, especially as it got closer to her going on her road trip and taking photographs of the outfits,” Lydia said. “A lot of her fabrics got delayed because they were from ethical companies, so she couldn’t do a lot of that stuff until those things arrived. I just remember feeling so bad for her because she had so much going on, but at the same time, I was still really proud of her for being able to handle it well.”

Prendergast finished the pieces in the summer of last year, then got to work finding an exhibition space for the collection, an endeavor made more difficult by COVID-19 and the daunting expense of exhibition spaces. 

Nevertheless, Prendergast persevered. She spent a month searching for affordable exhibition spaces while selling pieces in her small business to fund the space itself. In early February, Prendergast finally found a space at the Distillery Gallery, and continued to work and create art for funding.

In the midst of all of this, Dodie opened a contest for local designers to submit their pieces for her to wear in each city on her upcoming tour. Prendergast’s designs were selected for the Boston show, but due to double-booking, her designs were rescheduled for the Washington, D.C. show. Prendergast accepted and flew out to dress Dodie for the show at the end of this past February.

Prendergast described the experience as almost surreal. 

“It was crazy because I had been listening to her for 10 years, so it was so strange to be like, you are right there,” she said.

Prendergast valued the experience of dressing the singer, and took it as an opportunity to learn. 

“I’ve gotten to meet a lot of artists in the last couple of years,” Prendergast said. “It’s definitely opened my eyes to the opportunity to just contact tour managers and say ‘Oh, I have this garment, would your artist like to wear it?’” 

Prendergast has taken much of the experience of funding, designing, and exhibiting the process of “Stitching Earthly Scars” as a method of working through her frustrations and education. In terms of audience reception, Prendergast hopes to be a mouthpiece for the larger issues and activism of climate change. 

“There’s a lot of organizations doing amazing work, doing more than what I’m doing,” Prendergast said. “I mainly just want to be a messenger in that I get people’s attention to these issues and then direct them to places where they can actually help.” 

She will have QR-codes next to every piece in her gallery, directing audience members to helpful organizations to donate and gather information on climate change inequity. 

This summer, Prendergast has plans to travel to Europe and Asia, and give herself time to think about what she wants out of life. 

“I went into college knowing exactly what I wanted, but then the world went to shit, and everything is different now,” she said. “For the first time, I’m going to be restful and make art for me, and hopefully meet other artists living in unique ways.”

Meryl Prendergast’s exhibition is now open at the Distillery Gallery until April 29. You can find more information at the exhibition’s Instagram account @stitchingearthlyscars or her Instagram @merylprendergast.