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SewGreen Helps Youth Build Skills and Success

Mar 06, 2014
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SewGreen's resale store offers an eclectic stock of vintage and contemporary fabrics and notions.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if there was a fabric store in your town stocked entirely with quality, well-priced vintage materials, offering sewing classes for kids and adults, and also able to fix your well-loved old sewing machine? SewGreen, a not-for-profit, largely volunteer-based reuse and community education program in Ithaca, New York, accepts donations of sewing and knitting materials, resells them, and uses the proceeds to help support its youth sewing program.

SewGreen’s mission is to mainstream the concept of sustainability in everyday practice; empower youth by helping them develop lifetime skills; and provide a welcoming learning environment for children, teens, and adults. It fills a role that is not provided by the local government or schools, according to SewGreen coordinator Wendy Skinner: landfill diversion (preventing 22 tons of materials from entering landfills in 2013) and sewing education.

Occupying four storefronts in an historic building in downtown Ithaca, SewGreen encompasses a reuse shop where yarns, fabrics, notions, and sewing tools are sold, as well as a sewing classroom, a sewing machine tune-up shop, and a studio for the organization’s youth fashion apprenticeship program. The shop is close to public transportation and is within walking distance of the local high school and inner city neighborhoods, making it accessible to kids and teens who are most in need of its services.

All of SewGreen’s activities revolve around education, particularly for youth. “During the school year, about 30 third- to fifth-graders, 12 middle-schoolers, and 12 teens come to weekly classes; and about one in six is a boy,” says Wendy. “In the summer, we teach about 100 [day] campers.”

The most important aspect of SewGreen’s educational mission is its for-youth apprenticeships and jobs program for ages 14 to 21 (and not yet in college). Through these apprenticeships, young people gain lifetime skills, work towards future design and fashion careers, develop leadership qualities, and take full advantage of the safe haven that SewGreen provides for them to be creative and express themselves. Apprenticeships for the past three years served about 15 youth each school semester. SewGreen also offers internships for college students.

SewGreen’s success–in diverting materials from landfills, fostering interest in reuse, and educating the next generation of home sewers and sewing professionals–makes it a viable model for anyone wishing to create a similar organization elsewhere.

“The SewGreen model is replicable, and needed,” says Wendy. “We often hear from people who live in other communities that they wish something like this existed where they live.”

To learn more about SewGreen, visit SewGreen.org.

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  1. User avater UmmiG March 18th

    Great ideas about the high schools and church's .

  2. undecided March 16th

    I take my fabric scraps to our local highschool for their hom-ec and art departments. The drama department also welcomes yardage for costumes. A local nursing home is happy to receive yarn for their residents who knit and crochet.

  3. nu2digi March 16th

    UmmiG, I, too, live in the Chicago area, actually the suburbs, and have fabric to donate. I do remember a priest from Good Shepherd parish in Little Village, Chicago,((773- 762-2322) speaking at our church one time wherein he said his parish was teaching young Latino girls how to sew. Perhaps you could work with them in some capacity to fulfill your mission.

  4. User avater UmmiG March 16th

    I'll keep all posted on our progress

  5. user-879958 March 14th

    For Gayedee Hi I am from Worcester UK so near to Birmingham. I use the Worcester Resource Center for recycled and industry off cut fabrics for craft work. There are many Resource Centers in the UK and must be one closer to you.
    This site is great for ideas and techniques but many types of 'fixings' are hard to find in the UK. Happy Sewing. Pam

  6. User avater eatsallinsects March 13th

    Oh, how I wish we had something similar to this in Dallas, TX!
    I have so much fabric and yarn I want to give away to a deserving organization, knowing that it will be appreciated!

  7. User avater Gayedee March 12th

    Hi, I am the UK and am very interested in your project. I have recently come to live on the outer edge of Birmingham and it seems there is no sewing outlet around and I am sure it is needed. Love recycling & do a lot of it myself ..I also have a lot of fabric that I probably will not use but don't want to landfill! Gayedee

  8. user-3045994 March 12th

    Of all the cities... We are in the process of setting up a sort of sewing co.-op in the city of Chicago to teach anyone who wants to learn sewing or maybe just needs access to a machine/ advice. One of the components was a receptatory ( spelling?) for fabric and general supplies to be donated. What part of Chicagoland are you in?

  9. KharminJ March 11th

    This wonderful, Stephani!
    I only wish they were *much* closer (I'm in suburban Chicago, and have probably a ton - truly - of fabric to divest. Not going to use it, despite my best intentions. I can't store it or haul it around anymore...)
    If anyone knows of a similar organization in Chicagoland, please mention it here... whenever you see this!

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