PLEASANT HILL -- The middle school-age girls select squares from a donated pile of fabric swatches and start creating patchwork pillows stuffed with scrap plastic salvaged from local Dumpsters.

Sierra Gerard, 12, threads the vintage Singer Fashion Mate 257 and learns to gently put some pressure on the pedals, while sewing a straight line.

The aspiring fashion designer is already well-versed in creating art with recycled parts, threading bracelets from discarded soda pop tops.

She and close friend Chiara Gaspari, who attends Pleasant Hill Middle School, are making pillows as gifts for their moms as a token return for all of the Halloween costumes they've sewn.

"We're still meeting the machines. We're learning as we're going," says Anne Baker, a Martinez resident and recycling coordinator at Republic Services, who is facilitating the eco-sewing class at the Pleasant Hill Library.

"It can be a bit of a brain tease to figure out how this works," says the Baker, of the challenge of putting in a zipper.

It is a dually a creative outlet and a lesson in sustainable living.

All materials have been recycled or donated.

"You can put some of your own spin on this," Baker says to the group, which includes a mother/daughter who've come to find out how to use a machine they recently inherited.

Amye Kirkham, 12, a student at Pleasant Hill Elementary School, is riveted by how she can make the sewing machine needle "go backward and forward."


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The eco-sewing idea was born from the 15 members of the library's Teen Advisory Group that meets to brainstorm ways the library can be ever more relevant to their demographic.

"I'm seeing these kids really invest," adds librarian Heather Cummins. "A lot of collaboration and creating can happen."

Baker's own adolescence was characterized by a go-green awareness and an aesthetic inspired by experiencing "the tail-end of the Grateful Dead era," with people making patchwork dresses at their concerts, and exploring thrift stores, finding "psychedelic to vintage country" fabrics.

Today, Baker, counts colleague R.C. Ferris as among her muses. For more than two decades, Ferris, who cofounded the Dumpster Diversion Project, has had many a reusable item up her sleeve.

The Pacheco resident is among the half-dozen "hard core" members who are continually seeking scrap material that would have been bound for landfill, and instead giving it to artists and teachers for creative reuse.

A truckload of surplus tile recently has helped an artist refurbish some city garbage cans. Carpet remnants are given to preschools and animal shelters. A slew of otherwise-discarded soccer balls are being deflated and shipped to Afghanistan.

Ferris has led craft projects at Earth Day festivities at the John Muir National Historic Site, such as crafting snakes from bottle caps, and has helped children laminate crafted replicas of beavers at the annual Beaver Festival in downtown Martinez, using donate pieces of laminate.

A couple of thousand burlap bags donated by a coffee distributor have been giveaways to every community garden in the area, she says.

"We have so much stuff. You don't have to spend a lot of money.

"You don't have to support the creation of new products. It doesn't take much to find material," Baker says.

If you go
The eco-sewing class continues this month, meeting from 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesdays, Jan. 15, 22 and 29, at the Pleasant Hill Library, 1750 Oak Park Blvd. For more information, or if you are interested in leading an art lesson using recycled materials, call 925-671-5806.