Sewing rebellion uses recycled materials

sewing up a storm—Guadalupe Vega focuses on sewing and finishing her project during the bi-monthly event. CN/ Steven Adamo

By Steven Adamo

Students gathered Thursday for the Sewing Rebellion at East Los Angeles College, a new bi-weekly event aimed at students who are interested in sewing or are willing to learn. 

The workshop is headed by Dolores Carlos, associate professor of English at ELAC and will continue to meet on the first and third Thursdays at ELAC. 

At the first event, students like Guadalupe Vega from the Puente Club learned how to load the thread into the sewing machine and various tips to help make sewing easier. 

Students are encouraged to bring items they’re working on, or to bring clean, 100% cotton clothes that can be repurposed into other items. Making new items out of older ones, or “up-cycling” as it’s often called, is a big part of the group. 

Carlos found inspiration from the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015, when a three-year-old child named Alan Kurdi’s body was found washed up on a Turkish shore. 

Carlos and a group would meet every month to sew warm hats and other items for the refugees, sending several boxes, though some took many months up to a year to ship. 

The Sewing Rebellion at ELAC was also made possible by Kathleen Smith, a retired LA County public health nurse. Smith provided and refurbished many of the machines used at the event, mostly the Singer Model 99. These machines were built in the 1950s and are all in great condition. One even contained a hand-crank instead of the usual foot pedal. 

patchwork done—Multiple patches afixed to a tote bag, just one of the projects that was done during the event. CN/ Steven Adamo

“We’re trying to save these machines because they have a lot of life left in them and they’re simple to use. And then use that as a community-building tool,” Smith said.

“Part of public health is trying to improve the social connections between people. We call that ‘building social capital.’”

The Sewing Rebellion was started by Carole Frances Lung also known as Frau Fiber in 2006. The motto of the group is “stop shopping, start sewing.” 

The motto is meant to emphasize the mending and reuse of old garments instead of throwing them out and purchasing new ones. 

“I’m hoping students will come to appreciate the idea of recycling, repurposing and making items that are ecologically more sound” Carlos said. 

“There’s never been so many displaced people in the world in human history. When we think of that, it’s overwhelming, but instead of feeling sad, helpless, angry, we can put that energy toward helping a few.” 

The Sewing Rebellion meetings will continue on the first and third Thursdays of every month. For more information, contact Dolores Carlos at

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