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September 3, 2016

Interpreter Audrey Weber crochets useful items from Earth Days stash

Audrey Weber may be one of the few people who takes delight in old T-shirts just so she can tear them up.

Weber, interpreter for Access Services at Johnson County Community College, makes rugs, purses and bags from strips of material. Soon she’ll be using material from shirts donated by JCCC students and employees to create useful one-of-a-kind items.

Getting material from clothing swap

As part of Earth Days, celebrated April 15 to 23, the JCCC community was invited to participate in a clothing swap as yet another way to recycle.

It worked like this: if you brought in a clothing item, you could take home a different clothing item. No fees were charged, unless you didn’t have an item for trade, and the Student Environmental Alliance helped organize, fold, and hang the clothes with help from interns in the Center for Sustainability.

The clothing swap’s inventory took over the office of Kristy Howell, sustainability education and engagement coordinator. Hundreds of items hung on clothing racks in the hall outside.

“The clothing swap is something we’ve done very well for several years. It’s a great opportunity for our campus community to keep clothes from landfill and for our students to find lots of interview-appropriate clothing as they end the semester,” Howell said.

When the swap ended, Howell had over a dozen bags of clothing left over. She could have donated it to charity – and she did – but she saved piles of worn tees for Weber.

Taking reuse seriously

Weber said many people donate clothing to charity, thinking someone will buy it and wear it. But unless it’s in pristine condition, it’s more likely to be sold by the pound to wholesalers and recyclers.

“A lot of people think, ‘Oh, I’ll just donate this,’ but the charities get so many,” Weber said. At one thrift store Weber visited, piles of clothes were heaped into the garbage dumpster. “The store will remain nameless, but it broke my heart to see that.”

Weber grew up in a family that valued reuse. She made her son a T-shirt quilt (where shirt fronts form the quilt blocks) and had all the remaining T-shirt material left over.

Inspiration came from Weber’s mother, who crocheted a room-sized rug 40 years ago that remains in their vacation home to this day. 

So for Christmas 2014, Weber’s son received his T-shirt quilt, and for Christmas 2015, he got a colorful crocheted rug made from the T-shirt remainders.

“We truly believe in that saying, ‘Use every bit of the buffalo,’” Weber said.

Making meow mats, puppy pads

Weber’s not willing to throw out the sleeves (which are harder to cut) or the screen-printing portion (which can leave strange flecks of color in the finished product), so she searched for less discriminating customers.

“I was talking to a friend of mine who volunteers at an animal shelter, and she said they always need blankets and towels, stuff that’s easy to wash,” she said. “So I’m going to use those pieces to make small rugs for the shelter. The animals don’t care what the rug looks like.”

A wire shelving unit in her bedroom holds T-shirts sorted by color. Some of those shirts are JCCC T-shirts with the old logo (since a new version with a new color palette was adopted in 2012.) Pieces of that JCCC history will be reused for whatever Weber creates.