Purple circles, neon rectangles, five-pointed stars, and several blue hearts. Cut from scraps of recycled materials and sailcloth fabric, these shapes cover the latest bag crafted in Flowfold’s workspace. A bright, bold tote, unlike any we’ve made before. The design geniuses behind this unique piece? 50 elementary students, ages 5 - 8. Read on for the full story and some inspiration on teaching sustainability and recycled crafts to kids!
Text by Kat Harling
Photos curtesy of Flowfold & Dyer Elementary School
It's a typical frigid January morning in Maine. Young students at South Portland's Dyer Elementary School are snipping recycled sailcloth into shapes as they learn about Flowfold’s production process. The room is littered with strips of fabric, collected by the kindergarteners, who place them proudly on the table. It’s been a day of making things, something these youngsters are fond of, especially when scissors and sewing machines are involved.
Max, Flowfold's head of production, sits in a low chair and demonstrates how the sewing machine feeds thread through the needle and stitches together two pieces of sailcloth. Gathered around her, the kindergarteners watch closely, thrilled when she presses the foot pedal and makes the needle jam rapidly in and out of the fabric.
This group is the last of six classes Max has talked to today, along with Devin, Flowfold’s CEO. It’s our team’s third year in a row visiting Dyer Elementary, as part of the school’s Visiting Makers initiative, which brings students and local creators together to discuss the importance of creativity, craftsmanship, and sustainability. The students are thrilled to learn about combining two of their favorite things: recycling, and arts and crafts. This year Max and Devin talked to kindergarteners, first, and second graders about Flowfold, what we make, and how we make it.
Full of energy, the students are curious and highly engaged during every session. “Who likes to make things?” asks Devin, which garners a chorus of “ME” from all corners of the classroom. Devin shows some wallets and bags, explaining how they are cut and sewn in our workspace by creators like Max and then sold to people all over the world.
The next question, about who likes to recycle and reuse, prompts another, eager response of “ME’s” and “I DO’s”. Even kindergarteners know wasting is bad and the three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle) are good.
“We make things in a way that is good for the planet,” Devin explains, “recycling and reusing fabric so it doesn't go to waste.”
The students understand, and when the fun part comes—cutting fabric into shapes—they keep reminding each other to “use every little piece.”
When the cutting is done, the kindergarteners press their shapes onto a large swath of sailcloth with adhesive, creating a collage of bright, colorful shapes. Max explains how the collage will become a bag, which elicits more excitement and a collective “wow.”
One boy marvels, “it’s so cool you get to do this everyday.”
He’s not wrong. It is cool.
Back at Flowfold, after the day of hands-on learning is done, the arts-and-crafts fun continues. The large pile of shapes is flattened between two sheets of clear sailcloth and sewn into workable pieces. Max cut and sews two large tote bags from this mosaic style fabric, reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock painting.
Our team gathers around this glorious tote, reveling in its unique style. It’s a bold example of what we do best; make great gear with minimal waste. Only this time, we had help from 50 eager youngsters, who were as excited to make things as they were to reuse and recycle.
Their future, like this bag, is bright.
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