There’s a fabulous little workshop in Bellingham where rags are turned to riches and clothing and textiles are recycled, reused and kept out of the landfill.
Ragfinery was born in 2014 after the success of its sister program, Appliance Depot, founded by ReUse Works. Appliance Depot, which picks up old appliances and turns them into workable machines ready for a new life, was looking to expand its model and create more jobs from items that would otherwise be wasted. Textile waste seemed a natural fit.
Every month the staff at Ragfinery, located at 1421 N. Forest Street, processes 15,000 lbs. of textiles comprised of community donations and items that Bellingham consignment store Labels is not able to sell.
“We only accept wearable garments,” says Kate Stragis, program manager at the organization. “We try to extend the life of our garments and educate people about consumer choice when it comes to buying second hand clothing, but anything we can’t use or sell, we give to the Northwest Center in Seattle.”
Ragfinery keeps 30-to-50 percent of its donations. Items in perfect shape are sold in the front of the store shop, where there’s lots of apparel with Eileen Fischer labels – some of it brand new.
“We have an agreement with Seattle-based retailer Eileen Fischer where they give us clothing from their not-quite-perfect line, or their ‘renew’ line,” Stragis explains. Sometimes it’s a new piece of clothing with a slight imperfection, other times it’s second-hand clothes that are still in good shape. The store also sells fabrics, yarn, sewing notions, quilting materials, vintage patterns, hand-made upcycled items created by local artisans and a broad array of notions useful to anyone with an interest in sewing.
Other donated items that are still usable are relegated to the ‘upcycle’ section near the back of the store, where they’re turned into hair scrunchies, craft kits or other innovative, useful items aimed at keeping textiles out of the landfill. “We’ve been doing a lot with denim lately,” notes Stragis. “We tend to put our brains together to figure out a new use for an old item.”
The “we” she’s referring to is the mix of staff and volunteers, instructors, trainees and folks just popping in because they’re interested in sewing.
“Anyone that comes in here and has an interest in sewing, we try to help them figure out how to do that,” she says. “There are lots of opportunities to learn.” Those opportunities include regular classes in a fully equipped classroom kitted out with sewing machines, sewing tools, a long, large table and all the sewing notions you could possibly dream of.
There are workshops in saschiko mending, no-sew braided rugs, weaving classes on gorgeous wooden looms, mending workshops and a three-part upcycle sewing class where attendees are taught basic sewing skills.
Upcoming classes include the basics of knitting, needle felted mending, weaving table runners, making fingerless gloves, the ancient craft of drop spindle spinning Some are free, others are available for a small cost and most classes are held on weekends or after hours to accommodate work schedules.
“When people see how easy it is to make or fix something, they love it. Usually they come in thinking sewing will be a lot harder than it actually is,” Stragis says.
Each month there’s a drop-in mending class where anyone can bring in a garment or textile that needs fixing. There are sewing machines at-the-ready, patching materials and lots of fabric and notions available for sale at minimal prices. This is emphatically a resource for the community, a place where young and old can commune over the gentle art of sewing, learn new techniques and grow their skills in a warm, caring environment.
“We’re very committed to being an inclusive, creative space and I’d love folks to know more about all the things we do in the community and all the opportunities we have for people to get involved,” Stragis says. “This is an exciting place with lots of opportunities to learn. And even if you don’t want to learn, come in to see what we have. Chances are you’ll save money on stuff!”