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Sewing the way to sustainability: Town-gown teamwork lights up Caroline

Many hands are stitching together a project that gives a "green" light to the 1,400 households in Caroline, N.Y., thanks to a bright idea promoted by Shawn Lindabury '09, a Cornell student working with an area citizens' group.

The result is "Light Up Caroline," which has generated community sew-ins and given Cornell textile students a taste of mass-production while recycling many yards of unwanted fabric. The project's goal is to deliver a free compact fluorescent light bulb in a reusable tote bag -- made from the recycled fabrics, sewn by Cornell and community volunteers and containing literature on sustainable living -- to all the households in Caroline.

It all started when Lindabury, a natural resources major in Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, landed a $1,940 grant from Cornell's Community Partnership Board (which helps support students who develop grassroots community action projects) and $2,500 from an anonymous donor. The grant is for Energy Independent Caroline, a citizens' group that promotes energy conservation and the use of renewable energy, to cover the project costs.

Lindabury's grant proposal stems from work he did last summer as a paid intern for Cornell's Community and Rural Development Institute (CaRDI), where he developed case studies on how Caroline and Fabius, two small upstate New York towns, are seeking to reduce energy use.

"I investigated the efforts of municipalities to develop community energy plans, reduce energy use through conservation, increase efficiency and encourage local production of renewable energy," said Lindabury.

But little did he know that his interviews and fact sheets on alternative energy from last summer would blossom into a sustainable sewing frenzy this spring.

On March 8, for example, 15 Cornell volunteers, primarily students in Cornell professor Susan Ashdown's product development class, produced 58 bags in five hours. The call for making the tote bags, said Ashdown, professor of fiber science and apparel design, "coincided with our study of manufacturing processes. It was a perfect opportunity to set up miniature sewing lines in the lab to give my students experience in how clothes are produced and how to balance a [production] line."

Then on March 15-16, about 20 volunteers made 180 bags at a sew-in sponsored by SewGreen, an Ithaca-based sustainable sewing group committed to producing most of the promised bags. Another sew-in in Brooktondale, March 22, produced dozens more.

So far, almost 500 bags have been completed, said SewGreen coordinator Wendy Skinner. An upcoming sew-in is slated for noon to 6 p.m., Saturday, April 5, at the SewGreen Studio at Tuff Soul, 516 W. State St.

Each tote bag is made from reused fabric and each is unique. They will be distributed throughout Caroline April 19 by Cornell and Ithaca College students and Caroline residents. Anyone interested in volunteering to go door-to-door can e-mail

Other community groups are invited to help, said Skinner, who noted that groups can receive $1 per bag. Patterns and precut kits are available, but the bags must be made from reused or existing materials.

Community groups and sewing enthusiasts can pick up the precut kits at SewGreen or download an easy-to-follow pattern at For more information, contact Skinner at or 277-7611.

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