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Published April 20 2010

NDSU students turn landfill fodder into fashion

Sara Sunderlin’s apparel and textiles students have redefined the term “trashy clothes.”

The NDSU senior lecturer in apparel and textiles recently issued a challenge to those in her Aesthetics and Visual Analysis of Apparel Products class: Make a hat/headpiece and a purse inspired by the 1920s and ’30s. And while you’re at it, make the item from trash or discarded items.

The “Trash to Treasures” assignment teaches students to flex their creative muscles by using unusual materials. And, with Earth Day on Thursday, it encourages them to explore the topics of green design, recycling and sustainable design for clothing.

“We’re challenging you to look at materials a little bit differently,” Sunderlin told the 50 students when they presented their projects Friday. “I won’t assume you’ll wear these – although you certainly can if you want – but the point is to think differently than you normally would.”

And so there were items that would make a “Project Runway” judge swoon. That included handbags made from Swiffer Duster refills, candy wrappers, deflated balloons, toilet tissue and aluminum pie tins.

There were also cloche hats fashioned from yarn and cardboard and a headpiece sporting a foil flower cut from a chocolate Easter Bunny box.

Students were able to use fabric-like materials such as newspapers or trash bags, although those items couldn’t make up more than 25 percent of the design. Sunderlin also invited them to dip into a trunkful of millinery (hat-making) “bits and pieces,” which had been donated by a local woman.

Even so, ingenious uses for unexpected objects abounded.

“It was really fun. I like making stuff out of simple things because I don’t really sew,” said Shawna Wienckowski, a freshman who modeled a burlap cloche hat.

Sunderlin’s students have done an annual “Trash to Treasures” project since 2004, although modifications have been made since those earliest years.

She smiles as she recalls a Cocoa Puff flapper dress, which – despite days of diligent cereal-stringing – fell short of public decency laws. (Even worse, the cereal quickly attracted bugs.)

Nowadays, students are still expected to make treasures from trash – as long as it’s of the nonfood variety.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525