Trash or treasure? | March 2, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - March 2, 2012

Trash or treasure?

People reuse, repurpose, recycle while sharing unwanted supplies at Craft Swap

by Carol Blitzer

Who doesn't have some leftover from a once-envisioned craft or art project stashed in the back of a closet, sitting there useless ... taunting?

No need to fret. A group of people loosely organized as "Transition Palo Alto" is offering quarterly craft swaps. All you need to do is bring something you no longer need — and go home with something new to you.

Rani Jayakumar, who organized the January swap, describes Transition Palo Alto as a network of 250 worldwide initiatives with a common goal: to be more resilient and less dependent on the rest of the world.

"I'd almost call it a movement rather than an organization. People are interested in being environmentally friendly but also more active in communities. It's a return to basics," she said.

Transition Palo Alto "espouses the idea of 'reskilling,' relearning skills of past generations," she said, noting that her grandmother knew how to use a grindstone or to knit a sweater. Skill-building could be making bread, or learning to track animals, she said.

As part of the reskilling, the craft swaps also offer craft demonstrations. In January, Annie Jenkins, owner of Opal'z, showed how to make soap, while Jayakumar offered a brief demo for simple papermaking. March's swap will include demonstrations of making beads, soap packaging, lip balm and things you can make with a T-shirt.

The first craft swap was held in November 2010 at A Work of Heart, a creative art studio in San Jose, the second at Opal'z in Midtown in March 2011. A combined garden/craft share was held in October 2011 at Common Ground.

Jayakumar first went to a swap at A Work of Heart. "I am personally interested in arts and crafts. I always have extra supplies around," she said. But she wanted to do it closer to her Palo Alto home.

At January's swap, 25 people showed up in the upstairs room at Opal'z, spreading their "wares" on labeled tables: scrapbooking, baubles, fabric, boxes and trays, cross-stitch patterns, art supplies, yarn — and a vast array of miscellany, from calligraphy materials and old tea tins to an unused box of photo print paper.

Zuzanna Drozdz of Palo Alto dropped off leftover supplies from a college art class — a huge bag of paint, plus fixatives — as well as a bag of leather scraps. She was no longer working in this medium, or lacked access to an industrial sewing machine. She was reticent to commit about exactly what she'd take away: "I'm going to be very reserved. ... I intend to leave with less than I brought," she said, glancing longingly at the fabrics brought in by FabMo, the monthly fine-fabric giveaway.

"I only have one hand: Do I need two rotary cutters?" asked Jen Johnson, a Santa Clara resident who is captain of SFEtsy. She brought beads, yarn and tools and picked up raffia, envelopes and fabric for her daughter's dress-up collection.

Lori Stoia of Menlo Park, who teaches soap-making classes through Palo Alto Adult School, brought ribbons and foam paint brushes. She was scouting for things to use in her classes, as well as items her friends might want.

Monica Benavides of San Jose, who was scouting for seat-cushion materials, dropped off jewelry and magazines. A member of the Insane Craft Posse, she was happy to find wallpaper samples that she plans to glue onto old cereal boxes to create journals. She spotted the calligraphy paper and figured she could use it as the innards.

She also found FabMo fabric, giftwrap and some old scrapbooking rulers that could be repurposed in a gardening class.

For more than an hour, people roamed the tables, making their selections and chatting about what new purpose they could find for the materials.

Jayakumar noted that the craft swap was just one of nearly a dozen ongoing projects of Transition Palo Alto, which has a steering committee made up of representatives from each subgroup. The activities include reskilling (teaching everything from embroidery to soap-making), a book group, Garden Share (a group that meets monthly at Common Ground to swap homegrown produce), a film series, a sharing circle and a group called Conversation, Community and Calling.

"Hundreds of people come to events," Jayakumar said, and they come from all over the Peninsula.

While the emphasis is on losing the dependence on oil — she described one activity as building an oil tower out of objects made of oil-derivatives (plastic bottles, polyester fabric), Jayakumar said, "It's not just about stopping. It's about starting. Imagine a future without (fill in the blank). What would that be like?"

Not using oil might mean no flying, or not using a microwave oven (because of the plastic parts), or eschewing packaged foods, she said.

Jayakumar, who is already planning the next craft swap, said she's also planning to teach a low-carbon-diet class, with an emphasis on cutting down on the use of fuel) out of her Palo Alto home in March.

The Transition international network was started in the United Kingdom by Rob Hopkins, author of "The Transition Handbook: from oil dependency to local resilience."

"The brilliant idea is to start doing this now, to try to envision a positive future for ourselves that doesn't necessarily feature oil prominently," Jayakumar said, " to learn to live more locally, rely on each other more."

For information on Transition Palo Alto, visit; click on projects to find information on craft swap or garden share.


For more Home and Real Estate news, visit

What: Craft swap

When: Sunday, March 18, 1-2 p.m.

Where: Opal'z, 719 Colorado Ave., Palo Alto

Cost: Free; bring something to swap

Info: RSVP to

Associate Editor Carol Blitzer can be emailed at