South Charlotte

Charlotte student sews and sells repurposed totes

Virginia Kirksey at her family’s home in Myers Park on a recent afternoon, surrounded by tote bags and aprons she sews from repurposed materials and sells to help her school, Philips Academy in Charlotte. She also sewed the shirt she’s wearing.
Virginia Kirksey at her family’s home in Myers Park on a recent afternoon, surrounded by tote bags and aprons she sews from repurposed materials and sells to help her school, Philips Academy in Charlotte. She also sewed the shirt she’s wearing. HOPE YANCEY

Virginia Kirksey is using her talent for sewing to benefit her school.

Kirksey, 19, creates and sells colorful tote bags made from repurposed animal feed bags, donating half the proceeds to Philips Academy.

The academy, at Trinity Presbyterian Church on Providence Road in Charlotte, offers academic, occupational and social skills to students with special needs.

Kirksey and her family moved to Charlotte from Morganton, after commuting for her to attend the school. She lives in Myers Park with her parents, Charles and Lee Kirksey.

Her brother, Marshall, is a college student.

“We were really lucky to only have to move an hour-and-a-half away,” said Lee Kirksey, who previously had home-schooled Virginia.

She said Virginia has learning differences and that the school has boosted her confidence and communication ability.

“From the first day she ever visited, it just felt right to her,” Lee said.

“They treat me with respect, and the teachers are sweet,” Virginia said.

The school has been supportive of Virginia’s bag effort.

“Many of the teachers, parents and board members have purchased bags from Virginia,” Deborah Hofland, executive director of Philips Academy, wrote in an email. “When we use the bags out in the community, people often stop and comment and ask about the bags.

“This has brought more awareness to not only Virginia, but also to Philips Academy and our mission.”

Hofland wrote that the fund Kirksey’s bags have brought in have been used to provide technology and other classroom needs.

Kirksey took sewing lessons when she lived in Morganton, learning to thread a sewing-machine needle, operate a foot pedal, cut a pattern and sew a seam.

She uses her mother’s Bernina sewing machine at the dining room table to construct the tote bags. She also has made aprons and elongated bags with fabric bottoms.

One source for the feed bags she turns into totes is her classmate’s parents, who keep goats and provide the bags. She also works with bags from dog food, birdseed and wildlife feed.

The finished totes often feature pastoral themes of horses or hens.

Materials Kirksey uses fit with the environmentally friendly trend of “up-cycling,” in which ordinary items are made into something new and better.

Virginia and her mother have sold bags through the school and a couple businesses, including seafood supplier Catch On Seafood in Plaza Midwood and a bakery vendor at the Kings Drive Farmers Market.

“I don’t think there are too many people who have bought one that haven’t come back and bought another one,” Lee Kirksey said. She estimats her daughter has sewn more than 100 tote bags, many of which have been sold.

In addition to sewing, Virginia Kirksey said, she enjoyed volunteering to assist with recreational activities this year at Sardis Oaks, a skilled-nursing and rehabilitation facility. She plans to help again and has considered a career in a nursing home or retirement center.

“The people are nice,” she said. “The residents, every time I see them, they smile. They don’t frown.”

Hope Yancey is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Hope? Email her at hyanceywrites@gmail.com.

Want to help?

Reach Lee Kirksey at leebkirksey@gmail.com to buy a finished tote made by Virginia Kirksey for $10. You can also donate animal feed bags; strong bags with attractive designs are needed.

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