Sewing teacher CC Clark (seated) demonstrates a stitching technique while Princess Modupe (left) and students observe. Credit: Courtesy of SNE Cares and the Depot for Creative Reuse

A free community sewing class co-sponsored by the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse and the nonprofit SNE Cares recently held its final session and the students were clearly pumped as they settled in at their sewing stations, chatting and laughing. 

At the conclusion of the class, all nine of the group of new sewers got to take home their very own sewing machine after making a pair of unisex pajama bottoms. Many were eager to start their own projects at home.

The idea for the class came about after Princess Modupe attended one of the Depot’s popular Sewing Saturday classes. She liked the teacher, CC Clark, a Depot staff member and expert sewer. Modupe, who is the executive director of SNE Cares, which strives “to unify all Bay Area communities through teaching self-sufficiency and community building,” thought sewing would make a great addition to the other kinds of classes her group offers in education, gardening, and wellness.

With an eye toward establishing a partnership, she approached the Depot, a 44-year-old Oakland institution dedicated to diverting waste, promoting reuse, and providing a space for artists, educators, and community members to learn and purchase low-cost supplies. 

SNE Cares covered the cost of the sewing teacher while the Depot provided the space, fabric, sewing supplies, and donated machines. In making the PJs, students would learn how to measure, cut, prepare, and sew. The class was held in Re:Studio, a new maker space in the back of the Depot store on Telegraph Avenue. Re:Studio offers classes and workshops involving reuse and repair. Other recent courses include  Sock Puppets with Sarah, and Bling Your Own Thing 3-D Collage.

“I was thrilled about the possibility of bringing the community members together to do creative re-use and learn to be self-sufficient,” said Depot’s Outreach Manager Cynthia Ashley, who helped obtain the donated sewing machines. The response was strong, and the instructor, Clark, tested each machine for operability, oiled them, and certified them for use.

SNE Cares promoted the course on social media and 30 people applied for a spot. Modupe selected the first ten people who were new to sewing. The course began the first week of April, held on Saturday mornings. A group of nine Oakland residents ultimately completed the four sessions.

“Everyone was quiet and shy at first,” said Modupe, whose mother also attended the class. “But then we grew together, by learning how to sew together.”

With her orange hair, and in a state of constant motion, Clark seemed to be at everyone’s machine at once, guiding all.  Known as the “machine whisperer” and an expert who can hear a needle going dull across the room, she admits that she hates to sew—but loves to teach. After stints as a lab tech at The Academy of Art and doing office work, Clark was finally able to rely on sewing as her primary income over the last decade, working at the Depot as well as making prototype parachutes for Zipline, a company that delivers blood to remote parts of Africa by drone. She has also worked in technical sewing for the exoskeleton maker SuitX. Clark also serves as the “Swap Mama” for the Bay Area’s Swap-O-Rama Rama makers clothing swaps and DIY workshops.

Some of the key things Clark passed on to her students included how to access manuals for any machine, how to sharpen needles, and what a bobbin is.

SNE Cares and the Depot plan to continue the collaboration by offering more courses in the future.

“I see this as an old-fashioned sewing circle, sharing experiences, and creating some beautiful fun,” said the Depot’s Ashley.

C.J. Hirschfield

C.J. Hirschfield served for 17 years as Executive Director of Children’s Fairyland, where she was charged with the overall operation of the nation’s first storybook theme park. Prior to that, she served as an executive in the cable television industry, She penned a weekly column for the Piedmont Post for 13 years, wrote regularly for Oakland Local, and has contributed to KQED’s Perspectives series. She now writes for and Splash Pad News. She holds a degree in Film and Broadcasting from Stanford University.