Thrift store diva creates fashion

Fabulous finds at local thrift stores provide raw material for teacher's unique and inspired designs.

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A sentimental favorite of Stodola's, this sweater was a joint project between she and her boys, ages 16, 10 and 9. They contributed the background images in fabric marker and she designed and sewed the colorful applique shape resembling both a hear and a flower.

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An appliqued tulip brightens a sweater.

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One of Stodola's dresses showcases her eye for detail and combining fabrics.

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Sarah Stodola sports a blouse she adapted from thrift store find.

There are treasure hunters among us. What they seek isn't measured in currency and, in fact, has often lost its value in the eyes of a previous owner.

These are thrift store divas, who live for the discovery and repurposing of fashion "gold" found in the racks of clothes at the Valley's many thrift and consignment stores.

"Sometimes when I go, I have this feeling that there's something good in there. I get this feeling in my heart and then I find it - and it's $2.50! It's a great thing to do when my brain needs to relax, too," shares Sarah Stodola, a preschool teacher who visits her favorite spot, Goodwill, a few times a week to keep track of what's new for herself and her three boys, ages 16, 10 and 9.

She discovered how much she loved shopping at thrift stores in high school.

"I couldn't figure out what group to be a part of. Everything I would try didn't feel like myself. Then one day, a friend invited me to a thrift store and I just loved it. After that, I could be whatever I wanted to be on any given day. I could play dress-up every day."

Stodola's efforts go a step beyond just finding unique and beautiful items of clothing. She regularly sews combinations of clothing together to make new outfits, or incorporates pieces of interesting fabrics cut from thrift store finds on to another clothing piece, appliqu?©-style.

She refers to herself as a sewing engineer, or "sewineer," and has inspired her kids to participate in building their own sewing creations, too.

The results are distinctive and eye-catching outfits that regularly attract the notice and admiration of parents, co-workers and students at The Kids' Place, where she works.

The colors, patterns, detailed beading and different textures of fabric she uses encourages conversation and instruction with the kids.

Repeated questions of "How did you make that?" even inspired a sewing learning group where an interested group of her preschoolers learned some sewing basics.

"My work with kids is very creative and they are so accepting of things you do. Working with kids has made me fall in love with patterns again," she shares.

Bits of paint from errant brushes and fingers color the corners of some of Stodola's clothing, but it doesn't bother her. It comes with the territory and has made many of her dresses into canvases on which her days' activities as a teacher are captured.

Sarah comes from a family that supported and appreciated creativity.

"My mom was so supportive of everything. She was a super-duper encourager."

Her husband Shane appreciates the treasures she finds and is on hand to chat while she designs and sews. Her boys often sit in the baskets of fabric in her workspace, "like nests" and offer their mom suggestions.

Sarah's mom, Cecelia Liskey, credits some of Sarah's prowess for resourceful sewing to her great-grandmother "Grandma E" who lived "50 miles from anywhere" near Enterprise, Oregon and was renowned for making do with materials on hand for almost everything.

Sarah's grandmother, Gretchen Anthony, taught her the sewing basics.

"I like not being afraid to wear things and being comfortable in my own clothes when I make them," Stodola says. When you don't spend a lot on clothes, you don't worry about ruining them, she points out.

She thinks people who haven't been to local thrift and consignment stores might be surprised at the quality of clothing and the number of name-brand pieces that can be found.

Though her creations often look quite dressy, Stodola says "I always like to be in something I can climb a muddy hill in."

This sense of adventure and joie-de-vivre combine beautifully, not only in Stodola's colorful and distinctive wardrobe, but in her work as a teacher.

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