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Trash turned treasure
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About three years ago, nature lovers Leah Carlisle and her fiancé Chris Helderbrand were doing a little digging down by the Yellow River near the Portderdale Mill Lofts.

What they unearthed, in addition to old pieces of broken glass, marbles and other trinkets — tiny pieces of the area’s history — was a hobby-turned-jewelry business, Milltrash.

Carlisle, 32, and Helderbrand, 31, enjoy the outdoors, hiking together and participating in other activities that involve nature or being outside. Carlisle said while living at Porterdale Mill Lofts, the couple was down by the river all the time.

“Some friends of ours owned property across the street, that [had] all these old dump sites out on it and they let us go look in there and dig in their ground,” she said.

They found several pieces of glass and other baubles buried there.

“I thought I could make [the glass] into a pendant. So I picked it up and I gave it to Chris, and he figured out how to drill a hole in the glass and I made myself a necklace,” she said.

When she wore her newly created piece of jewelry, Carlisle said, she received many positive comments. Then, during a summer stay in St. John, Virgin Islands, Carlisle said she worked in a textile studio, where they reused everything and turned it into something else, which sparked her imagination.

“I got into the idea of recycling and when I came home, I was seeing all that stuff out there, and I was like, ‘You know, they were selling stuff like this there,’ and I just picked up a few pieces and Chris made them into pieces I could turn into jewelry,” she said.

After creating several pendants and accessories with Helderbrand, Carlisle said she placed the pieces in a little wooden box and went to the square to show her work to merchants there. A business owner at Your Sister’s Closet immediately was interested in the pieces.

“I was kind of just out there and was looking around at the stores,” Carlisle said. “I had not been in there (Your Sister’s Closet) and she picked it up, and it does really well there. I’ve been surprised. I just keep on replenishing.”

The couple also have items on display at Perk Up and Wine Down Café in Porterdale, and also have a Milltrash Facebook page, which links to a website where people can purchase their creations. The couple has been quarrying and creating for the last three years.

“It’s just been an experiment and a hobby and we will just kind of see where it goes,” Carlisle said.

Items they have found and used include pieces of old glass Coca-Cola bottles, the tops of cotton thread spools (possibly from the mills’ textile manufacturing facility), electrical wire, old bullets and watch parts, and different types of metals. Carlisle said some of her favorite discoveries include old coins and marbles.

“I really like the marbles, because I feel like it (a marble) tells a story. Like [maybe] the mill children were out by the water playing marbles,” she said. “We find a lot of marbles and I feel like they carry a little more significance to me.”

The couple not only sifts for unique treasures in the Yellow River at the mill, Carlisle said, but also look for materials everywhere they go.

“I think that bringing stuff back that was just buried or trash, and making it into something pretty, is kind of our motto,” Carlisle said. “We enjoy the hunt, being outside and digging stuff up. We hope other people can enjoy treasure.

“It’s funny to think of what the guys at the mill would think if they knew we had their old soda bottles and stuff, you know, just stuff they just threw away.”