Thrift Store Shopping–Cousin to Stitching?

From Lost at Sea's Flickr stream

I’ve always been a thrift store shopper.  I think I mentioned before (although I can’t find the post right now) that my mother used to take me and my sister to the local Thrift World and give a cash prize to whichever of us found the “best” deal of the day.  I distinctly remember winning a dollar in high school for scoring an English wool kilt complete with kilt pin for 68 cents.  Best dollar I ever got (and I got to keep the skirt, too).

Part of my mom’s philosophy was always that shopping second-hand was part and parcel with sewing our own clothing.  I think to some folks that sounds odd: there is a contingent who feel that if one sews, one must ALWAYS sew, and that somehow buying used clothing is a betrayal of one’s sewing prowess or creativity or resourcefulness.

I’m with the other contingent, the group who believe that by shopping second-hand, we find great deals, great ideas, and great fodder for our craft projects.  My list of reasons:

  1. Fabric can be expensive, especially the good stuff.  I have couture tastes, so I almost always save money by sewing my own clothing.  I also have simpler needs–not every outfit needs to be vintage couture, after all.  Many garments can be purchased at the thrift shop for far less than it would cost me to make them–and I get the benefit of the “hourly wage” that goes along with having purchased it ready-made.
  2. Quality in new clothing has fallen rapidly in recent years. Brands I used to be able to depend on aren’t what they used to be–but I often find past seasons, when quality was higher, on sale at the thrift shop.  If I can get top-quality goods for pennies, I’d prefer to do that than fight to make something of similar quality in my limited time.
  3. Children need multiple changes of clothing a day, and as much as I love making clothing for my children, I’m simply not enough woman to make ALL their clothing.  If I can get an outfit, head to toe, for $3 and then make the balance of their wardrobes, I have the time and freedom to really add the details and embellishments to their garments that set them apart (and they can wear the second-hand stuff to roll around in the mud).
  4. I love getting inspired by what’s out there–by the fashions on the runway, and by the stuff that didn’t make the cut.  A lot of thrift stores these days are pretty picked-over; what’s left is, in some locations, the stuff that didn’t make ANYBODY’S cut.  So, what was wrong with it?  And how could it have been fixed?  What detail/fabric choice/simple design fix could have saved it?  My mom and sister and close girl friends and I often have these conversations: “I’d love it if only…”  Those “if only”s help me direct my own ideas and designs.
  5. I’m a recovering pack-ratter, and picking through the thrift store and occasionally seeing my own things that I’ve donated keeps me honest.  You know what I’ve never seen there?  Something I made.  I often find fabric to harvest and make into something new; that infrequent, just-right garment that goes home and remains as-is; ideas and inspiration; and garments to restructure.  Knowing there is so much out there and so many ideas helps me limit what I purchase–which in turn reminds me that shopping second-hand, like sewing at home, is one of many ways to reduce our consumption and recycle what’s still useful rather than throwing it away.

Looking for tips on shopping the thrift store?  Whipstitch has a Harvesting Vintage Fabric workshop that I’m quite proud of that goes over these ideas for Atlanta locals.  I’m also super impressed by these lists compiled by SimpleMom and This Mama Makes Stuff.

What about you?  Where do you see the relationship between your sewing and shopping second-hand?  Is it in recycling and greening your life?  In getting inspired and fueling your original designs?  In spending money wisely as you clothe yourself and your family?  In looking for the best quality and workmanship at the best price? Or something else altogether?

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  • Tiffany
    February 10, 2010 at 10:50 am

    I thrift for the cost and to reuse items. I love the concept of taking someone’s junk and turning into treasure. Although, thrift store shopping was something I had to learn to love. First of all, I’m not a big shopper. Second, when I shop, I like to things to be put in front of me, not having to sift through things to find one good item. So I had to learn the art of thrift store shopping. But it’s fun.

  • Karen
    February 10, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Great post! Another alternative to thrifting is swapping. thredUP and thredUP kids allow you to swap clothes you (or your kids) no longer wear, for new-to-you items. thredUP takes care of 95% of the work, think: Netflix for clothes. Frugal, green and convenient. Thanks!
    Best, Karen

  • Allison
    February 10, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    Well. You KNOW how I feel about thrift-store shopping, although it doesn’t really relate to my sewing. Or my non-sewing, I should say…EXCEPT, sweet Deborah, for that one time a few weeks ago when I found two, still-in-the-package “learn to sew” kits designed for kids, just the sort of thing I’d have bought to tuck away for a rainy day or birthday gift, if I didn’t need them so desperately myself. Priced at $1.51, each included two of those pre-punched felt templates, a plastic needle, little beads for stuffing (or for choking on, as the case may be) and some yarn and sequins. I won’t bore you with the details, just know that the children and I had a lovely time and I am now the proud owner of a beanbag puppy who resides on my dryer, where the warm vibrations distract him from the fact that his ears are sewn on backwards and his beady innards are creeping out from where I missed a stitch. Sewing? Um, getting there. Thrifting? Absolutely.

  • Tammy R
    February 11, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    I love thrifting, but I had to learn how to thrift. I brand shop, so I usually go through and look at tags and then see if I like it. Sometimes the color or style will catch my eye before I look at the tag. I’m always looking for linen. I’ve started buying 100% linen shirts at thrift stores (the bigger the better) and I use them for small projects. I look for skirts and turn them into pillows. I love, love thrifting. I also love to sew – with old things and new things!

  • Toni M.
    February 19, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    what a great post! I too love to sew as well as thrift. I often look for home dec items I can redo/refresh, but I ALWAYS hit the fabric section at my fave GW {Goodwill} store. Much of this fabric is someone elses leftover or unfinished project. How fun! I have made bags, pillows and table runners from these great finds. Check out some samples on my blog!