Tag Archives: thrifting

One page of a field guide to handknit thrift store sweaters

Several years ago (it seems like a few, kinda like how 2005 was just 5 years ago) so maybe this was 2009? My extended family got together in the small Midwestern city we (sort of) used to call home. A couple of my cousins and I hit our old thrifting stomping grounds – vast warehouses of the discarded in near dead areas of a long dying city. I didn’t expect to find much – the wealth in my current eastern home is apparent in the quality of rejected goods in the thrifts around here – but I was pleasantly surprised to find a few good sweaters to frog and to wear as is out there.

thriftid-cable-cross

One of the sweaters was clearly hand-knit and somewhat vintage, but I couldn’t tell from when – the longish and leanish shape could have been 1960s, more likely ’70s, but slightly possibly ’90s – I had a similar cotton version from Pear Monarchy back in the day. But it was slightly fulled/felted so it was hard to say the precise shape and fit the original was meant to be. And the color was perfect – I’d been hemming and hawing about knitting a dark charcoal grey cardigan then, and my skills were just beginning to finally progress past garter stitch rectangles, but I was still intimidated by things that have to fit (and still am to some degree) so finding this cardigan was a jackpot – double or triple jackpot too since it was old and used but still usable, not to mention the fit was perfect – hip-bone clearing and no waist-shaping – roomy, but no bulky armpits and linebacker shoulders.

(And it has a mis-crossed cable you can only sort of see in a prominent spot on the front, so the maker either wore it proudly, or didn’t notice until after all the careful finishing and was sorely irritated and perhaps why it ended up at the thrift…?)

I wore it as a light jacket and/or office sweater for a few years, and have since mostly worn it indoors – it’s still in great shape but needs some attention to a few pilled areas and perhaps an aggressive blocking to try to eek out a bit more arm length – they look long enough, but don’t quite feel it – and I’m probably to blame for that – since it was already a bit felted, I likely washed it on delicate in the machine in the last apartment, and delicate it was not – so I think it shrunk a tiny bit more… The buttons had a way of falling off too – I seemed to remember taking them all off and reaming them out so they’d stop cutting the threads, but perhaps I thought about doing that and instead sewed them with heavier-duty thread? Either way, a few are missing – I think only one more since I acquired it, but I took the useless ones off the bitter end of the front and off the collar and sewed them on the body and no one is the wiser unless you’re awkwardly close enough to me to see the buttonholes – they never would have functioned buttoned all the way up to the tips of the collar though, or at least on my apparently thick neck.

But that’s also because it wasn’t meant to be buttoned all the way up –

thriftid-cover

I found the original pattern book while thrifting this summer!

I’m always on the lookout for vintage knitting patterns – I’m actively collecting older Minerva books for their loveliness rather than any intention to make a tiny-gauge fitted suit or flowing gown, but I like the fit of some garments from the ’60s and ’70s, so I snatch up those with the intention of possibly making something from them, or at least using them as a jumping off point.

This one caught my eye because I’ve been hemming and hawing still about making a heavily-cabled sweater – something fishermanish, but not to “Celtic” looking, something roomy but not baggy, something vintage-looking but not cropped or high-necked, and preferably something top-down and already written up so I don’t have to work it out, but so far, I haven’t quite found it… But this seemed on the right track – good length, slim but not fitted, armpits didn’t appear to go halfway down to the bellybutton, and there was a v-neck option – all good things to consider. But when I flipped it to the back cover, bam! My thrifted cardigan appeared!

thriftid-match

Bucilla Arans, volume 59, 1982.

I’d made a half-hearted attempt to find the pattern over the years – I figured if it fit and has held up well for at least 30+ years it would be worth repeating, but nothing ever came up in ravelry and I figured it was from the 1970sish, I have a helluva time finding it since so many millions patterns exist from then.

It was once sold for $3.00, then on final sale for $ .50 at Hess’s department store (based out of Allentown, PA, but with a chain of stores in the East). And I was off on the date – 1982 – but many commercial knitting patterns seem to lag a year or few behind, so it does fit the slimmer 1970s silhouette rather than the burgeoning boxy or big-sack one of the 1980s – and the interior patterns must be worn with feathered hair. But it could have been knitted fairly recently after all? Perhaps it was made in the 1990s? (Or even the early aughts?) I certainly have 10-year-old patterns I still intend to make, and perhaps will a decade and a half or more after their publication…

My sweater has reinforced button bands and the bottom ribbing is folded up and stitched on the inside – perhaps to reinforce the bottom hem, or it flared or otherwise misbehaved- both pattern modifications I’ll keep if I ever make it. The upper arms are still slightly wide for my taste – not too terribly, but the felting probably helped them a bit, so I’d take them in a bit. And I have a complicated relationship with bobbles – I like them, but I don’t love making them, or that many.

But maybe I’ll just enjoy my sweater and sell the pattern book and get on with other things…

 

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Cruel crewel world…

Too hot and humid Saturdays sent us to ReStore many more times than usual over the summer. Wintertime usually means thrifting time, but when it’s too hot to hike or work in the yard, it is the second best option to staying cooped up in the house.

(We sadly only made it to the beach once this year – the dog wasn’t ready to be on his own for more than an hour or so for much of the time, and Sundays are the better day to go around here to avoid the crowds somewhat anyway…)

I’ve already yammered on about some of my recent thrifted fiber, functional storage, and furniture acquisitions of late, but I also picked up some more knitting pattern books (a tale for another day) and other’s abandoned stitchery works-in-progress.

I’ve been mildly interested in doing some woolly embroidery projects over the last couple of years – not enough to actually plan and start any, but enough to pick up random skeins of crewel wool.

crewel-yarn

Again and again…

crewel-basket

(There’s an antique mall in the sticks close to family we visit that has a never-ending supply of the stuff for like $1 a baggie – it’s also the home to other great fiber finds – especially this basket and this basket.)

But I haven’t gotten much further than this except to page through my mother’s old bargello book and idly think about re-creating her optical illusion pillows of my youth (that no longer exist – at least one was partially consumed by the family dog) only in colors I like rather than the popular ones of excrement in the ’70s – browns and golds, while lovely on the forest floor, will always be poo and pee to me in home decor – though I think one of the pillows (the one that was chewed beyond repair) was browns and oranges or just orange with ombre browns, which I do like…

But regardless, I guess I did think about it some, but not overly so, until I found a complete, just started crewel kit over the summer.

I really liked it – squirrels and frogs and owls and caterpillars and all weirdly similarly-sized – what’s not to love? And I imagined stitching it up in a cabin on vacation and then making a pillow for my spinning chair out of it. But for shits I looked up what it might sell for and though it varied widely, it could easily bring over $10. $10 is usually the limit by which I bother to sell something online. But I figured it was an okay sacrifice since I’d only paid $1, and I’d be honing my embroidery skills and getting something I truly liked.

crewel-picture

But then I looked closer…

crewel-frog-bunny

And the original stitcher used the wrong colors – the frog was supposed to be more grey-green, and the bunny grey not brown…

Now, I am so not about “the rules” and I rarely follow instructions completely (though there are times when I should a bit more) but in a kit,* I get a bit itchy  about this stuff – is there enough spare wool in the right colors to fix it, or if I don’t, will I end up with a grey instead of a brown stick? And though it’s minor and I could let it slide, I’d still like better contrast between the greens of the frog and the greens of the reeds, and then the fact that this kit has such a wide range of colors is partly why I found it so appealing, so use the whole range of colors, dammit!

But then it could be sad – the original stitcher could have been loosing her eyesight… Abandoned projects found at the thrifts always come with a bit of melancholy – either whiffs of things coming to and end with fingers and eyes and minds, or frustration, or death and disposal – but that is also what I find appealing about them – a chance to resolve themselves and become the things they set out to be, or different from their earlier failure and abandonment but redeemed nonetheless.

But this little froggy and bunny will probably go to auction after all…

*I’ve never made something from a kit beyond a latch hook horse pillow 30 something years ago, so kits in general make me itchy.

 

 

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The sewing station south

Hot, humid weekend days sent us to ReStore again over the last month and some. Wintertime usually means thrifting time, but when it’s too hot to hike or work in the yard, it is the second best option to staying cooped up in the house.

I don’t like spending much time in our basement during the day, but I was drawn to it regularly this summer – seeing bright daylight day after day became inexplicably depressing to some degree for me – I yearned for a rainy grey day (then we got a bunch and they nearly killed the garden). But I finally took N’s advice and set up a work area down there despite my earlier protests that I hated being down there in the day and needed bigger windows to work.

On our first summertime run, we encountered a motherlode of old school furniture – desks, tables, horrid attached chair-table hybrids that brought back lunchroom nightmares, and some awesome lime green lockers that almost came home with us, but didn’t because we’d have to rent a larger vehicle.

But this little desk did.

I thought it would be perfect for my not-used-enough serger.

And it is – the serger was previously on a nightstand or side table of sorts and I had to sit at it uncomfortably side-saddle. Moving it out of my tiny upstairs workroom freed up some much needed space too and hopefully by wintertime I’ll actually be able to go up there and work rather than spend most of my time organizing and re-organizing it or shifting the piles that covered one rare surface or another… And then pop down to the basement to use the serger when need be. (I’ll also be able to iron fabric more comfortably in the space, and I have my other machines that need work down there, so perhaps it will be the main work area and upstairs will be more for spinning, stash, and whatever else “art” I might get up to).

There was another table that I wanted very badly – a not too wide, but wide enough for quilting cotton, and gloriously long – 8 feet or so, mid century table with a coral formica top – possibly from a lunchroom too, or perhaps an art classroom… It was cheap (I don’t remember how cheap, but at or under $50) but again, we’d need a truck of sorts to get it home (not to mention we didn’t really have room for it – yes, it could go in the basement, but then the basement would have a giant table in it and we already have one largeish library table down there anyway).

So I forgot about it.

But then it was still there about a month later and only $10!!!!

But I still didn’t get it, but took a picture instead. Someone will be lucky and happy with that thing.

(I’m still having connectivity issues – apparently my phone line is hooked into a buried line at a cookie-cutter condo complex down the road – I like the aesthetics of buried lines, but when I’ve lived with them, they’ve had way too many problems…)

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String me up…

Gift knitting is wrapping up, work has been extra workful, I’m making a point of spinning for a little bit often to strengthen my wrist, and I feel like I’m not making enough progress in anything even though many things are finally getting my attention…

The mild winter had me fooled that I would be puttering about the yard now thinking about landscaping, digging some new beds, and playing with some of the great rocks we’ve unearthed around the property. But frigid temps, frozen ground, massive mud pits, and all around unpleasantness except for some brilliantly sunny days have kept me indoors and driven me partially underground to the basement.

Two more pieces of our Heywood Wakefield set are now refinished. Two more to go – the biggest and heaviest – two dressers – but those might have to wait until better weather so we can work on them outside, or at least with the windows wide open.

basement-refinishing heywake

And I’ve got these boxes and tubs still to unpack, redistribute (though there’s really no more room elsewhere), be rid of, or re-packed more efficiently and stored in a location I’ve yet to find or create. In our last house, the basement consisted of two rooms of piled boxes and tubs from hasty moves, art school crap, parental home downsizings, and childhood nostalgic detritus. We weren’t there long enough to deal with them, and now, though other things need to be done, I’m feeling done with them and have finally begun to tackle the heap.*

basement-unpacking

They’re full of art supplies, real photography supplies, rocks, shells, vintage tablecloths, a couple of washed fleeces, vintage dishes, paper making supplies, a few duplicate kitchen supplies, that blasted punch bowl, old rusty crap, sewing tools and notions, things from childhood, pots and plates I threw but don’t use but can’t get rid of, and a few more boxes of books outside the frame that I am able to cull without too much pain, as well as some giant photographs and paintings I just can’t figure out…

But with every one, surprises lurk inside.

basement-spools

In a tub that also contains chopsticks, drink stirrers, hanging hardware for picture frames I no longer have (or maybe re-stored in my folk’s basement?), clock parts for the clocks I used to make and sell, pez dispensers (why do I have so many fucking pez dispensers?), detached butterfly wings plucked from car grills, a series of vintage plastic robots, dried up tins of adhesives, glass bead making tools (some of them, others I gave away), the screwdrivers I’ve been looking for for two home renovations and was convinced I left in the old house, another staple gun (I think that makes 4 in our house now), tea balls, plaster tape for casts or sculpture, and finally a cigar box of old thread and trimmings from an estate sale, and a shoe box full of little spools of tatting thread from my once beloved thrift store.

basement-tatting

The contents of the tub indicate it was thrown together in 2008 – kitchen materials mixed with tools and craft supplies – place it in my old apartment’s kitchen/dining room/hall closet area, an s-curve shaped space of quirky lets-carve-an-apartment-out-of-this-grand-old-home because it’s the depression and we got killed in the market architecture. Perhaps I dug around in it once since then, but mostly it stayed in our old basement, then the storage unit for a few years. I knew I had some collections of old spools of thread, but I thought I had them all with me already – I had no memory of having this much more. And the tatting stuff? Completely forgot, though now I remember I wanted to frame some of them…

basement-thread

I’m on the fence a bit about using vintage supplies – on the one hand, they are supplies, meant to be used and used up, and I have no qualms about using a few inches of thread here and there to to make repairs on like-colored clothing or for a pop of color on a button or something, but on the other, they’ve become artifacts. But in the case of the tatting thread, it’s an all-out stash in itself or hoard… I don’t plan on tatting or crochet, at least at these fiddly gauges and I don’t do much embroidery, so I do need to purge it – sell it, likely and not think about if someone uses it all up on their own ghastly craft project, or squirrels it away again, or actually makes something beautiful or appreciates them as artifacts as well…

basement-tape

And then I found my stash of deconstructed VHS tape that I meant to make into an “art” piece, but I can’t stand to touch the stuff, and I’ve yet to don a pair of gloves and see if I can handle it that way… and I’ve forgotten about it, so why the hell didn’t I chuck it yet?

*So this was a bit of a pre-written post – I’m back to ignoring the emotionally overwhelming contents of our semi-subterranean floor…

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Of politics and pests – a rant

We all know fast fashion is wrong on all counts – bad for workers, bad for the environment, bad for our psyche, and bad for covering up nakedness with its tendency toward wardrobe malfunctions due to poor quality and construction. But like fast food, it is affordable, yet it doesn’t seem as evil as a hormone/antibiotic/shit laced 99 cent burger. If you are poor, you can still buy new clothes that don’t make you look poor and they won’t give you diabetes or make you obese.

But you can also shop in thrift stores.

But this isn’t always the answer – many thrifts accept and stock absolute shit, sizing can be difficult, not everyone has the ability to repair items, or the thrifts are frequently more expensive than the fast fashion shop.

I’ve bitched about this before – a thrift prices something like a Thomas Thrillfingers sweater at $19.99 because it is a “brand” name. And it has holes and unidentifiable stains and looks a decade or two out of date – of course even I would choose a $12.99 sweater from Aging Army if that were my best option. Or Goodwills in my area price all sweaters at $8.99 regardless of holes, shrunkeness, goo, and fugliness – and tend to have lower-quality clothes to begin with – you couldn’t pay me $8.99 to own a faded acrylic sweater from the bigbox (actually you could – I’d do many things for money).

And as a recycler of wool yarn, I’m usually not going to pay more than a few bucks for something I’m going to take apart and not know until I’m doing it if it will successfully come apart or have to turn into felt scraps or stuffing, so I suspend my own strong opinions about religion and politics and choose to shop at a nearby Salvation Army over Goodwills and Red White and Blues and some odd and expensive independent ones because the prices are generally good for decent-quality used shit (and very good on the half-off days).

SA’s mission statement couldn’t be a stronger bushel of garlic to me if I’m going with a a vampire metaphor which doesn’t make sense in this context and I really love garlic, but people and things that do and say such things are utterly abhorrent to me – charity need not come with dogma. Yet, I know that they have fed and sheltered many in communities I care about, so I suspend my anti-evangelising standards when I shop there knowing that some part of my donation (though I’m sure not as much as I’d like) is going into bellies and blankets.

But it turns out this last line:

“…meet human needs in His name without discrimination.”

has been utter bullshit in dealing with LGTB employees over the last few years. I mean it’s not surprising because hello, “christian” organization, but somehow I’ve missed the news… And perhaps and hopefully they’ve cleaned up their act and do practice what they preach now, but it’s made me a much less frequent visitor over the past few months.

So I re-entered the smeary doors of this grand palace of abandoned things recently after a long hiatus and during a stressful time. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular – I have enough of everything at the moment – but I was looking for “thrift therapy.” (I can’t stomach other’s “shopping therapy” even though it’s essentially the same thing, just massively cheaper.) But it is a form of hunting, a time of touching pleasant fabrics (and accidentally some not so), imagining stories of others, nostalgia wormholes, and jackpot thrills…

I found a great mid-century enameled casserole dish and a huge grey sweater that should result in enough yarn to make myself a confidently ass-clearing one.

casserole and sweater

But then I think I found a bedbug.

At the time, I didn’t think it was – it was bigger and flatter than pictures I’d seen, and it was staring up at me from the shoulder of a silk blouse I was about to snatch up to examine. I still haven’t gotten a new vision prescription, so in order to take a good look at it, I took off my glasses and shoved my face six inches from it, but then realized that if it were anything evil, I should be more than six inches away from it, so I backed off and left, first vigorously shaking the sweater I still wanted to buy. But I thought it was more likely a baby stinkbug or something along those lines, though once I got home and looked up buggy mugs, I’m not sure what it was…

But bugs are always a thrift risk and I prefer to buy textiles and clothing only during the coldest and warmest months so I can freeze them outdoors or keep in my trunk to bake for several days before shaking them out and immediately washing. But even though I live in the east where bedbugs are probably here to stay and the thought of them makes me squirm a little if I ever feel an itch in a NYC theater, I’ve mostly just been concerned with moths and carpet beetles – two known enemies I’ve treated and controlled and eradicated over the years. Bedbugs are a foe I don’t wish to take on – I know no one does unless for scientific reasons, but they have definitely given me pause for my next thrift venture.

And I am to the point where I’m happily shopping my own yarn and fabric stash and finding what I need (although superwash is getting low) from my shelves and boxes and closets most of the time, but I do miss the calming time vortex of combing through someone else’s old fibery discards.

Next time, after the cootie heebie jeebies subside, I’ll give the Goodwills around here another look…

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Winter blahs…

It’s finally gotten cold, well sometimes cold, and sometimes just warm enough to turn the backyard to mud again and then refreeze overnight.

january-pecker

It’s been a pecker party outside the kitchen window – red bellies, downies, nuthatches- mostly policed by a downy pair.

Our house has been troublesome – hot water heater, newish refrigerator, and well parts giving up varying degrees of the ghost within a couple weeks of each other – as well as our bodies with a mild but lingering cold since just before the new year, and routine and not so routine medical tests which required healing downtime and acceptance scenarios involving amputations, but turn out normally abnormal in the end.

We’ve been thrifting and antiquing a bit more, though on weekends when crowds make it a bit more unpleasant, but perhaps improve focus and curb impulse.

We said we had enough Heywood Wakefield * in our lives, but then a decent china cabinet opportunity came up and we took it – the scale is perfect for our small but not too small dining room and overflow Fiestaware.

furniture - heywood wakefield china cabinet

We’ve also had good luck finding more cheap and fun mid-century lamps.

january-lamp

And I still haven’t culled my vintage china herd, but I’m rotating through it with a use it or lose it tactic.

january-cakes

These meat on a spit plates have been a favorite for years but I rarely use them because they are large – perfect for part of a roasted ribcage – and we tend to eat on a smaller scale. I only have three plates and two cups and saucers that don’t officially match but do, so a meal that requires a large plate and coffee cup is rare, and all I can come up with is pancakes, which we make only maybe twice a year and usually with a souvenir bag of Polly’s pancake mix from the summer before.

N has been building some built-in bookcases and doors to previously un-doored closets, so the house is becoming more our own and finally has spaces for things, but I’d gotten used to our still semi-packed minimalism, so striking the balance between delightfully interesting and my previous states of delightfully cluttered is a bit tricky. As much as I loved my previous live-in cabinet of curiosity life, it was awfully dusty and too delicate (and a grand bitch to move).

january-door

I’m still unpacking hastily thrown-together boxes of supplies and organizing my work space.

january-studio

And doing a bit of use it or lose it on some old WIPs – nothing much to show, just a bit of slogging through to see if I want to keep slogging through…

* When editing this post, I clicked on the link to make sure it was the right one – and good god, is my life so routine that every January has me shopping for vintage lamps, watching woodpeckers, and obtaining more Hey-Wake furniture?!?

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Dirty old things

We’ve got a decent ReStore nearby – luckily not too close or I’d go too often, but not too far that you have to plan to go. We had an entirely awesome architectural salvage store in our old city that I dearly miss, but still visit when passing through, and though this doesn’t replace it, in some ways it’s more practical because it carries a wider variety of smaller-scaled items (and I’m no longer in the market for a victorian mantle anyway). We found a good mid-century dresser there, a near-mint wool kilim rug, and the typical bits we usually bring home from thrift stores like records and books and fabric scraps.

On my last visit, I scored an old sewing machine box.

old-before

I’ve got a partially boxless machine that has been topless for nearly 20 years. Once in awhile I’d dick around on ebay debating about buying one, but usually balked at the shipping price, so this was a classic example of finally finding something for which I’d given up looking. And oddly enough, it was already in half of an old Morse box.

old-during

But the best part is that it was saved – yes, it’s dirty and stained and a bit smelly, but it still serves a good purpose in a way that nothing new can. Granted, that’s a given because I’m using something old on something old and the whole thing is a no shit sherlock kind of thing… But many/most people would have probably thrown the thing out? Or the thrift store might have dumpstered it? In fact, the half-naked machine had a complete case, but the thrift store threw out the top because the handle was broken off, or something along those lines, and unfortunately just before I bought it too… or so said the clerk who might have just been itching to see a long face…

So the machine has some new vintage digs albeit much younger than the machine itself. I had also been intending to un-electrify this machine and put it back in a nice treadle cabinet like it originally came in, but until that lucky happenstance comes along, I can at least store and use it a bit more securely.

old-case after

And then I’ll see if anyone needs the bottom part of an old Morse box – I need to check the rest of mine first though – I know I have one that the little post things that hold the machine are broken, but don’t know if the lid will fit the bottom – unfortunately even though these are all a universal size, the clasps that hold the two parts together can differ – these two Morses from approximately the same time period didn’t – one had clasps 1/4″ longer than the other…

During our most recent vacation, we stopped in a Goodwill in Maine. I love seeing the local flavor coming through in used shit and stop at thrifts whenever I can when I’m on the road. I was hoping to find some good old hard-wearing woolens, but silly me, in the land of frugality, of course they wouldn’t just be chucked in the charity bin but used until they were entirely shredded and then stuffed in the walls for insulation or given to the dog.

So I poked around the household items even though I’ve banned myself from buying any more plates ever.

oldthings-dirty plates

And I fell hard for these dirty old things.

At $4 for the whole lot, can you blame me? And they’ve got a bit of green and yellow and orange, my favorite colors? And they’re from the time period that I’m most drawn to in terms of household things?

old things-plates

But what I like best was that they were clearly salvaged from an old garage, barn, abandoned house, unrepaired attic, root cellar, or someplace long neglected and not suitable for proper china storage…

…but someone made the effort to chuck them in a box and haul them in for someone else.

The set isn’t really one – mostly dessert* dishes and a couple smaller and one larger. They aren’t in the best shape and are delicate-ish, therefore not entirely practical, but the worst ones are still useful for holding drippy or dry things (soap or sewing bits) and the good ones will be perfect for the occasional dessert

dirty old thing-polenta cake

(This is just one quarter of a very tasty polenta bar.)

*They’re probably actually luncheon plates instead of dessert plates, and though I think today’s plates are obscenely large and use “lunch” plates for my “dinner” plates on a daily basis, these would only hold the daintier finger sammies… And they’re made by W. H. Grindley & Co., England, but I can’t find the name of the pattern – according to a random website, the mark dates c. 1914-1925 – anyone recognize it?

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