Saturday, February 24, 2018

When things go wrong in the sewing room



On my Pinterest account, I have a small selection in a board called iCraft Therefore I Am. It includes some cute quotes and sayings and a few craft supply skirmishes. Like cats with yarn. Or the serger gone mad.

I see these blogs with the styled photos of beautifully made items and I have to applaud those who make mistakes and either post some of those outtakes now and then or actively include them in their tutorials or displays. 

Mistakes happen in the work. They are the ground for impolite language we try not use in public. These mistakes show making for what it is - a messy adventure into even well-known territory that plays out as it will. Success is a possibility but not a definite.

Mistakes happen. Threads are pulled and restitched. It's a process. It's a game with an opponent. It's a quest. 

Safe travels, fellow stitchers. There are dragons at the edges of those fabrics. There are beasts attached to the loose end of that thread. We can't tame them. We can only keep venturing forward, with scissors as sword and thimble as shield. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Spring kits and an ice storm


Just when thoughts of spring inspire hand sewing kits and birdsong mini hoop brooches, an ice storm passes through bringing cozy chair reading and hot tea back into the week.


The incredible stash of wool I am playing with has already borne kits for chocolate bunnies and strawberry pincushions.



And then there's the boro mending to be done.


The kilt pin is a sample for a local workshop. Slow stitching is a quiet joy and a simple pleasure.




 

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Instagram, local classes, ironing


Ping me, pop me, zap me, hashtag me, whatever the lingo, connect with me on Instagram. Yay! For the first time in my life, I have a mobile device. It was a gift. It's still not a cell phone, it's a tablet.

Excuse my ignorance!

Do I announce that I am @sweaterdollstories? Or is it #sweaterdollstories?

I have no idea. Just search "sweaterdollstories" on Instagram.

Instagram is so lovely but it's a bit of work for me. The tablet camera is not great so I have to get the digital camera, take a photo, upload it to the laptop, edit it, export it, email it to myself, go to the tablet and save the email photo, then I can post it to Instagram.

Seriously? 

Yes. Could living the simple life be any more complicated?

I just posted a photo of some of the wonderful ladies who completed their Embroidery School samplers in a class I led yesterday in Nevada, Missouri, about 20 minutes from Fort Scott, Kansas where I live. 


Thanks to Erica of Nine Patch Quilt Shop who stopped by my booth at a fair in December. Not only did she pass on to me tons of wool fabric she had been given, she booked some classes. This was the first. We've already booked the second Embroidery School group for February and are quickly filling up the calendar with other classes for crazy quilt embroidery, boro stitching brooches, visible mending, and sweaterdoll making.

And here's a little shout out to Ann Wood Handmade who included a photo of her trusty iron yesterday. My favorite iron is the one that I don't burn the bottom of. I haven't discovered that one yet. But so far, my favorite iron is this secondhand beauty I found at a thrift store last year. 


It's a Toastmaster iron, simple, no steam. It's small, easy on the hands, and I iron a lot of small bits. My mother left me her Sprinkle a'Plenty which I use with distilled water.

I just used it this morning to straighten out a bit of linen that had been stuffed between my project and something else. Hmmm.....how did that happen anyway?

Just finished embroidering and assembling this little cast-off velvety jewelry box gift. The "tea & gossip" pattern begs to be used again. I love the little enamelware teapot.

 









It's for sale in my Etsy shop. It's in a lovely green box, hand embroidered and stuffed with cotton batting and wool fleece. 

Off to play with that teapot pattern. And to get another cuppa on the way.

Monday, January 22, 2018

20+ Tips for Buying Thrift Store Craft and Sewing Supplies

A rainbow of sweaters for my sweaterdoll-making kits and classes.

Buying second-hand clothing and furniture is pretty common, but most of us don't think to look through garage sales and thrift stores for crafting and sewing supplies. 

Yes, we'll head to antique stores and flea markets for those wonderful old wooden spools and vintage linens, but second-hand shopping offers much more than that to the serious maker. 

Here's how you can make the most out of shopping second-hand for sewing and crafting supplies (and read to the end for the #1 best craft and sewing supply thrifting advice ever).

Find the shops you love

Locate the thrift stores, flea markets, antique stores in your area and make a list or map. Dedicate a fun day to check them out, or when you're in that neighborhood, just take a ten minute trip inside to see what they have to offer. Once you know which shops you like, keep them on your radar for your thrift shopping jaunts.

Categorize the shops on your list

Some shops have better furniture than clothing and some have better craft supplies sections than others. Know which stores have the best stuff by category. That way, if you're know you're looking mainly for fabric or yarn or picture frames, you know which stores to spend most of your time on.

Learn about the sale days and promotions these shops have

Sign up for emails if the shops send them out. These will tell you when sales are coming up. Ask about special discounts, such as seniors or military discounts. If you’re big on social media, check out shops’ Facebook pages or Instagram profiles for photos of special items, often antiques or sale announcements. Some shops have coupons or frequent buyer punch cards to encourage you to come in and they can save you lots on already low prices.

Check the return policy

Most thrift stores don't take returns, but they will take exchanges. Find out if this is only good on clothing or extends to books (don't forget to check out the craft books!) or linens or fabrics.

Keep a running list of supplies you want or need

You've just walked into an amusement park for crafters, so if you don't want to be endlessly distracted and then disappointed when it's time to go, have a list of items you are looking for to keep you focused. Your list might be general (patterns, vintage linens) or it might be very specific (a certain size of knitting needles).  

Know how much of the fabric or yarn you need. If you end up buying way too little and have your heart set on it, you'll be very disappointed later. Unroll fabric rolls and measure if measurements aren't provided.

Decide how much time you will spend in each shop and make sure you have time to walk through twice

When you run your errands or have a dedicated thrifting day, wear a watch and set a time limit for each store. Once you become familiar with the shops, head straight to the sections you really want to visit. For example, one of my favorite shops has everything, but while I love to look at the picture frames and rugs, I'm not really in the market for them. So I head directly to the crafts and sewing section, the linens racks, the kitchen utensils (for mixed media pieces) the vintage shelves, and the women's clothing (because I repurpose wool and linen fabrics). 

If I'm doing well on time, I visit other sections for fun but often what I've found in one section encourages me to go back to a preciously visited section to look for items that complement my new treasures or to head to those picture frames I didn't look at because I've found the perfect array of items now needing a shadow box.

Take some tools of the trade with you

Tape measure. Tape measure. Tape measure. 

Did I mention you should always have a tape measure with you? There's no use bringing along the project measurements if you have no way to measure. If you need to match colors, bring swatches or yarn snippets. 

If you are looking for cool embellishments for clothing or small quilts, for example, bring them along so you can coordinate your finds.

Don't forget to check the children's section

A felted, shrunken woman's sweater just begging to be repurposed is often mistaken for children's clothing. Little dresses are often made from the most gorgeous prints and can be used for small projects, toys, patchwork, and sachet drawstring bags.

Infant and doll mittens and socks can be turned into Christmas ornaments. Game pieces can be used as charms in a mixed media fiber art piece. There are a lot of lovely surprises to be found in the children's section.

Remember that craft items are not always in the crafting section

Sometimes patterns can be found with the books or knitting needles or jars of buttons behind the cashier's counter. Fabrics may be hanging up with the linens, but there may be a second location in bins or on shelves. Craft kits or scrapbooking supplies may be in puzzles and games because they are packaged in colorful boxes and misunderstood by staff. 

 This needlepoint strip was originally backed as a wall hanging. It had a brass hanger at 
the top and tassel at the bottom. By removing everything, it became a part of a 
repurposed wool sweater sofa throw pillow. The needlepoint was found 
in the home decor section of the shop.

Remember that craft items are not always even craft items

It's almost impossible to find certain fabrics in fabric stores. Linen shirts and dresses pop up all over thrift stores and in the most wonderful weights and colors, while most large chain fabric stores sell mainly cotton-linen blends or only a couple of colors of actual linen. Remember to check out the clothing racks for fabrics made of linen, cotton, leather, suede, and wool. You may even find a hemp skirt.

Other sections will offer up fantastic supplies for crafting and especially upcycling. Take a turn in the kitchen section for teacups to fill with candle wax and wicks, silverware for jewelry or chimes. Look through shelves with office supplies and stationery for old photographs or carnival tickets.

 Cutting seams from linen shirts for the fabric.

Check for stains, weak spots, holes, and smells

Mold is my enemy. Not only is it next to impossible to get rid of, it smells, and it can trigger an asthma attack. I have found myself walking around the stores wondering why I am starting to wheeze, only to discover I have been carrying around a mold farm disguised as the most beautifully embroidered dresser scarf I have ever seen.

Bye bye, beautiful. It's not worth the trouble of washing you in special chemicals and then hanging you up in the sun or a UV light (the only thing that kills mold). Vinegar and bleach do not kill all types of molds and if you're allergic, you want to avoid it at all costs.

Stains and holes, on the other hand, may pass the "I still want it" test as long as they can be worked around. But you still want to know about them before you buy. In fact, you might even be looking for something a little holey....

Learn to mend

Visible mending and boro are tremendously satisfying and popular. Know the faults in the fabrics and clothing you buy, but keep an open mind about the creative possibilities of adding mends to them for art's sake. 

A small hole in my new cashmere sweater wasn't discovered until I got home. 
No problem! I have mending skills!

Know you're going to wash everything

That's just good sense, but if you're really loading up, remember, the work doesn't end at the register and you probably don't want a pile of unwashed second-hand goods in the basket forever, so know you'll be taking more time to care for your treasures. And while you can throw most everything into the washing machine, some items, such as this tie-dyed shirt, are best hand washed to avoid bleeding onto other fabrics.


Buy for parts
 
Thrift shops are a gold mine for Pinterest projects. And not just for individual items such as mason jars or doilies, but for salvaged parts of larger items as well. Imagine a velour track suit. The fabric becomes several soft cuddly toys, the zipper is turned into a Pinterest-inspired flower brooch, and the drawstring cord from the hood is used for all those shoe bags popping up on Pinterest these days. Games can be parted out for not only the board but all the cards and pieces.


which also leads to the next tip:

Search “Thrift store shopping” on Pinterest...

...for articles on thrifting secrets and tips, lists of thrift stores in major cities, how to shop for specific categories such as jewelry, vintage clothing, etc.; DIYs you can make from thrifted items; how to resell items you’ve thrifted.  

Don't forget storage

As your collection grows, so will your need for storage. Look for tins, baskets, and plastic tubs to organize your treasures.

Expand your idea of where to thrift

Don't forget to check out yard sales, estate sales or auctions, Freecycle, and church rummage sales. Don't limit yourself to just one brick-and-mortar idea of where you can find crafting treasures.   

Taking a second look at some questionable advice

I have seen these advices given online regarding thrift store shopping and have some differing opinions. 

1) "Go ahead and haggle" - Don't do it. These stores are already selling you something at a fraction of the cost while trying to help people with their profits and jobs. Haggling and negotiating is insulting to their mission. It's a little like going into a homeless shelter and begging for spare change.

Exception #1: If you love something that has holes or is broken or missing pieces, yes, by all means, ask if they can discount the price. Sorting thrift store stock is grueling and staff has to work through mountains of it daily; many faults in products are missed in the sorting. It doesn't hurt to ask. 

Exception #2: If you think the prices are too high, like, REALLY too high, you could ask to speak to a manager who can do something about price. Staff isn't always right about price. If they can't lower it and you don't want to pay it, don't get huffy; just don't buy it.

2) "Don't buy thread" - Really this should be: don't buy old thread to use in sewing machines. Most older thread was cotton and cotton degrades over time. This older sewing thread may be stained and will probably not hold up well in sewing machines. The same can be said for very old cotton embroidery floss.

That said, you might find a stash of fairly new spools of sewing thread, or better yet, a specialty thread, such as the entire collection of colors of DMC flower thread I bought a couple of weeks ago. The collection, currently for sale new for $75, only cost me $5. It's unused, in new condition, and in perfect shape. I have never used flower thread before and quickly becoming my all-time favorite thread.

 A rainbow of DMC flower thread, more than 100 skeins, for $5.

I have found tons of perfectly good embroidery threads and some completely usable sewing thread in thrift stores. Older thread CAN be used in hand stitchery and not break if you determine it to be in good condition and not too old to be used.

3) "Skip wealthy neighborhoods in favor of small towns" - This is utter nonsense. There is no consistency about second-hand pricing or quality of stock from neighborhood to neighborhood. You can just as easily find over-pricing in small towns as you can in comfortable suburbia. 

And because you are looking for sewing and crafting items, consider who has the disposable income to buy better quality supplies. I find more plastic-canvas-type crafting materials in small towns, but suburbia has the linen, silk, and wool fibers I love.

Exception: Some second-hand shops fancy themselves "boutiques" and traditionally charge more but they also carry finer goods. Don't pass them up entirely, though. If it's convenient to visit, just plan to spend less time than usual in the shop (they tend to be small anyway) and just see if you can find any super bargains. 

Two crib-sized hand stitched quilt tops found at an expensive boutique op shop in Australia. 
I finished them and hung them on my bedroom wall. $6AU/$4US each.


4) "Shop off-season for clothes" - This used to be the best advice ever and a great way to buy clothes for the fabrics they are made from and refashioning, but more and more, thrift stores are following other retailers by packing away the winter wear over summer and vice versa. When you thrift, buy when it's there; there's only one of what you see and if you want it, buy it. I buy sweaters to repurpose in winter because I won't be able to find them in summer. I buy a lot of linen in summer because that's when it gets donated as women change their wardrobes out for new.

Best advice ever!

The best place to shop for sewing supplies, fabrics, sewing and stitchery books, doilies and lace, buttons, embroidery hoops, vintage linens, and more is:

Any charity shop, flea market, or rummage sale that tends to receive donations from older folks or from the families of the recently deceased.

Don't tell me how sad that statement is, I totally get it. But to be honest, I've found the very best quality and unique stitchery supplies at shops that receive estate collections or are part of a nursing home system. 

And sometimes when I buy from these shops, I imagine my own grandmothers and great-grandmother and think, wouldn't it be great if these ladies could know I'm not only still using their special button box but treasuring it. Not only am I doing some sewing, I'm passing that skill down to my children.

Of course, thrifting should be fun. Take a friend. Or don't. I can't shop with someone else when I have project goals in mind. It's me time and frankly, it's a big part of my personal creativity work-out time. I respect and honor it, so I allow myself to enjoy it. I hope you do, too.

Happy hunting!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

10 Good Reasons to Shop at Thrift Stores


This week I'm going to post some second-hand shopping tips, mostly relating to shopping for sewing, embroidery, and fiber art supplies and treasures. 

I've been chewing on this for awhile and checked out a lot of other articles and posts online. Some of the advice is golden, but there were some real duds in there, too, and I'm going to address those.

But today, let's start with why thrift at all. 

WHERE:

Second-hand can be found in all of these venues and events:
  • second-hand shops
  • thrift stores
  • op shops (opportunity shops)
  • charity shops
  • rummage sales (schools/churches/town-wide/fundraisers)
  • craft fairs (many have upcycled items or supplies they are destashing)
  • flea markets
  • antique shops
  • garage sales/ yard sales
  • Freecycle
  • school fairs
I left Craigslist off, because, for example, while it's a great resource in Tucson, AZ, (and one I've used often to buy/sell/give/receive) it's very sketchy in Kansas City, Missouri, according to a lot of folks I know there. The choice to invite people to your door or go to the home of someone you don't know depends on the integrity of your community and only you can decide that.

WHY:

    •    It’s a money-saver.
 
In a purely economic sense, it just costs less to shop second-hand.


    •    You create your own style.

 
Shopping for home goods and decor or clothing, you and your home won’t look just like everyone else. And even if you have a simple style, those unique accent pieces and accessories will help you stand out from the crowd and be truly you.


    •    The items aren’t unwanted or unusable, but would otherwise have ended up in landfills.

 
How hard is it for you to give up your clutter? Uh, huh. Don’t assume everything in the thrift store are another person’s garbage. Lots of people outgrow styles and gifts that are perfectly usable and desirable and they end up in thrift stores. Think de-cluttering treasure that didn’t end up in the trash.


    •    Thrift stores help the community - one way or another.

 
Most second-hand stores are non-profits and if nothing else, they provide jobs to folks with good hearts and maybe not many employment options or skill sets. They help the people who shop there make ends meet. And for some folks, it’s one of the friendliest places they might visit all week.


    •    Many items are brand new, never worn/used, and cost much less than new.

 
‘Nuff said! Have you ever scored a brand new pair of jeans for your daughter for only $5? I have. And then I saw them at the mall for $60.


    •    Brands and quality items you could not otherwise afford or justify, such as Guess, are the gems you’ll find there.

 
No kidding. I have two lovely cashmere sweaters suitable to wear casually or at work that I bought at thrift stores. $2 each. 


 100% silk? Dior? $4.99?

    •    It exercises your creativity muscles.

 
If you’re in the market for mixed media craft and sewing supplies, picture frames, or furniture to refinish and reupholster, thrift stores are the place to shop. The possibilities are endless and you only need to look at a little DIY upcycling on Pinterest to make a hunting and gathering list of supplies you can easily thrift. Silverware chimes? Mason jar craft? Headboard for a bench back? Or try your hand at refashioning a wardrobe.


 From Bored Panda.

    •    You can find every decade there - clothing, decor, linens, furniture.

 
Need a period costume? Want to go mid-century modern? Looking for French country? Love the peasant blouse look? It’s all there.


    •    You can keep holiday decorating from becoming a burden on your budget.

 
Yes, it pays to shop for holiday wrap, gifts, and decorations after the holidays when everything goes on sale, but what if you don’t have what you need for this holiday now? Take the budget burden out of decorating and put it into your meals and gifts by shopping second-hand for invitations, garland, ornaments, and baskets. 


 My $1 box of vintage glass ornaments - because my daughter has 
all of my Christmas boxes and I wanted to go all vintage this year.

There's a limit to what I'll buy at thrift stores and you should have yours. 

I draw the line at swimsuits, lingerie, and such - things that feel a bit too intimate with body contact. 

I also don't buy plastic food storage kitchen items because I just don't like other people's old food stuff. That said, stainless steel or cast iron can be found at substantially lower prices than new and can be cleaned and sanitized. One of my favorite scores ever was a $4 waffle iron that's used manually over the gas stovetop. Best. Waffles. Ever.

What you don't buy second-hand is entirely up to you. But consider the wondrous treasures you'll find at the local flea market - antiques for way less than at an antique store - or the church rummage sale - baby clothes you can donate to a shelter. It doesn't have to be all for you, right? 

If you paid attention, there are only 9 good reasons to shop second-hand listed above. Here's #10:

  •  Thrifting is a rush!
Oh. My. Gosh! There is so much satisfaction to be had in walking by a shelf or rack or stopping at a yard sale and finding something unexpectedly fantastic. Like a thick plaid wool blanket made in Scotland in the 1950s - $5. Or that pristine, never-used feather comforter that's on my bed right now - $20. Or a brand new Baby Gap overalls to give at a baby shower - $1. 

You won't always find exactly what you are looking for, but really, you don't find what you want at department stores either, right? You settle on something you like or can live with. But the world is full of actual treasure, and it's all waiting for you to discover it. 

The less you spend on enjoying the material side of life, the more time you'll have to enjoy it. Because if you have to work full-time to pay the bills and have a little play money at full price, imagine that maybe, at 1/3 price, you could save the 2/3 for a vacation or the kids' college, or you could actually just work fewer hours a week or take an extra couple of weeks off unpaid - because you can.

Whatever your reason - a love of upcycling, an eco-friendly ethos, a limited budget - thrifting can be really fun and highly satisfying. 

This week, I'll give you some general tips and some specific tips for buying second-hand sewing, crafting, and DIY supplies. In the meantime, comment and let me know why you thrift and what your most surprising thrift score was.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Yes, box me in!


Cast-off velvety jewelry boxes are covering the dining room table this week. Inspired to get some work done for some upcoming art shows and fairs, I decided to work on these while it was impossible to do anything else. The temperatures have been well below zero most of the week and indoors with a cup of tea is the place to be.

This is the last day of deep freeze for awhile so I'll get to spend a few days with my folks. Which also means I'll be baking my dad's favorite shortbread cookies today.

Because I've never made these before, I've been trying out some different styles. The Americana one was requested for one of the fairs, but what I love about it was the fabric weaving. I plan to make more small fabric weaving items with different subject.


There's a little pocket message planned.
 

And then the tiny teapot became an obsession. That's a 3" hoop! This one is bound for one of the small jewelry boxes with the upper part of the box embroidered with "Tea & Gossip". 


But I think I'm going to have to make more of this design - probably make a rash of pendants with it. 


I made a couple more necklace pendants in the boro style using wool fabrics this time. I love the wintery feeling in this jewelry. Very snowy mountain. 



I'm not sure about re-opening the Rabbithorns Etsy shop. I prefer to have my art in one place and my craft in another, but since I'm not much of a social media person - although I'm on Instagram now, hurrah! - and I no longer have a newsletter, it's a well-kept secret. Online marketing is just one big abyss of endless echoes for me. 

Do me a favor - email me or tell me what you think about this. Do I just revamp the SweaterDoll shop and make it my one and only? Or do I try to have two shops?  

And come play on Instagram! I can follow you, too, and see what you're making.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Boro stitching



Got my visible mending vibe on again. While working on another teacup, I was inspired to take a break and make some mini embroidery hoop necklace pendants using boro stitching.

Boro stitching is an old Japanese technique used to extend the life of household linens and clothing. Patches are not necessarily sewn all around the edges. The running stitches hold everything in place beautifully and make layer after layer of mends and new fabric.

Using repurposed denim, a stack of vintage feedsack scraps I got from a flea market in Louisburg, Kansas, and 100% linen thread, I played with doing tiny Japanese boro technique. 




I love how they came out. The tiny stitching was a lot of fun but required a major attention mode.

And then, I couldn't help but make a tiny quilt, too, hand quilted with a cotton batting backing.



They're all in my Rabbithorns Etsy shop tonight.  

And what am I doing tonight? Hoping it snows again. I woke up to a winter wonderland. Snow is my favorite thing.