The last 2 TST posts are all about developing your shopping strategy. Part 1 suggests making the prospect less daunting by narrowing your focus before heading to the thrift shop; Part 2 shows how to apply your strategy while shopping. Today, I want to explore the idea of applying thrift-shopping strategy to other types of stores.
I was at one of my favorite fabric stores the other day (Mill End Fabrics, if you happen to be in Portland); I hadn’t been there in quite a while, things were all rearranged, so this was basically a reconnaissance mission, not a buying one. While touring one of my favorite sections (Silks—not usually a source of bargains), I noticed a larger-than-usual display of remnants. It occurred to me that even in a store that’s not a thrift shop per se, bargain-spotting tactics still apply— beyond the usual sales. (This particular store doesn’t have a lot of sales, actually; since it’s stocked with mill ends of designer fabrics, they’re already priced well.)
My thrift-shopping heart beat just a little faster as I approached the remnant display, lured by the subtle glow of silk crepes, georgettes, and charmeuses. (Sorry— there’s something about silk fabrics that makes me talk like that.) I was so entranced that it didn’t occur to me to take a photo of the whole display, but I do at least have some pictures of what I bought. Here’s the whole group:
Tip: Remnants are usually marked down by 50%, but this might vary, so be sure you know what you’ll be paying! You’ll notice on some of these labels that the price is per yard, but the piece is more than 1 yard.
Here are more photos and details for each of these beautiful fabrics, starting with the black & white georgette:
Burning Question: What’s the difference between organdy and organza? (Yes, sad as it seems, this is the kind of question that keeps me up at night.) I found inconsistent answers. Sew News says the only difference is in the fiber content: “Organdy is usually cotton or nylon, while organza can be made of silk, polyester, or rayon.” Raevenfea.com agrees about the fibers (she also says organdy is usually cotton), but says that the main difference is that organdy is made from spun fibers, but organza is made from filament fibers. In lieu of more exhaustive research into this burning question, I will simply conclude that my fabric is, in fact, organza.
What can I do with this piece of organza? My daughter just bought a wonderful hat pattern (Vogue 8891), and is thinking about making this version with the organdy/organza:
It’s a little hard to tell in this picture, but the pattern calls for 2 layers of stiff netting; I was thinking of using a layer of the organdy over an underlayer of stiff netting. (I experimented in the fabric store by holding a single layer of organdy over different colors of netting, and got some very interesting effects by blending the colors together; a deep teal was my favorite, creating a deep plum tone along with the berry organdy.) And there’s more than enough of this fabric to make something else after the hat; I’m loving the designs I’m seeing lately with a layer of organza over lace, for example.
Tip: Fabric stores vary in the way they package their remnants; at Mill End, the smaller ones are usually rolled up like this with a label wrapped around and taped. This makes it difficult to see what the fabric looks like, especially with a print or stripes, and it can also obscure certain issues, like the “spots near selvage” noted on this label. Don’t hesitate to ask a store employee to unroll the remnant so you can clearly see what you’re buying.
When I unrolled this fabric, here’s what I found:
This is a good example of when to use your thrift-shop strategy, Part 2: determining if a “great deal” is really worth whatever you will have to put into cleaning or repairing it. In this case, I was pretty confident that I can either remove the spots or work around them. (Out of the whole piece, the area with the dots is about 6″ x 8″.)
Tip: Contrary to popular belief (and care labels), silk actually benefits from immersion in water; dry-cleaning chemicals are much harsher. One advantage to making my own silk clothes is that I can find out what works best in the process of pre-shrinking my fabrics, which I almost always do in my washing machine (I don’t usually machine-wash silk velvet, unless I deliberately want that effect). However, with ready-to-wear, you need to be careful, especially the first time you wash your silks. It’s always possible that the color(s) could bleed, and shrinking is a possibility. I’d recommend hand-washing, one garment at a time, using a gentle cleanser like Woolite. Drying in your dryer, ideally with no heat at all, is usually fine, as is air-drying.
Related tip: Ready-to-wear labels say “Dry Clean Only” primarily to reduce the manufacturer’s liability if anything goes wrong in cleaning the garment. I’m personally very comfortable machine-washing silks, including ready-to-wear, because I’ve worked with (and worn) these fabrics for many years. You have to decide what risk level you’re comfortable with. (I’m not in any way guaranteeing your success, I’m simply telling you what my experience has been.) P.S. I’ll let you know if I get the spots out of the stripes!
Another option for the charmeuse print: I just ran across this pattern, which looks perfect for using remnants; it’s especially unusual in that it combines woven and knit fabrics! Wouldn’t this be pretty with the woven panel on the side made with my print?
The last fabric is this stretch charmeuse (3% Spandex) in the most gorgeous smoky lavender, which, by the way, is a color straight out of the Great Gatsby era:
Let’s tally all this up, shall we? I’ve got a total of close to 5 yards (not counting the infamous organza— or is it organdy?— tail) of gorgeous silks, from which I could make, at the very least, several luxurious scarves (and a hat), for a grand total of… $54.94! Okay, maybe it’s not bargain-basement, but then, neither are custom-made silk scarves, or whatever I end up making with them.
My point (finally) is that whether you’re going to an actual thrift shop or somewhere else, the same shopping strategies should still apply. Here’s a recap of my fabric-shopping example of these strategies in action:
Part 1. Decide on your priority, narrow your shopping focus, choose a store. I did this a little out of order; I stopped at the fabric store on impulse, without intending to actually buy anything. But hey, I can be open-minded. My priority, as it turned out, was saving money by buying remnants, with a focus on silks.
Part 2. Stick to your focus, but stay open-minded, and be honest when evaluating damaged items. As noted above with the organza and striped fabrics, I had to decide if I wanted to risk that I could work around the missing section and get those tiny dots out, respectively. I’ve had enough experience working with random bits of leftover fabrics that I felt pretty good about my chances with these fabrics.
Tip: There are other ways to save at fabric stores too. For example, I’ve gotten many a discount when I noticed a minor flaw, like snags or misprints, and pointed it out to the person cutting the fabric for me. Usually they’d rather have a discounted sale than miss the sale altogether. (Just remember to take into consideration whether or not you can work around the flaw.) Many stores will also give you a discount if you buy an entire bolt; I do this fairly frequently when I buy muslin, which is indispensable for making mockups of my designs and test-fitting commercial patterns.
So let’s think about expanding our definition of thrift-shopping; it’s all about finding something fabulous at a great price, right? That could happen at a fabric shop, a boutique, even the grocery store!