Second-Hand Sewing

I took my first ever sewing class last weekend. Betz White, author of Sewing Green, taught the class, focusing on a few projects from the book. We students had the option to work on two projects; I chose to make a couple of pillowcase dresses – one for each girl. I would’ve liked to try two different items but I’m trying very hard to be fair and equal with the items I make or give the girls, as Aria notices everything and comments every time I make something for Ani and Ani is definitely letting us know when she feels left out (in other areas). I want both girls to feel treasured and adored equally, so try to be equal in gifts and perceived gifts as well.

The class was great, low-key and work-at-your-own pace, with guidance when we needed it but also room to try it on our own. This was good for me as I’m not at all a quick one when sewing (or doing anything, really, as I tend more toward the detail-oriented, slow & steady type), especially when catching up with a good friend who was taking the class with me, and I learn better by doing something myself than just hearing about it. I think the toughest part of the class for me was figuring out how to use a different type of sewing machine from the one I own; as a new sewist, these simple changes throw me for a loop. Still, I finished Ani’s dress and got started on Aria’s within the three-hour class (and pretty much finished Aria’s that night), so I was happy.

20110414-124023.jpgAni’s dress, made from a vintage 1960s/70s pillowcase.
I cannot emphasize enough how much I LOVE the design of the fabric.

Sewing Green is all about repurposing items you already have or find at thrift stores or the like into new items, thereby caring for the environment through reduced waste. There is a nice range of projects in the book – a couple simple skirt patterns, a beach bag made from cloth placemats, a more complicated leaf scarf made from various felted wool sweaters, and much more. I also love the bios interspersed throughout the book on various environmentally-friendly and socially-responsible designers.

For the class, I wanted to stick with the theme of the book as much as possible, so I ventured to a few nearby thrift stores to look for vintage pillowcases. In the past I have not been much of a thrift store shopper, much to my frugal family’s chagrin. As a child I couldn’t stand the one thrift store I was taken to repeatedly. Attached to an old folks’ home, it carried nothing remotely interesting to me, it smelled funny and I couldn’t shake the notion that everything there was only there because someone at the home had finally passed. So we were buying dead people’s things. Shudder. When I lived in LA, though, I went to a couple of very cool second-hand clothing stores and saw what a difference locale and clientele could make. Since that experience I’ve kept a more open mind about thrift stores in general but have not always been able to find one I liked.

20110414-124046.jpgAria’s dress, upcycled from a curtain.
A bit of a Sound of Music vibe with this one, don’t you think?
Soon she’ll be hanging from trees in it.

Last summer, when we moved to a new area I began noticing an abundance of thrift stores in the area. It took getting my sewing machine earlier this year and looking through White’s book and Handmade Home by Amanda Blake Soule repeatedly, but I finally ventured to a thrift store down the street, one that gets great reviews on Yelp, Unique. Wow, the place is HUGE! There are vendors inside selling their own items, then a huge warehouse filled with all sorts of second-hand items. It no longer bothers me to think that someone passed these items on when they, um, passed on; it’s actually kinda interesting to think of where that item could have been/come from. (Well, with a few exceptions: I don’t particularly want to know the stories of where the sheets have been; the ones I buy are unstained, I give them a good washing/sanitizing and then in my mind consider them “fabric.” Also, I don’t really want to know the details of death of the previous owner or how my item was possibly involved…like, say, they died ON it.)

My first visit to Unique I snagged the vintage pillowcase I used for Ani’s dress, a small wooden, antique set of drawers, used, I believe, for sewing notions, and a old copy of The Good Housekeeping Needlecraft Encyclopedia (more on this awesome book another time), all for less than $9. Last weekend I went back and picked up a bunch of old sheets (including a beautiful green butterfly print Vera flat sheet!) and other fabric items for Aria’s dress and future projects for way less than it would cost to buy even one new skirt for me. My only complaint about Unique is that someone wrote the price of the antique wooden sewing thingy in permanent black marker on the back, which is a nice wood as well. I have yet to get it off.

20110414-123844.jpgThe vintage pillowcase Ani’s dress is made from,
an incredibly informative book, and a beautiful wooden…
anyone know what it should be called?
PS. I love how the book has been lovingly wrapped in brown paper
and the title beautifully handwritten.

20110414-123949.jpgThe girls in their dresses, before I added the ribbon to the bottom of Aria’s.

Lessons learned:

  • Thrift and second-hand stores can be way cool.
  • You have to check back often and sift through the racks and shelves, etc to find the best stuff.
  • When sewing down a seam, check to make sure you are sewing it in the same direction you did at the other end.



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