Thursday, August 28, 2014

SFS # 8 - No Stash, But A Small Finish!

August always seems to be a time of change for me and my family, and this year has proven to be no exception! It's been a rollercoaster month - some highs, some lows - but hopefully it'll all work out for the better in the end :) This Autumn will certainly be interesting at least LOL! My apologies in being so behind in e-mails and blog visits. Thank you very much, as usual, for your patience, and I'll be trying to catch up soon!

I haven't had much time for stashing or stitching, but I did put the backing fabric and floss I bought in June (SFS #6) to good use, and managed to finish this ornament:

The design is my Spring Variation of the Just Nan "Christmas Hearts" freebie, which I stitched for my second entry in the JN SAL. I was hoping to share this little finish with the SAL as well, but unfortunately some negative experiences have caused Zeb to put the JN SAL on hiatus. I really enjoyed the two months I joined in, and I'd like to thank Zeb for all of her hard work and for creating a wonderful Stitch Along!!!

Here is the back of my ornament, which is just plain pink 100% cotton fabric:

I assembled it in my usual way, using a padded insert made with two layers of quilt batting stitched together. The biggest challenge was the cording, because I couldn't find any commercial burgundy cording to match. I've never been good with making floss cording. My Stitchy Guru Mother is, and has a surefire method using a hand drill fitted with a cup hook for the twisting, but I twisted this one all by hand myself.

Although I bought two skeins of floss to make the cording, I ended up only using one, and I tried something different by tying a knot at one end of the cording to make the hanging loop first, instead of doing the loop and the cording separately.

In all honesty, this is best hand-cording I've ever made, and I'm very proud of it :)

Not only do I have trouble making it, but I have MAJOR problems sewing it on! With commercial cording, the twists are hard (wrapped around a firm core) and it's easy - well, relatively speaking LOL - to pop your thread into the spaces between the twists. Floss cording is soft, often has to be re-twisted and smoothed as you go, and will show your stitches, so it's very tricky to hide your thread. Or at least, I find it so ;)

As you can see, the twists aren't perfectly even, but it's a big improvement for me :) I've tried many methods of attachment over the years, but the combination I ended up with here is the best yet. I'm going to try to recreate it sometime in future, and if it works again I'll definitely share! Sometimes I find myself doing things with no idea of how I'm actually doing them, and this was the case here LOL!

And I also think this is the best corner I've ever turned :) It makes me ridiculously happy every time I see it. All my corners are squishy instead of square, no matter how much I poke and prod at them! Now, if only I could get all four the same...

My SFS Spending for August, Month #8:

This is the first time I've had zero spending for two months in a row (yay!), but it was completely by accident not by design :) So I spent $0.00, adding the monthly total of $25.00 to my Bank, for a grand total of $122.03 saved! So I did make it over the $100 Bank mark, which makes me ridiculously happy for some strange reason LOL.

But I don't think this trend will be continuing. I love Autumn and have a few projects lined up, and it's getting near the time to start thinking about Christmas Gift Stitching (ugh - it's still WAY to early for me!), so I can foresee some Serious Stashing going on in September :) That's actually pretty funny, because my timing is off as always - Mel generously gave us a bonus $25 to spend this month. But that's always how it seems to go with me: a day late and a dollar short, as they say ;) I'm also thinking about my Sampler of Samples, so I've got some Stash Diving to look forward to as well!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

SFS #7 + A FC Forget-Me-Not Bouquet!

Wowzers, it's so unusually hot here this summer and I'm really feeling the heat! Don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining; I know a lot of people are loving this heatwave. But I usually stitch with everything spread out across my lap and piled up on every nearby available surface, so it's just been too much to manage for me. Thankfully, fine crochet has come to my rescue; it just needs a hook and some thread :)

Thanks to the wonderful comments on my last post about the Vintage Needle Arts Sampler, I have decided to make my own littler sampler of samples :) But instead of planning everything out right away I'm going to start making some things and hope they all come together at the end! This will be a great chance to use some of my most Special Stash, and to try some new techniques ;) Like this pretty fine crochet posy:

It's my own Variation on this lovely FREE Violets Pin by Maggie Petsch for Kreinik:

The original uses strands of the super sparkly Kreinik Blending Filament crocheted together with the cotton, which is an interesting idea and would be great for special occasions. It's a very adaptable pattern and is fairly easy to stitch, the tricky part was figuring out the assembly! It's also a little large for a brooch but cute as an ornament:

I really love the backing doily, the little loops were fun to do and add a lot of detail :) To make the Violets into Forget-Me-Nots, I just made the first round yellow and used a Magic Circle so the stitches would pull more tightly together. The Violets had four small petals and one large, so I made all five of mine the same size. I also shortened the stems a little so they wouldn't trail over the bottom edge, and added the little white crocheted bow in place of the ribbon, which took some finangling LOL!

The biggest change I made is actually one you can't really see. The flowers and stems were supposed to be stitched directly to the middle of the doily, but all the tacking and darning stitches from the coloured threads would show up on the white back. Since this will be an applique of sorts, the back won't be seen, but I wanted to see if the pattern would work as an ornament too. So I made a false front simply by repeating the first three rounds of the doily and stitched everything to that!

And as I was joining the two pieces, I noticed that the false front and doily back formed a little pocket, so I added a bit of fibrefill stuffing and the posy just came to life! All the flowers mounded up like a real bouquet, the stems flared out and the ribbon bow stood out more! You can see the effect more on the back here:

And from the side you can see how the flowers (I made seven in all) layer together:

I'm so pleased with how this turned out! I think it's a wonderful start to the Sampler of Samples (I really have to come up with a better name, but we'll call it that for now LOL). And it can easily be changed to other flowers; add a sixth petal and work them in pink and you have Cosmos, with white you'd have Daisies.

Forget-Me-Nots are a humble little flower and often overlooked, but I have always loved them for their cheerful look and the wonderful sentiment. They also seem to me to be very determined; we've been very fortunate to have a few growing wild on the lawn every year, and I've even seen them pop up in sidewalk cracks :)

My SFS Total for Month #7, July:

I'm happy to report that for only the second time ever (the first being March) my total is $0.00! That leaves the Monthly Budget of $25 free, adding up to the grand sum of $97.03 in my Bank. I'm hopeful that I'll hit the $100 saved mark next month, which will be encouraging to see even though it's all imaginary money LOL!

Wonderful News: Mel, the Host of Stitch From Stash (SFS), has just had her blog Epic Stitching chosen for a magazine feature and she's having a Great Giveaway for her Followers to celebrate!!! Congratulations Mel - well deserved :) (Disclosure - sharing the news does give me an extra entry, but I'd share the news anyway!)

UPDATE: The Giveaway has now been drawn :) Congratulations to the Winners!

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Unique Vintage Needle Arts Sampler

Just a quick post to share a truly remarkable sampler that I saw the other night on Antiques Roadshow! It was from the "Vintage Toronto" broadcast, which updated the prices on the objects originally assessed in 1999, and this has been the show's only Canadian adventure to date (although we did have a spin-off for a while).

The Sampler was stitched by *Maria Taylor - the bottom center panel with the neat drawn-work edging has her information - as her application for the position of Home Economics teacher in 1879. What is amazing to me is not only all the small samples of different needlework types but the way it is presented, in the beautiful frame with the hand-made triangular rickrack around it! Needless to say, she got the job :)

(*In the Appraisal Transcript, the Appraiser says "Harriet" was the stitcher and the owner - the stitcher's grand-daughter - does not correct him, but in the last photo of the slideshow, it is clear that first letter is an M, as it is identical to that letter as she stitched it for "St. Marie's School", so Maria is my best guess at the actual stitching!)

The pictures on the website are a bit blurry, but you can see the full video of the Appraisal here at PBS, and it is well worth watching!!! Maria was an amazingly talented stitcher, and has everything from teeny tiny knitted socks to perfect miniature dresses (the sundress and crocheted hat above her signature panel is especially cute). I'd love a clearer look at it, but I noticed panels of needle darning and weaving, hand quilting, smocking, embroidery and needlelace work.

In the center is a wonderful petit point design of a handsome hound:

And my very favourite aspect is the impossibly delicate sheet music bars, from "Home Sweet Home", above the hound panel. The detail is so incredibly fine and accurate, I think you could actually play from it! And it's such a lovely sentiment :) 

It sort of sums up the whole display - the samples are the epitome of the domestic arts, which speaks to the importance of the idea of family life at the time. Because when she made this spectacular Sampler, not only was she applying for a paying job as a teacher but she was - like most women at the time - also proving her competence in "home making" skills which would be an asset in a marriage match. 

Her full-sized work must have been gorgeous, and we know from the conversation that she did marry and start a family. I imagine that her children must have been beautifully clothed :) What a lovely testament to a very talented lady's abilities! 

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find any information on whether the Sampler was sold, but hopefully that means that it will be passed down through the family and treasured for generations to come. It's truly priceless as an heirloom but it has also maintained it's monetary value at $1500 to $2500, from 1999 to 2013 :) 

Personally, I find this piece to be incredibly inspiring! I've become very interested in trying different styles of needlework lately but I'm wary of committing to an entire project in one style. Especially since the fine linen work - drawn thread, darning, weaving and the like - are so tedious to work. I was thinking of doing little samples, but had no idea what to do with them when finished, and that seemed wasteful.

I really like this idea of framing them all together in a display, although I would try something on a MUCH smaller scale LOL! Maybe an 8 x 10 frame ;) What about you?

PBS also has an archive of all their Needlework Appraisal Videos - Happy Browsing!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

SFS Month #6 - Some Simple Supplies

From a quick glance at my blog reader, I know almost everyone is wondering where June went, and I'm definitely one of them! The last few months have been really hectic for me, but I'm looking forward to having things settle down soon. A HUGE Thank You for all the lovely response to my last SFS post about Treasure Hunting!!! It's awesome to learn that there are more believers in Stitchy Karma out there ;)

After my great finds last month, my buys this month were focused on what I needed to final-finish an ornament for my other group, the Just Nan SAL (please see sidebar for more info). I bought some backing fabric - a pretty pink cotton - and DMC floss (#3685) to make corded trim for my Spring Variation of JN "Christmas Hearts":

Happily, I also thrifted a nice bonus! Treasury of Needlecraft is an older multi-craft book from 1993, so it's a little dated, especially the Plastic Canvas section. But I fell in love with one of the projects, "Grandma's Lockets" designed by Sam Hawkins:

It's a lovely tumble of flowers - including one of my favourites, pansies! - twined with pink ribbon and two beautiful gold filigreed lockets! I love the strong colours and the whole cross-stitches, which remind me of Berlin Woolwork. To me, it has a timeless heirloom quality, and I like it so much I might make this my next project :)

SFS Spending for June, Month #6

The needlecraft book was $2.99 because it's hardcover. Although the charts are in Black and White and not Colour, they are clear and well laid out so I think the price was worth it! I bought the fabric and floss together at my local fabric shop, so the floss was more expensive than normal, 89 cents each. The pink cotton was $9.99 a meter and I bought a full quarter since I love the colour, so it was $2.49.

Altogether, including taxes, I spent $8.99, leaving $16.67 in the monthly budget for a total of $72.30 in my bank! Although using my stash, rather than not shopping, is my goal, it's still really fun to watch those numbers in the bank go up and up ;)

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Book Review: The Embroiderer's Story

Many sticky notes are the sign of a really good read! Er, that's my excuse anyway ;)

It's a little bit embarrassing to admit that this post has been over two years (eek!) in the making! Way back in 2012, I wrote about the Jane Bostocke Sampler (JBS) and shared a photo of the sampler from this book, intending to write the review soon. Well, it's finally here! LOL Hope it will be worth the wait ;)

The Embroiderer's Story: Needlework from the Renaissance to the Present Day by Thomasina Beck was first published as a hardcover in 1995, with this paperback edition following in 1999. The first thing that struck me is the sheer size of the book! It's not especially thick, but it's definitely larger than average. I've put a regular size market paperback (Sharon Shinn's Quatrain) alongside to demonstrate scale.

The beautiful cover art is a painting from 1913 called "I am Half-Sick of Shadows" by artist Sidney Harold Meteyard. It shows the Lady of Shallot (from the poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson) waiting for her lover, and whiling away the hours with embroidery. The background is a vintage Morris & Co. embroidered bedcover from 1889.

Thomasina Beck's Publisher, David & Charles (which was taken over by F+W Media), followed this design theme for her other popular books: The Embroiderer's Garden (1997), The Embroiderer's Flowers (1992, later reissued in this edition to match) and Gardening with Silk and Gold: A History of Gardens in Embroidery (1998). This discussion thread states that the latter is a revised edition of Embroidered Gardens: A Studio Book from 1979. Frustratingly, there is little information about Beck online!

One day, I would love to read more of her works, especially the Gardening in Silk and Gold. Unfortunately, all of her books appear to be out of print and very hard to find. I was lucky enough to find The Embroiderer's Story in a local library collection. It's a wonderful introduction for anyone interested in historical needlework styles!

Although there is a lot of information here, and the text is well-researched, it's all presented in a very accessible tone. One chapter flows into the next and it makes for entertaining and inspiring reading! This is more of a general interest book than an academic treatise, which is unusual and refreshing. The pictures don't always line up with the text though - there will be a page of text on needlepainting, for example, but the illustrations only turn up three pages later - but it's a minor inconvenience.

There are six chapters in all, covering the major stylistic eras. The pages are thick glossy paper with some stunning full-colour pictures, and the layout takes good advantage of all that extra space with frequent use of diagrams like these:

Pages 28 and 29 from Chapter 1, "The Elizabethan Embroiderer"

Please pardon my fingers in the photos, but I had to hold the pages flat somehow!

This is a typical layout for what I came to think of as the "inspiration" pages: photos (often colour) of historic pieces and ephemera with complimentary themes/links on one side with B&W sketches showing how the motifs might be adapted for new work on the other. These inspiration illustrations were done by Belinda Downes.

Page 24, close-up, from Chapter 1, "The Elizabethan Embroiderer"

Other design examples, like this blackwork grapevine with filling stitch suggestions, actually came from embroidery books, patterns, magazines, or manuals of the time. These types of details make the book an amazing scrapbook-like assemblage of all kinds of interesting bits that place the works within the cultures of their own times. Indeed, in the Introduction (8), Beck says that it was just simple curiosity as to how and why these things were made that led her to dig deeper into the past:

"Histories, biographies, novels, diaries and poems provided some answers, and I began piecing snippets of information together, as one might a collage, hoping thereby to build up a picture of what is was like to be an embroiderer at that time."

As a result, reading the book feels like undertaking that journey of discovery right alongside Beck as she rifles through all sorts of sources and displays examples for us to enjoy. It's a general history of styles, and so is not a project book or stitch guide but rather a sort of inspirational research journal. But there are technique hints:

Pages 60 and 61 from Chapter 3, "The Georgian Embroiderer"

As an example, this small diagram actually shows the best way to work tambour embroidery, in a laced frame or the tight hoop from which the method gets its name (a tambour is a type of drum, and refers to the tight tension necessary for the work). It actually makes a great deal of sense that the illustrations of older times were so intricate as most readers had limited literacy and printers had limited book space!

Here is one of my favourite examples of historical needlework in the book:

This twining floral design, worked with silks on a hostess apron in 1736 (page 63, Chapter 3) is still so beautiful! I really like the heavy shading in the center carnation, which looks a little like a whirligig with its fringed petals, and the roses :)

This sort of twining vine-based floral embellishment was very popular in this time, as also shown on this handsome crewelwork waistcoat from the 1740s (71, Chapter 3).

Page 104, close-up, from Chapter 5, "The Victorian Embroiderer"

Brightly coloured wools surged in popularity in the Victorian era when new dyes were developed; unfortunately, many of them were unstable and many works did not survive. A style of counted embroidery known as "Berlin Woolwork" soon became a fad (much criticized for poor taste and lack of style in its time!), and was the direct ancestor of modern cross-stitch! I really love this style, which is based on florals and geometrics with shading so intense that it often clashes. It is amazing to think that the hand-painted graphed charts eventually gave way to the craft we know today :)

Among the other odds and ends, each chapter also has a delightfully imagined pincushion drawn by quilter Paddy Killer. All her illustrations for this book can be seen on this page. My favourite one is this Victorian sewing garden (Chapter 5, 115)!

Towards the end of the era, the influence of the modernizing Arts & Crafts movement lead by William Morris becomes evident, with a preference for naturalistic motifs. These tiny Christening mittens embroidered by his daughter May Morris are sweet :)

Here is my absolute favourite work in this book, a blackwork and goldwork pillow:

Amazingly, although it looks eras older, this is a 20th Century reproduction! The caption (141; photo on 140, Chapter 6) says: "Fascination with Elizabethan history and embroidery led Jack Robinson to take up blackwork, explore the intricate patterns and then devise his own, as in this book cushion, 1992."

I really love the diamond windowpane border, the way the gold sparkles against the black, and the scattering of seed pearls throughout the embroidery. No flower seems to be exactly alike in shape or filling! It's just so elegant and striking :)

In the previous eras, needlework was fairly strictly limited to the popular culture of the time, with fads that came and went. But the Twentieth-Century Embroiderer has the option to break all those old bonds as well as honor them, and so Beck spends the final chapter with new works inspired by old techniques. This colourful "Passion for Tulips" feltwork by Jennifer Wilson (1994, page 153) is an example of this freedom.

It is so easy to take our creative impulses for granted! Although this book is very encouraging and inspiring, reading through the various styles really brings home how important popular culture was to needlework. You did whatever was "in", whether you liked it - or were good at it! - or not. And then the next fad came along, and you abandoned your old work as being of no value and moved on to the newest craze.

The accomplishment was in the act of creating, not so much the actual creation. It's absurd to think today that ladies in the Victorian era once took up certain styles of crafting just to show off their wrists to potential suitors! Or that needlework was just another dreary "domestic art" one had to master in order to wed and live well.

On the other hand, it is encouraging to imagine these same ladies cozily crafting around a parlour in the evenings, chatting and laughing with friends while they worked at their needlework or crochet or knitting, proud to show off their skills to one another :) As bloggers, perhaps that is what we do too, only now we are free to create whatever we will, whenever we please. It is a privilege we should cherish!

And the final thing that caught my eye is this illustration by Paddy Killer towards the end of the book (page 154, Chapter 6). It's an imagining of The Embroiderer's Story - and Beck's other books - as a searchable digital resource. Wouldn't that be cool?!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

SFS Month #5: Treasure Hunting!!!

Whew! What a week :) In frustrating but eventually happy news, I switched internet services. There's still a few wrinkles that need to be smoothed out, but I'm so glad to be online again! A week ago, I had my SFS planned out this month, with a grand total of nothing spent. But then the most wonderful thing happened and The Great Stitchy Karma Gods blessed me with a rainbow-hued windfall of crafty goodness!!!

Hellooooo COLOUR! Isn't it divine?! It totally astonished me when I put everything together to take pictures and saw how well the colours coordinated. I didn't see the pattern to my purchases and gifts until they were laid out together. Neat, hey?

All of these supplies came to me in different ways, so I thought I'd talk a little about that for fellow Stitch From Stashers looking for shopping inspiration! Most of this is stuff you've probably heard - or done! - before, but I've gotten a few questions about shopping for craft supplies on a strict budget, and I hope this post will help :)

First, I'll quickly go over my treasure hunting booty and how I found it, and then I'll share a few thoughts on my experiences thrifting for crafty supplies in general.

1. Couponing

Now, this is pretty obvious. But my tip here is to become familiar with your local chain stores that carry craft supplies. And if there is more than one store close to you, be sure to scout out each one every so often to take stock of what they carry. There are three Walmarts near to me, and every one carries slightly different things.

If you can, sign up for e-mail flyers and newsletters as they sometimes have special deals and coupons, often centered around seasons and holidays. I use a specific "junk account" for this type of mail so it's all in one place and easily skimmed through, and I don't have to worry about deleting something important or about being hacked.

My other tip is this: don't wait for the coupons to come to you. If you can't wait for a sale, it's worth taking the time to check online before you go. Now, I really dislike printing off coupons. It uses up time and ink and paper, and you basically pay to get what should come for free. But there happened to be a rare 30% Off Entire Purchase coupon at Michaels, so I printed it off in case it would come in handy.

And it did! These craft threads are by the in-store brand Loops and Threads. L&T products have been hit-and-miss for me in terms of quality. I haven't used these before, but the bright colours really drew me in and I can't wait to try them out!

The other place a purchase discount - opposed to the more normal per-product discount - comes in handy is for multiple small items like DMC floss! Although on the surface you only save a few cents, it quickly adds up. Of course, I went and forgot my Missing Floss Colours list, and ended up buying a few duplicates, but what the hey?

Floss is regularly 49 cents, and with the 30% discount I saved 15 cents on each, making it very near "buy 2, get one free". In total, I bought 29 skeins ($9.86). The L&T Craft Threads were $6.99 each, I saved $2.00 on each pack for a total of $9.98. All in, with tax, I spent $19.84 at Michaels and saved $5.00. Yay!

2. Donations/Gifts/Freebies

This is a method of acquisition that is often overlooked. But talking to friends and family members - and even strangers sometimes - about needlework can result in unexpected but much appreciated gifts. Especially if you don't limit yourself to only needlework supplies! Plenty of general craft products can be repurposed :)

In this case, grumbling to my Stitchy Guru Mother about needing a clear ruler for charting on graph paper resulted in this windfall of prettily packaged vintage quilting supplies! Which brings me to an important point - keep having conversations about supplies whenever possible because people don't always remember what they have in their stash ;) Or they have products like these that are technically for another craft entirely and honestly don't think you will be interested in them!

Also, often people will consider older supplies to "not be good enough" to offer to you, so it's important to make it clear if you don't mind vintage or gently (or even greatly) used products. The T-Square ruler, for instance, was originally clear but has yellowed with age. But that's perfectly okay for me - it still works for what I need!

As for the other gifts - I'm thinking that the quilting pencils and eraser will be great for drawing free-hand embroidery stitches on testers, and that the plastic marking pencil will be helpful for making templates. And needle grabbers are always great!

3. Dollar Store

As you probably know by now, I love dollar stores! Again, it really helps to scout out the different stores in your area because they often carry different things even within a single chain. There is one small store I love to go to that carries a lot of end stock products from great brand-name companies. The quality of these are generally much higher than the usual second-best off-made stuff, but is usually arrives in very small batches that sell out quickly and often cannot be restocked once sold out.

End-stock stores are usually local or small-chain, and carry a mixed bag of regular bargain products and with a small core of rotating one-off lots. These will usually be brand-name, but be very careful because there are a lot of faked "big name" products or ones with very similar packaging and slightly off names which can be confusing.

On my trip, these bright colour craft felts called out to me! I'm not sure what I'm going to do with them yet, but I've been seeing tons of great felt crafts online and I'd like to try some. These are not the good wool felt that is often recommended, but they are as good or better than those sold at Michaels and are the same brand as the felt sold at my local fabric store for a much higher price, so I was happy to find them.

Instead of $1.99 a sheet, I paid 33 cents each, or three for $1. So I got 12 sheets (two of each colour) for $4! If I had bought them at Fabricville, the total would have been nearly $25 dollars. Crazy! Also maddening. Very glad I waited and looked around!

4. Thrifting

Thrift stores can be depressing dispiriting doldrums or the most magical wonderful worlds, depending on the day, your mood, and the items on offer. The content often changes weekly or even daily, depending on the store. I also consider garage sales and estate sales to be thrifting - even flea markets! - but those all usually have an element of bargaining that is lacking from actual stores. So even though the methods are mostly the same, I'll save those for another day when I have examples to share.

Everyone has a different way to thrift. For me, The Great Stitchy Karma Gods are everywhere - including thrift stores! My approach to thrifting has really changed in the last few years to reflect this, and I'll try to explain what I mean. First, my finds:

If there's anything I love even more than craft supplies, it's craft books!!! Er, okay - all books really :) While I've come to rely on online tutorials and information, there is still nothing like having an actual book in my hands for inspiration! The newer Colour and Composition book is another example of borrowing from another craft; although designed for quilting, the book is actually all about colour theory and art-drawing exercises that can be used for any creative endeavour. It was 99 cents.

And so was this incredible beauty!!! Although written in the late 1970s and somewhat dated in project choice, Creative Needlecraft is a lovely full-colour stitch guide for many different techniques, including blackwork. Whenever I'm anywhere near old or new books, I look for embroidery guides and despite much intense searching over the last few years, this is the first real one that I've found. I can't wait to read it, and I hope to review it soon :) I just love the cover, with the Anchor floss rainbow!

So if you want to feel like a pretty parrot-carrying Piratess raiding magical rainbow shores for stitchy goodness (and really, who doesn't?!) here's three helpful tricks:

Consider Condition

I really can't emphasize this enough. It is SO easy to completely fall in love with an item only to get it home and find it's entirely unsuitable. For books, flip through the pages and look for signs of damage - from water, food stains or rough handling - and age, such as mold spots, foxing and yellowing. And although it may look weird, I find it helps to quickly sniff the book ;) Sometimes strong smells are insurmountable.

In my experience, airing will take care of light odors but strong odors can linger and infect other items in your house, sometimes to disasterous effect! Leather bindings, and leather items in general, tend to hold smells the longest and cloth-bound books can be bad too. Anything that's clearly disintegrating is probably not worth saving.

Magazines air out more quickly than books. My trick for smelly reading materials is to spray a paper towel with Frebreeze odor-reducer and let it dry, and then bundle the offensive items in a clean plastic bag with the towel. Leave them this way for a while. It may take a few hours for light smells, but a few days to a few weeks for heavy odors. If the latter is the case, replace the towel with a new one every so often.

I've managed to save a lot of stitchy magazines this way! When they're all freshened up, you can remove them from the bag and add them to your regular stash without problems. This also works on great for smaller items like floss and Aida fabrics!

Consider Completeness

Although this is related to condition, it's something I always have to remind myself of, especially when dealing with needlework kits like this lovely pattern made by Leisure Arts for Hallmark. On the surface, everything looks great, but when I flipped the flap up I saw that it had been opened. Thankfully, everything appears to be there!

But often smaller kits are bundled together in bags and you don't have the luxury of sorting through them individually before purchase. I understand that stores do this with small craft items like floss and patterns so it's easier to sort, display and sell but it can be really hard to tell what you're getting. When it's 99 cents, as this kit was, it's not a big deal. But I've seen needlepoint kits for as much as $20 at this store, and if I can't assess the contents of an expensive purchase like that I've learned to pass.

Speaking from experience, there is nothing worse than getting home only to find out that your new kit doesn't actually have a pattern! For some reason, I see a lot of kits with the patterns removed. It could be that the original owner separated the charts from the supplies for storage, but it happens too often to be totally random.

Sometimes it pays to go up to a floor person or cashier and ask to open the package to see the products before buying, but unfortunately it's not usually allowed. And employees tend not to have an interest in, or knowledge about, crafts so the things they bundle together can vary considerably. And the values they assign to items can range greatly too, or even be misprinted - this kit was incorrectly labelled for $99!

This is incredibly frustrating when, for example, you're interested in only two kits in three different bundles but are unable to just pick your preferences out. Crochet cotton is often sold this way, and when similar items are split between bundles you have to choose between paying for items you don't need to get the ones you want. Again, if the cost is inexpensive, it can be a great surprise find. But it quickly adds up!

Consider Cost

Besides the obvious sticker price, I've learned over time to really think about the actual cost. Say you stumble across a book on pottery making. Or candle making, or dried flower arranging. It looks really neat, and you want to try it. It's only $2. But - what will it cost to buy the supplies? To take a beginner's class? Do you have the space now, or expect to have space in the future, to practice the technique?

And - most importantly - what will you actually DO with whatever you make?! I know, I know - it's a killjoy. But it's so easy to wind up with stuff you'll never use!

I'm not going to lie - it's painful to lay things aside. Sometimes it helps to thrift with a good friend so you can get each other's opinions on things and give each other reality checks, especially when you're just starting out. A useful tip is to carry the item around with you as you walk around the store. If you still like it by the time you're ready to check out - and after seeing all kinds of other things - then it's a good buy :)

Thrifting is really just like any other art or craft - it takes time, patience and practice to develop your own taste and figure out your own wants and needs. It's that simple, and that difficult LOL. It's a skill you build on with each buy. Everyone develops their own style eventually, and this is what we admire in a great bargain hunter!

10 Tips for Crafty Thrifting

1. Become familiar with local stores and frequent them often. Don't get disheartened on dismal days; they're inevitable for everyone and are far surpassed by great finds!

2. Subscribe to e-mail newsletters, if available, using an alternate "junk mail" address. Check flyers and websites for upcoming special sales, and ask about loyalty programs. And see if there is a "donation discount" - sometimes bringing in new donations to the store will net you a percentage or amount off your own purchases!

3. Look for deals on multiples around the store, which is common on books and magazines. This is to encourage quick clearance on frequently donated items.

4. Don't limit yourself to the "crafts" section, assuming there is one. Things get scattered all over the place, and it really pays to keep your eyes open as you walk through the store. I actually found this Aida remnant in with some greeting cards:

5. It wasn't priced, which brings me to this tip - if you find a non-priced item, check to see if it belongs to a set (this is usual for dishes and glassware) or opened bundle. If not, bring it to the cash and offer or ask for a price. The cashier charged me 29 cents for this piece which is large enough for a small ornament front with extra for a tester!

6. If the donations are sorted on the store floor, find that area. There are usually racks or bins where incoming items are tossed to be sorted through and priced later. It may seem sassy, but feel free to carefully scan through these things. I find that if you group like items together and keep your digging tidy, the staff usually doesn't bother you :) This is a great way to find the newest things! If a store will not sell unpriced merchandise - and some do not - ask if it can be reserved for you, or visit again in a few hours. Once you know what you're looking for, it's easier to find!

7. Be open to vintage brands, but make sure that they're in good condition. Sewing thread, floss, other threads and fabrics all disintegrate over time so if it's very old, it may be worth collecting for interest but may not be suitable for actual use.

8. Look for things that will be useful to you in craft work that aren't actually craft supplies. Pretty glassware or nice boxes make for good organization, an old shirt might have the perfect fabric to back an ornament series. Picture frames are always useful, and I snap up ones I like when I see them and stockpile them for later use. It's amazing how much that comes in handy for special event gifts! The sky's the limit.

9. If you don't see what you're looking for, it never hurts to ask and to be specific. Some stores do not have a Craft or Sewing section. Usually all crafty things are lumped together with home repair, gardening and interior decorating under "House Wares", sometimes called "Home Decor" or "Household Living". It's well worth checking out the Kids section too - all kinds of things wind up there. And finally -

10. Buy Only What You Love!!!

This is the MOST important factor of all! If you take anything away from this post, I hope this is it. Let me tell you a story: I grew up in a small town without thrift stores. At the time, vintage clothing was all the rage again and I read lots of articles in US teen magazines about shopping at gigantic stores where you bought clothing and junk by the pound, weighed on huge scales. And you haggled for your bargains.

So when I moved into the city years ago, I was envisioning factory-sized flea markets basically :) The truth was rather different, and although it took some adjustment, I've come to prefer smaller stores. Although usually haggle-free, often rather dingy and sometimes dirty - and definitely not glamourous - I love bargain hunting and enjoy knowing that my money is going to charity (be sure to check; causes vary by store)!

I'm not ashamed to be a thrifter, because I see it as supporting a worthy cause and aiding in the environmental ethos of reduce, recycle and reuse :) Not only that, but it's the best way I have to find unusual crafty items locally, along with vintage brands that are no longer in production and books that are no longer in publication!

Not only that, but every thing has a story, and it's fun trying to "read" their history ;)

But when I first started thrifting, I was so taken with this new method of treasure hunting that I snatched up everything even remotely interesting. Things I wasn't sure I really wanted, and I mostly never managed to find a use for. I overlooked a TON of condition problems. It's all very well to do restoration, and a lot of things can be successfully redone, but I pushed aside all the red flags and bought completely hopeless things anyway because I imagined that I would never get the chance again!

In short, I became greedy. I was an unwise and terrible Treasure Piratess. It took me a long time to realize that The Great Stitchy Karma Gods - who are really present everywhere, and in everything - were looking out for me. Now, I truly believe that if you are meant to have something, it will find you. I believe that you should put back the things you only like for someone else to fall in love with. I believe in Karma.

Now, I know this may sound incredibly loopy. But practice it yourself for a while and then see how you feel :) Here's a great example of things that find you:

This little framed lace bouquet caught my interest the moment I saw it! I think it's machine made, probably for the tourist trade. There's columbines and bluebells and some other flowers and leaves in an urn. It's mounted on black velvet, which is a little dusty in places, in a modern gold frame. It's not old, but it's pretty! It had smears on the glass and adhesive from the price sticker, but it was 99 cents and I loved it :)

The first night I found it, it was near closing time. I waited for almost an hour in line to be checked out, but then I lost my patience and decided I didn't really *need* it. But it stayed with me, as the best would-be finds always do, and I went back the next day to buy it. But it was gone - or so I thought. Nearly two weeks later, I went again and happened to buy a Singer Sewing Library book for my Stitchy Guru Mother.

Only, it turns out that I had already bought that one for her a few years ago. I hurried back to the store and asked for an exchange since I was *just* there. Now, they don't usually allow that, but the manager did that day. While I went back to the books, upset with myself and looking for another title, what did I see but a little gold frame, face down in a nearby pile of old cassette tapes under a heap of vinyl records!

I would never have found it if I hadn't made that mistake, because I thought it was so long gone that there wasn't any point in looking for it. To me, that is Thrifty Karma :)

SFS Total for May, Month #5

Wow, this ended up being a little longer than I'd thought. But I hope some of this is helpful on your own Thrifty Crafty Treasure Hunts! One last thing - beware other bargain shoppers: some of them will steal your stitchy booty when your back is turned, or - as I can unfortunately attest - even grab it out of your own two hands! The Thrifting Seas can be perilous, but Stitchy Karma will ensure good sailing ;) LOL!

So my total SFS for this month, including tax, is: $28.09! I'm over my monthly budget of $25, but considering all my finds, I'm incredibly pleased that I didn't have to dip that far into my banked amount. This leaves $55.43, which is great because I'd like to keep the bank over $50 if possible, in case of more emergency spontaneous spending :) For all my fellow SFSers and stitchers, I hope May was good to you too!

If you have extra craft supplies, please consider donating to a thrift store near you :)