When I was still working, we took some kind of weird personality test. Not something as credible as the Myers-Briggs. No, this was some home-grown test administered by someone working on their social work degree. Turns out that one of my preferences is to rummage through piles of junk. This part of the test was right on target. There is nothing I like more than going through piles of junk set out for bulk waste, stores full of junk, abandoned trash bins on the street, etc. You never know what you’ll find because people will throw away perfectly good things or at least, perfectly useful things if you have a sense of whimsy (others may say “weird”). Case in point: Half of a chair. LIterally, the perfect half of a chair–two legs, half a seat and half a back. I could see this painted the perfect shade of orange and mounted on a wall, or somehow standing on its own in the dining room. My husband was not so in love with this idea and refused to pick it up. I on the other hand was smitten with this crazy, surreal and admittedly sad object abandoned on a busy downtown street.
So for me a Goodwill Store or other charity thrift shop is a building full of potential. While I am on a budget and often look for additions to my wardrobe, it’s the odd stuff that may spark a new project that brings me back time after time. While everything there doesn’t qualify as junk, bargains and the quirky find abound. Example: A Liz Claiborne leather jacket for $5.99. A 1930s book. Lately, I have been searching for sports coats and vests for my 21-year-old son. His narrow shoulders make it next to impossible to find any “vintage-ish” sports coats that fit to his satisfaction,but this search leads me into tie territory. Yep, men’s ties. Most are ugly or nondescript and too wide to be fashionable, but I’ve discovered that many are hand-tailored from quality silk, made in locations such as England or France and lend themselves to many uses, none of which involve a man’s neck.
Here’s my latest success story. Two days ago, I hit a suburban Goodwill in hopes of finding a decent bookshelf or large bird cage (We have two parakeets who need more exercise.). Struck out on both scores, but as I was leaving, I remembered I had not checked the men’s ties. The fact that I have about 50 at home is no reason to not acquire another one, though my husband may disagree. I was ready to give up when a beautiful wheat color caught my attention. This color is a a rare find. Usually the ties given up are boring corporate patterns of navy, black and gray, part of an unimaginative work uniform. But every now and then, someone with a sense of style will donate his ties and I am lucky enough to find them. This has only happened a couple of times.
As I said, today’s find was a beautiful wheat background color with a print of small poppy orange and royal blue flower-type things. Reading the tag I learn that this is a Bert Pulitzer tie “All Silk Foulard Printed in England). Despite a medium-sized grease stain on the wide part of the tie, I went ahead and spent $.99. After all, I only needed half the tie to make a band for a felted fedora that I just finished crocheting. I was thrilled when I got home and saw that the tie was a perfect complement to the hat, which I made with cinnamon-colored worsted weight wool and a mohair and silk prairie-colored yarn. Can’t wait to get it stitched into place and put the latest StorylineCreation in our local arts center.
I’m not sure that incorporating “junk” with a handmade item is the same as upcycling, but it gives me pleasure to give this beautiful discarded tie new life as a source of pleasure to someone, if only myself.
Here are three tips for other upcyclers out there:
- in my town, the urban Goodwill stores are where the best stuff is. I’ve found the suburban locations to be sterile orderly collections of boring women’s clothes (not much for men), mainstream reading material, and enough old florists’ vases to, well, start your own flower shop.
- Look at everything. Inspiration comes in the most unlikely places. If the Goodwill or thrift store has a section with scarves, hats, belts and ties, scrutinize each item. Some can be used for hatbands. Fleece hats or scarves in interesting patterns can be cut apart and incorporated into another crochet, knitting or assemblage project. Let your mind wander.
- Scout the sweaters for those made from 100 percent wool in colors and patterns that speak to you. As you probably know, they can be felted (shrunk in hot water) and reinvented as wrist warmers, hats, jackets, and embellishments. I’m not a seamstress, so I have built any new garments out of them, but have cut out shapes and strips and embellished my hats. Again, the only limit is your imagination.
What are some of your sourcing secrets? Where do you find inspiration for that next crochet, knitting or craft project? I would love to hear what gets your creativity charged up.