Month: September 2014

Thrift Score

I’m not a shopper. The idea of shopping as a hobby of sorts doesn’t appeal to me in the least. I much rather be making bread, knitting, reading, digging in the dirt, or participating in any of my other interests, really!*  I also love to take a day away from home to visit a museum or neat place and wander, but to willfully leave the house on a day off for shopping? Nah.


Sometimes the stars are aligned, the moon is blue, there is cash in my pocket, and I have a spare half hour before I need to do something or be somewhere — and my thoughts turn to thrifting.

Last week, I had two occasions where I found myself on the Main Street of my town during business hours.  My town is only about a mile big in total but we have two thrifts! One is the cool one — it explicitly advertises itself as thrift and vintage “resale,” has fun and colorful displays, and throws little parties. It’s a good place — it also chooses a charity each month and 2% of all gross sales from the store are sent over. The other thrift is dedicated to one social agency, and provides money for their programs and work experience. It’s significantly lower priced, but still has plenty of vintage items and magic. I love them both!

I was walking home on the evening that my husband was getting in from one of his business trips, and the larder was bare. I decided to get us the lovely salads one of the restaurants make — easy to keep fresh against the flight delays and traffic travel always includes. I passed by the Cool Thrift, and realized it was open for a half hour more. I poked my head in — so many pretty things! So much selection! It was like going to any boutique and shopping for your choice of clothing.

Since I didn’t have much time, I went straight for the dresses. Lo and behold a beaut was waiting for me! 14.99 USD!  I loved the colors.



I asked if I could try it on real quick over my clothes and the shop owner said “of course!” It was a little big, but that meant it would be comfortable. Sold! (When I got home, I looked up the charity for the month, and it was our local food pantry. Excellent.)

On my way to get the salads, I had the bonus experience of walking by the library which had set out free books! I picked out two, then on the stoop of another person’s house there were more free books and I picked up three. Williams Burroughs, Henry Miller, Anne Patchett, a breadmaking book, and a vintage cookbook. Someone must have sprinkled thrifty fairy dust on me that day!

My next thrifting opportunity was on the day of my Jury Duty.  They let us out early! Yay! I knew the Inexpensive Thrift closed at 4:30 and I’m usually at work at 4:30 — it was probably the only opportunity I’d get to shop there without making a trip there specifically.  My carpe diem-ing was rewarded by finding this really smart suit — $10 USD!  I love pinstripes, and knew I could break it up and wear the jacket with a dress and the skirt with a variety of tops to make it more casual, and then of  course wear it all together when appropriate. Imagine my surprise when I saw the original tags still on it — for $290 USD!  I had to ask the person working if they mispriced the suit! But no — he said suits on that rack are always $10 no matter what. WOW.


I also got six heartbreakingly beautiful vintage napkins for $3 USD total. I love vintage linens that have handwork on them, and these were in great condition. I find them so bittersweet. Who made them? Whose table did they grace, and for what meals? How did they end up in the thrift shop? Ah!



Bonus: I also saw a heron near the lake in the park in the middle of my town on my walk home!


That’s a whole lotta fun, do-gooding, and no coupon-ing for $28 USD!!  Gosh, isn’t this better in every way than buying fast fashion or going to The Mall!!?! 🙂

As I used to say as a teenager (ok, ok, I still say it now) THRIFT SCORE!

*I will note that an exception is shopping for our food. In just this past week, I visited Whole Foods, the Farmers’ Market, the cheesemonger’s, and two wine shops — and I enjoyed every minute of it!

Conscious Consuming


I’ve been thinking about this opinion piece, Fast Fashion Chains Are Growing, So Give Up On Being A Conscious Shopper? by Elizabeth Cline (of Overdressed fame) since reading it a few weeks ago. The part that really got me upset, a little angry, and analyzing my own behavior is:

Fast fashion is part of a wider ideological degradation, whereby we think of ourselves and identify in every way as “consumers,” to the point that we use consumption as our primary form of protest, by consuming “responsibly.” The problem with conscious consumption as the end all and be all of resistance is that it is a symptom of our over-identification with the marketplace and, more importantly, it indicates just how much we’ve lost site of the fact that social change happens primarily OUTSIDE of the marketplace, in the realm of government, law, policy, and activism.


The thing that bothered me is that she’s saying people are not smart or caring enough to make good choices on their own, and the government has to be involved. Huff! Puff! Then I said to myself, “Eh! She’s probably right! Isn’t that why WWII rationing had to exactly be a government, law, policy, and activist endeavor? The majority of people would not have done it on their own good conscience.

Depressing! Does that mean with our spend, spend, spend to support the economy as our patriotic duty and governmental officials in the pockets of big biz American mindset there is a slim chance of government, law, and policy reforms happening? I don’t know.

The other part that got under my skin is the “using consumption as our primary form of protest” business. I do use my consumption habits as my primary form of resistance to the aspects of our culture I find abhorrent. The whole “vote with your dollars” philosophy. I feel like it’s the only power I have, but hate to think of myself as “over-identified with the marketplace” — but perhaps it’s true. I mean I am logging every. single. clothing. toiletry. and. tea. purchase.

I’d love to hear what you think — I’m just raising questions here…

image:  Interesting stuff.


I spent my last tea coupons.

I was close to finishing my tin of organic Earl Grey, and goodness knows that can’t happen!!! so I got another tin — 3.5 oz. Then, when I was doing my grocery shopping in Whole Foods, I noticed that boxes of Mighty Leaf tea were on sale — I picked up the herbal variety pack of sachets for the evenings when my husband doesn’t want tea but I do (a shame to make a whole pot) — 1.48 oz. Let’s round up — that’s pretty much 6 oz of tea, 3 tea coupons. I had 3.5 left.  We’ll call it.

The good news is that despite the fact that it’s only September and I’m out of coupons, I should have plenty of tea to see me through the rest of the year.  The bad news is that I have to be careful and only drink my most favorite organic Earl once a week at the most for the rest of the year.

In every way, the tea part of this ration project has been the hardest for me. I love tea, and I consider it one of those little affordable luxuries that make each day so much nicer. I love the ritual and fetish of tea making — heating the water to just the right temperature, the interesting pots, beautiful cups, perfect spoons. Raw sugar or local honey, fine cream.  Shutting my eyes for the first sip, so all I do is taste. That being said, tea is something to savor, not collect, and gosh I was amassing a collection! These coming months will be full of much savoring, and no collecting — something I need to repeat to myself when I’m feeling weak and catch myself browsing the sites of my favorite tea purveyors (!)


Clothing: 30 out of 66
Soap: 24 out of 36
Tea: NONE out of 10

image: Cartoon from The New Yorker — of course! 🙂

Magpie Packrat Trashpicker!


Although I eschew consumerism and try and make the greenest choices possible each day, I’d never call myself a minimalist. My house is full of a million books and objects, every room is painted a different color  (some rooms 3 colors!),  my wardrobe is small but filled with various  prints and hues. I’m a saver — not only meaning saving things in various cabinets, drawers, and boxes, waiting for the moment the item is needed — but a rescuer of things that people have discarded. I love the pretty and the shiny (not necessarily the “valuable” ), and carefully store my pretty shiny materials no matter what their origins. If I had to come up with a label for myself,  Magpie Packrat Trashpicker it would be!

My Magpie Packrat Trashpicker-ness was at full force recently when I upcycled a plain black short sleeved blouse.

I was walking to the train, and saw a box on someone’s stoop that said “Free! Take me!” I looked through it and saw a plain black blouse. Nothing spectacular, but I thought I could at least use it for work, and grabbed it, along with two Chocolatier magazines and a Cook’s Illustrated (!)

When I got home, I washed the blouse and tried it on – whoa – way too sheer and a little too tight to put a layer under! What could I do with it? It sat there for about a week as ideas swirled in my head.  When I had a free day I took it out along with my various stuffed and squirreled shinies and came up with this little cardigan blouse thing.

Slitting it up the middle was scary but fun.


The provenance of the materials are er, ah, um, interesting:

Top – as I noted above, free bin on the street.

Lace – move out day free bin this May at the University I work for.

Ribbon – extra from curtains I made — I used this thin ribbon as sewing thread in loosely woven sheer material to make curtains for my library room. Idea from the book Sewn by Hand by Susan Wasinger, which I highly recommend!


Thread – from a giant bag of spools of thread of every color — honestly at least 50 spools of thread — that I got at the thrift shop for $3. This bag of thread broke my heart when I saw it because I feel that it was a lifetime of half used thread from the home of someone who could not any longer sew. I’ve made lots of stitches in that person’s honor since getting the bag of thread.


Button – from a huge lot of mismatched vintage buttons I got on Etsy for $5. I’ve been using buttons for all of my projects from this lot for years now! They are like magic buttons — somehow the right button always appears for what I need.

The resulting mishmash of magpie packrat trashpickery is a perfect little layer for a sleeveless dress. In fact, the thing I like it best with is a heavy, wonderfully made vintage slip I got at a church sale around the corner from my house a few years ago. I really thought that at my advanced age I wouldn’t be wearing vintage slips as outerwear any longer, but I guess magpie packrat trashpickers follow different rules than everyone else!




Create What You Wish Existed, II


We needed new hand towels in the upstairs bathroom. My supply has been dwindling year after year — which had to be expected — some of the towels were over 30 years old!

Story: My grandfather reconnected with his relatives that lived in Italy in the mid -1980s. We had a few cracky international calls where we could hardly understand each other, then we settled on letters to communicate. My grandfather’s friend’s Italian was still good enough to translate the letters for us, and my Italian relatives had an English speaking neighbor.

After a few letters back and forth, a package arrived. It was a gift from our Italian relatives, and was filled with dried porcini mushrooms, and . . . towels! We found out that you soak the mushrooms  then use them and their flavorful soaking water to make the most divine chicken and pasta dishes from my grandmother’s niece, but we couldn’t figure out why they sent us towels! We graciously accepted them and started using them as we put on our thinking caps to devise an America to Italy care package. We didn’t worry too much more about it — except when the porcini mushrooms ran out! We were addicted by then and my grandfather had to ask his friends about where to get more.

Fast forward 10, 20, 30 years. NOW the gift of towels makes sense. Our Italian family lived in Milan, then home of some of the finest textile mills in the world. They gave us a regional specialty!  The fact that I inherited these 20 year old towels from my grandmother then used them another 10 years speaks to their amazing quality. They may have been a dinosaur — I don’t even know if Milan produces towels any more! I kind of don’t want to know…

I have bought towels throughout the years and they seem to last 10 years, tops. There were some towels we bought, good ones, when we first moved here seven years ago, and half of them have frayed, torn in two, laddered like stockings (!) and otherwise generally fell apart. Now that I’m actively, consciously trying to seek out well made and lasting items,  I was really confused about where to get new towels. Then I got an idea! I make knitted kitchen hand towels, and some of them are 6 or more years old and are  like new. Why don’t I knit some?

So I knitted some.


I now have five new hand towels for the bathroom in shades of blue. I used the tried and true, very loved pattern I use for my kitchen towels — which also double as napkins, little towels to rest Woody’s water dish on, the towels I rest my tea things on at work, the towels I fold in half and put my dish soap and vinegar on by the sink, etc. etc.  etc.  In short, for my uses, it’s the world’s most perfect hand towel pattern and I love it so!

Traci Knits – Basket Rib Hand Towel

I do use the Knit Picks cotton linen blend yarn she uses too — I find the blend makes for very strong towels that have a beautiful sheen and hand. They get softer and more absorbent as you use them, so be prepared for a little extra patting until you break them in. I had the yarn in my stash, so this was a zero coupon endeavor.

This doesn’t help me with regular bath towels, though. A large knitted bath towel when wet would be a heavy thing I suppose. If anyone knows of a source for high quality organic bath towels that could possibly last another 30 years, I’m all ears!