How to Shop For Textiles at Yard Sales

So yesterday I went to a string of yard sales on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. I was looking for a bookshelf, but it ended up being a great day for fabrics and textiles. Look at all this stuff!

All of this came out to about $2.50, and I’m pleased with everything here.

Yard sale digging is a great way to find things on the cheap that would normally be pretty darn expensive, and it’s also a good way to practice what I like to think of as creative openness: looking at objects not in terms of what they are at the moment, but in terms of what they could become. Sounds hippy-dippy, but trust me, it’s a good way to be. It helps you do things cheaply. So how do properly scour a yard sale for fabrics? Well, just like this. You can apply these rules to other craft materials as well, actually.

  1. If you’re at an area with a lot of little yard sales going on, or a flea-market type scenario, take a quick look around to spot which vendors have things you’d want to look at more closely. Don’t discount the other possibilities; just home in on the places that have the most visible displays of what you want. Example: if you’re in the mood for fabric, don’t start with the lady selling home medical equipment, even if she’s closer. Get to the good stuff first, before someone else does.
  2. Think outside the clothing box. Clothing at yard sales tends to be a little ratty. You’d be much better off examining linens: things like tea towels, tablecloths, curtains, bedsheets.  Similarly, look at items of clothing as–fabric in a transitional stage.
  3. Examine anything you’re interested in with a critical eye. Ask yourself the following: is it stained? Is it washable? Can I repair/replace whatever’s wrong with it, or is it beyond my skill level?
  4. Don’t praise the item loudly. Calmly ask the seller what the price would be. Try to perfect your “I couldn’t care less” expression for lower prices and greater bargaining power later. If you say you’ve got to have item X, it will always turn out that item X is $20. If you must use an adjective for an object, use “interesting.”
  5. Buy big. At yard sales, there’s no trying things on. If it seems like it might not fit, pass it up–unless you’re honestly willing to take apart a slightly-too-small dress for scrap fabric.
  6. Buy only to your taste, or that of someone you love. If there’s a great deal on a floral tablecloth, enough to make an entire dress–but you hate floral–put it the heck down. Similarly, don’t buy out of pity.
  7. Stay away from people with copious amounts of stuffed animals and baby stuff for sale. They usually don’t have fabric to unload. Sorry.
  8. And finally–be sure that you only buy as much as you can use. Otherwise, it will accumulate–faster than you’d ever imagine. Trust me on this one.

And now, without further ado: back to pictures of today’s sweet finds!

This floral print dates to the 1960s, according to my mother, who knows a thing or two.

These ties may be my favorites. They’re from a woman who inherited them from her father, who was apparently quite the snappy dresser; she said that when she cleaned out his house after he died, he had over 200 ties. I think I picked the best ones; bold, geometric prints. I may end up using the fabric to cover headbands, or maybe make some belts.

This fabric came from the same gentleman as the vintage flower print. I don’t know what a person does with striped herringbone; maybe I’ll re-cover some fancy furniture. Or make some piratical suit pants.

And of course, this is just begging to become a circle skirt.

And remember: buying at yard sales is not only good for those who are totally broke, but also for anyone who wants to reduce the demand for new consumer goods, the production of which is bad for the environment. It also reduces landfill waste. So feel good about being cheap.

Not shown is a white button-down shirt that I bought for 50 cents. Tomorrow it will become part of the first tutorial on how to deconstruct button downs. It’s not a particularly high-quality button-down in terms of construction, so we’re mostly going to salvage it for fabric. Good? Good.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kat
    Jun 06, 2010 @ 15:28:35

    That striped herringbone looks like it would make the coziest, most laid-back couch cover ever. The colors are just comfy.


  2. thecraftersmanifesto
    Jun 06, 2010 @ 16:22:36

    Hey, you’re right! And my couch is tacky and needs to look nicer! I wonder if there’s enough…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: