Charity Shop shopping

posted in: Pattern cutting, Shop Review | 22

I used to shop in charity shops all the time, especially when I was in my late teens and twenties. Then you could pick up a flapper dress, heavily embroidered and beaded; silk chiffon 1940s tea dresses and silk satin 1930s evening dresses. Such were the low prices and lack of fashion interest that these vintage items were affordable to a student, and worn as somewhat eccentric day wear by me and my fellow David Bowie fans. Over the years I have found some amazing things including a Mulberry handbag for £1, silk blouses, cashmere jumpers, lovely belts, 1920s shoes, and lots of 1940s and 1950s cotton summer dresses. Now there is a vintage fashion industry most of the really good stuff is extracted before it gets to your local high street.

I even ran a set of 20 charity shops in London (which were part of Notting Hill Housing in the early days).

Notting Hill Housing Trust Charity Shop
Notting Hill Housing Trust Charity Shop

These days the charity shops are full of the sort of thing that would otherwise go to landfill – Primark clothes, lots of polyester, Mom jeans and not very stylish shoes. Many shops buy-in goods too – candle holders from India, shoddy scarves from China, greetings cards and gaudy, cheap necklaces. There are nice things, of course, and there are bargains if you know what you are looking for. The smaller towns outside the South East tend to be the best in terms of long forgotten treasures and lower prices.

I can’t resist a quick visit and often spend a few minutes flicking through the racks. I donate all my clothes and household goods to the charity shop and I love the fact that every year this makes a reasonable amount for the charities I support (especially as they are gift aided too, getting some of my tax back). But I don’t come away with anything worth shouting about.

However this weekend, wandering around in Whalley, bedecked as it was in Union Jacks celebrating “our independence” from the European Union (the country is divided, even my family is divided with everyone over 65 taking one view, and the rest of us being keen Remainers), I found something wonderful.

charity shop shopping
Sewing books from Charity shop

I am not sure if someone was having a clear out, but it was nice to come across a good selection of sewing books (I left several for the next person) amongst the out of date travel guides and Jamie’s dinners. Of course these sewing books are all available, second hand, through Amazon for about £8 each, plus postage. I find even the rather dated ones useful in terms of good explanations of techniques – certainly as good as some of the newer books which are more expensive and rarely as thorough. And the really old ones don’t date – the Natalie Bray includes illustrations from the 1940s which are useful if you like making tailored and vintage style clothes. While I appreciate the modern Japanese books too with their very different approach to pattern cutting and style, I feel these older ones are always relevant, don’t you?

I also bought some knitting items. Sharon on Clitheroe market sells a range of donated goods to raise money for the local children’s hospice. I knew she had a good range of knitting needles, in all the sizes, and I as I am “thinking” about knitting a jumper I decided to start at the very beginning. I also snapped up a little booklet that explains how to check your tension and block your work. This “handy” guide obviously came free with a knitting magazine, although I am not sure why someone would want to “use the ring” to attach the cards to their knitting bag.

What is the blue plastic thing? Another “free gift” with a women’s magazine I thought it might be handy. I wonder if you know what it is for? Maybe you got one in the 1980s and use it all the time?

Knitting paraphanalia
Knitting needless, knitting guide and measuring tool

Do let me know what you think below and I will give you the answer on Friday.

(Sorry post was truncated earlier; now restored)


22 Responses

  1. Jenny

    Along with most towns we have an abundance of charity shops – about 15 at the last count in a town of 25,000. I have a wander every few weeks and have found a few nice things occasionally but mostly I donate more than I buy. I did find about 8 metres of deco weight fabric once for £4 which I used to cover chairs and to make a design wall in my sewing room. I still have some left.
    The multi-use plastic gizmo is probably for measuring out pleats – there is a sliding button on the left, measuring the circumference of a circle – perhaps for top stitching and point turner. Is the slot on the right something to do with buttons?

  2. Catherine Daze

    The Dressmaker’s Dictionary is a goldmine. Probably my favourite sewing book. I got mine in a charity shop in Yorkshire. You rarely see that sort of thing in charity shops where I live in East Anglia though.

  3. eimear

    I make my clothes now by generally remaking charity shop buys. I am always amazed at the amount of good quality fabics (silk, wool, linen etc) on the euro rail as well as the primark stuff.. generally its because the stuff is an 80s or old-fashioned cut, I got some 80s raincoats last week so these are to become the basis of my new summer coat and windcheater!…….rather jealous of your Ann Ladbury book – she is amazing. I have some of her sewing books and fabric book – great reference. Your plastic thing looks like the pleat, hem, button, gauge measurer…..similar to the metal ones you get in the habadashers now?

  4. Anne

    I rather like Natalie Bray; I’ve used some of her books. Ann Ladbury too. I’ve picked up a couple of decent things in charity shops but I’ve never seen fabric, other than old curtains.
    At first I thought the multi function blue thing was a tension measurer for a specific size of swatch. I’m probably wrong as others are going down a different route. Good luck with your knitting project.

  5. Joyce Latham

    It seems to me that it’s a knitting gage counting device and the whiles are for measuring the needles, in case the size number is not on the needle, or you want to convert the size.
    I often hit our local Value Village , full of junk but sometimes I find something I want. I sometimes find material, even useful for a tole, if not the real thing. And there seems to be lots of lining material there for me. It’s where I bought my knitting needles, and I found some children wear knitting patterns in the magizine department the other day. Haven’t seen any sewing books there lately, but I have found them before.
    I haven’t decided on my next spknitting project yet, but I’m anxious to get going on something.
    Till we chat again

  6. Stephanie

    I could use those books (no sewing library to speak of yet). I used to shop second-hand shops when I was young, but the quality of the stuff available here tends to be very low these days. I should start going to some of the bigger shops though, to give it a chance again. For the device I initially had a reaction like Joyce’s, but that can’t be it. The holes aren’t big or varied enough (at least it seems so to me). I used to have a row counter that I never used, pulled out of my grandmother’s knitting supplies, but it had pegs and was much bigger. This looks like some kind of a measuring tool to me, more for sewing than for knitting, or at least it’s not something I’ve seen or used before.

    • Stephanie

      But PS what does the text say around the holes? Ah I just enlarged it so I could read the text… 🙂

  7. Janine.

    Is it from the English Womens Weekly ? I wonder if you put a compass point in the centre hole and a pencil in the others to draw a circle. Looks like it could be useful little gauge though.

  8. Lynn Mally

    I lived near a Goodwill (the major charity outlet in the US) while in college and got a lot of my clothes there. I remember finding good shoes, coats, and pants, and of course wonderful books. While I still shop at used clothing stores, I have a lot less patience for the hunt these days. Now I look for old sheets for making muslins and men clothes that I can cut up and remake. On my last trip to the UK, I was a regular visitor in the many different kinds of charity shops you have. I found books to keep me busy and some wonderful silk scarves.

  9. Annnieloveslinen

    You hit pay dirt there Kate, the books are a great find. Eimear is on the right track, you can usually see how to use that sort of thing on YouTube, I was surprised at all the functions you are able to do with a seam gauge, who knew?

    I bought a new Out of Xile skirt from a charity shop the other week they had lots of ex shop donated stuff, Oska, Sahara, Ribcoff etc. they were around £20 a piece not cheap but a bargain.

  10. Sew2pro

    I’ve been meaning to buy the C Shaffer book for a while: it’s very highly regarded.

    This post is very timely…..

    Blackheath Standard has an amazing Red Cross shop where I used to occasionally find labels like Hobbs, Whistles and K Millen which I couldn’t really justify buying new. But I rarely buy clothes there now as I prefer to make but if I had a job interview, that’s the first place I’d go for a sober suit.

    The other favourite shop in Blackheath Standard is where I leave donations as the cause is very close to my heart. And then look what they had when I went there two weeks ago. How lucky was that!!!

  11. Jay

    The books were a great find. Natalie Bray and Ann Ladbury were ‘gold standard’ authors, CS’s book is a useful addition. I don’t know the other one, but would probably have picked it up anyway, it’s hard to back away from bargain sewing books.
    I used to do charity shops in student days and occasionally later. The best finds were usually in the posh areas, the poorer spots tended to have rails of drab. Unfair, but a fact of life.

  12. SJ Kurtz

    I am a thrifter through and through, and have found much good stuff and some truly awful over the years. I just missed the mint treadle table with functioning Singer last week at the Value Village, but it coughed up a Riccar Dressmaker in perfect condition this winter. What goes around comes around. I’ve taught my kids to look for the gold there, and they’re well dressed lads because of it.

    The days when I’m going to find a 40s suit in decent condition are long over. The trouble with vintage is it’s all gone online. Even Goodwill (the other big thrift chain in town, more of a real nonprofit charity shop than VV) sells its best online. I just measure my expectations accordingly.
    And my (done by the 14th of July and not a second before) SixNapoleons is all thrifted.

    • fabrickated

      Years ago, when I came to the USA as a teenager, I found there was less of a culture of charity shops but Goodwill was the one I found. Here they are definitely used by poorer people for outfits now. But the prices are similar to Primark (the cheap clothes store). So looking forward to your 6Nap SJ.

  13. Jane

    I entirely agree with your comment that older sewing books tend to be more thorough than newer ones. I suspect it’s because sewing is no longer seen as an essential craft so people are starting out from a much lower knowledge base than they would have during much of the last century

    When I was a child in the ’70’s I occasionally sewed with my Mother, I remember that she used a pattern stipulated by the school for both my summer uniform and school ballet lessons kit. There probably was an option to buy these things ready made but many people had home made clothes. We also had sewing lessons at school, looking back I can’t remember learning much from these but they were at least available.

    These days I don’t think sewing is offered in many schools, I know that neither of my step daughters have been taught sewing which is a shame as they are both very interested in fashion.

    • fabrickated

      I was thinking about exactly that. I remember taking up ballet as a four or five year old and my auntie being given the pattern to knit a little wrap around cardigan. And with our school summer dresses you could make them up yourselves if you had the skill.

      The thing about teaching sewing is also very true. We house a lot of young parents in social housing and most are not competent at the basics such as cooking, cleaning, small DIY repairs, gardening, mending. If it was up to me I would make sure all children could survive in the world (financial management, self control and effective parenting too). I love Shakespeare, history and languages, but I think life competencies should come first.

      • Annnieloveslinen

        I completely agree about educating schoolchildren in life skills, parenting, budgeting, cooking etc. It is sobering that within a few generations practical skills have declined, the self fulfilment and confidence to be gained from these is incalculable to non academic students. We should be teaching world affairs and politics too, the ignorance about how the world works is shocking as recent events have demonstated.

        Sorry to rant but it’s a subject I feel strongly about.

  14. Kerry

    I still go to the same charity shop I went to as a teenager in the 70’s (it’s still in the same building in the same suburb) and have rescued some lovely things over the years, including impossible to get out of print books. Back then it was all very working class and affordable to me as a poor student, but now everything is tastefully displayed and prices are breathtakingly cheeky. All those lovely silk garments and cashmere cardigans are long gone, but it is still the place to find the hard-to-get items. I used to buy my clothes there and alter them, which I stopped doing once I was earning decent money, but now I wonder why I didn’t continue to do this? Everything these days is so massed produced and uniform it drives me mad.

    I was taught how to read patterns and sew garments when I was at school, but it was never fun because it was school work and not sewing for creativity and pleasure. But it probably gave me the confidence to teach myself how to mend and alter garments. In the work that I do I notice that many young women don’t have a clue how to mend or fix buttons or alter a hem and they don’t have the confidence to try.

  15. Sue

    What an amazing haul! I occasionally get lucky in charity shops but the good finds are getting rarer. I haven’t seen any of those books so might keep an eye out.

  16. PendleStitches

    That is a spectacular haul. I never have any luck in charity shops, but my friend Liz is a demon and turns up some good finds for me. I got two really good knitting books this week for a fiver…they’d have been 20 quid on Amazon!

Leave a Reply