Charity shop finds

Many of us who make our own clothes also enjoy shopping in charity shops. I have been wondering why. Here are some of my reasons.

  • The thrill of the hunt
    • In my life I have found some truly wonderful things in charity shops, probably the best ever being a bottle green Hermes handbag for £1. Over the years the really old and valuable stuff has been whipped off to specialist shops and the charities have become much more savvy, which is great. But much of the sorting and pricing is done by people with different taste to mine and you can still find interesting, exciting and beautiful things.
  • Insight into a community
    • When I go to my Mum’s in Lancashire I often spend an hour or so zipping around the seven or eight charity shops in Clitheroe. Although this part of England is quite run down and relatively poor, and many people use these shops for that very reason, the prices are low. Hardback books for £1 for example.
    • In the Cotswolds I visit the six or seven shops in Cirencester and any other town we visit on our walks or outings. Here the clientele is more wealthy, but the prices are higher too.
    • In London I always drop in, wherever I find myself for a meeting. London has such a wide mix or rich and poor. The Oxfam shop in Hammersmith told me that they had “really caught a cold” when Primark opened opposite them. Why should hard up people buy second-hand trousers for £6 when they could get new for the same price?
  • The idea of recycling and a less wasteful life (helping us deal with guilt)
    • All my unwanted garments go to the charity shop when I am done. I took virtually all my wedding presents (first time around – mainly vases and coloured towels) to Oxfam the next morning. This, in small measure, helps me deal with the guilt of oversupply. Gift Aid means that the value of the clothes, when sold, are treated as a donation allowing the charity also to get access to a portion of my tax, thus increasing the value of the donation. Conversely when I buy from the charity shop I am giving a donation in exchange for the goods. This means I never mind paying quite a lot for something I want. Two examples would be a leather shearing coat for £40 and £20 for a Natalie Bray book.
    • This year I bought all my Christmas presents in the charity shops. This is ideal with small children who are normally more interested in quantity than quality, unfortunately. They need a wide range of cheap, colourful items that will break and get thrown out in short order. Equally children’s books and clothes, with minimal wear and tear, are plentiful and cheap. Buying the latest expensive item strikes me as a waste of money.
    • While I offload my UFOs and fabric off cuts to the charity shop, sometimes you can buy someone else’s UFO. In Lancashire this week I bought a Julia Hickson trammed tapestry with a huge amount of yarn. I have just started completing this. What fun. These kits are no longer available so I will now keep a look out. I was thinking Nick may be able to create a chair or stool that this could complement!
      Julia Hickman Trammed Tapestry Kit
      Julia Hickman Trammed Tapestry Kit
  • The opportunity to donate to charity while also enjoying shopping
    • While I do visit high street shops to have a look at the latest fashions, i rarely buy, except in the sales. Spending an hour looking through other people’s rubbish and unwanted goods is as interesting. And if I am tempted to buy there is minimal guilt. This is also compounded by knowing I can bring the item back when I am tired of it and it will likely sell again. Double, treble, win.
  • The pure joy of getting a bargain
    • While I don’t ever resent paying top prices I also love to get a bargain. I often buy bestsellers for £1, with an original cover price of about £8. There is no cheaper thrill than five hours of book reading for £1. Sometimes I find a pure silk or vintage mohair scarf for £2.50, or a nice piece of fabric for £5.
  • Desperate measures
    • Charity shops on the high street are the best answer to a wardrobe emergency. One UK holiday caught us unaware when we found ourselves in heavy rain. I was able to clothe a family of five in raincoats, anoraks, wellies and hats. Once when Esme was horribly sick in the car I was able to get a new party dress in the next town. If I am underdressed for the weather I can always find a jersey or dry shoes for rock bottom prices. Sometimes these items are actually nice and remain in the wardrobe for years.
  • Learning
    • Obviously when you buy something old, like an embroidered table-cloth, a vintage book or a second-hand crockery you can examine it closely or look it up on the internet and find out something about its history – a voyage of discovery that I enjoy.

24 Responses

  1. Sew Ruthie

    I love charity shops too and both buy from and donate to them. I’ve backed off the buying more recently as my house is fairly full! I am also a little less skint and can buy nicer things if I want to.
    The one purchase I liked the best was a small bedside cabinet I bought for £3 and used in my rented house in the bathroom. When I moved it didn’t work in the new house so I donated it back to the same shop where they resold it for £5. (I had cleaned it up a little in between but that was it).
    Recently I got a great deal on some beaded necklaces which I plan to restring.

  2. Jenny

    I do hunt in charity shops for leather bags and clothing to use in sewing in charity shops. I found a great leather jacket which I was going to cannibalise but another customer looking on said what a lucky find. It struck me that her intent to wear it was probably better than mine so I handed it over. And she did look fab when she tried it on. It was my one good deed of the year!

  3. Tim Morton

    Favourite Charity Shop story is set in Alderley Edge, home to the Wives and Girlfriends of footballers. Amazing items in the windows but no prices, apparently if you want to know the price you can’t afford it.

  4. Linda

    You do find some nice items there, don’t you! Our charity shops here for the most part do not hold many treasures. You must have a different supply system over there. Although the consignments shops here do have a lot of lovely things, of course those would be pricier. I have hunted in both for something special to me, usually bag hardware or sewing supplies and fabric. Sometimes I’m lucky – reusing and not wasting is always a good thing.

  5. Lynn Mally

    And just yesterday I bought a Thai silk skirt (lots of fabric) and a shawl for $4.00. I love looking for silk, which I use for pieced scarves. And while Goodwill in the US won’t accept sewing scraps, Salvation Army will.

  6. Kim

    I think it comes back to the ‘one man’s trash being another’s treasure’. It’s good that things are being circulated rather than trashed too. The Management is so good at searching shops that our daughter asks him to look out for particular items.
    I don’t like the ones which have ‘a smell’ (you know the sort I mean) and avoid them – though I’m not put off by chaos.
    I’m envious of your bag find. I don’t recall finding anything quite so magnificent in a charity shop.

    • Fabrickated

      Ha ha – about the smell. One of the Clitheroe shops I like is RSPCA and that one definitely smells of dog. Whereas the Hospice shop is a bit “posh” and smells of pot pourri.

  7. Samina

    Thank you for sharing your thrift store shopping adventures! My favorites are used book stores, the more out in the boonies the better. Years ago, I visited a used book store while vacationing in Montana, and came back with very old sewing books, one of them from 1911 !! . Plus, they had a pile of Vogue magazines from the 1930s. I am fascinated with sewing and fashion history, and these publications are treasured. Not to speak of the blithe expression on the owner’s face when I paid him the princely sum of $40 for that huge pile of sewing books and magazines. By the way, the owner was a well dressed elderly gentleman who reminded me of Winston Churchill – complete with tweed jacket and bow tie. I’m so glad to have taken those books/mags off his hands….

  8. Kerry

    I’m horrified that you donated your wedding gifts to a charity the next day (really?!) I’m way too sentimental and I can’t offload such things and would probably have them in circulation until they wore out/broke! It’s so much more practical these days when the happy couple request cash rather than trash (did you like that?) Although I was rather put out when dear friends of ours asked for cash for their second marriage as I had made a beautiful quilt from vintage kimono block printed fabrics in a pattern that I knew they would like…we gave them the quilt, and ten years later it’s still in use.

    I have always op-shopped and my most treasured items have probably been (as a teenager) finding two books that were out of print that I had really craved. To me they were priceless. I would really love to feel confident enough to refashion second hand garments-maybe one day. Although the thought of unpicking leaves me cold!

    • Fabrickated

      Sorry. A guilty secret. The thing was we were already living together and had enough of everything. We asked for no gifts. Most of our guests were young and poor and they just bought “wedding gifts” from department stores – very conventional and dull items like boring vases, a mug tree, and ugly towels. We didn’t have room to store them so I just figured that the charity shop would sell the goods to people who would appreciate them and the money would go to feed starving children. None of the gifts was remotely sentimental and I had no qualms about rapid recycling. I don’t think the givers would mind that much. On our second wedding we asked for no presents, but people still gave them. Last year on my most recent birthday I asked people to donate to a particular charity instead of a present as most people seem to find it hard to come empty handed.

  9. Mary

    I shop at thrift shops for all of the reasons you listed. It is also how I was raised and what I have done for my entire life. I am in a much better place financially now and have not had the hardship raising my kids like my single mother had when raising me but I still shop smart and have trained up my kids to do so as well. Quality of used items can often surpass the quality of new items and since I sew anything can be altered or refashioned. My main reason now for sourcing what I need from thrift shops is I enjoy the challenge of getting the end result I want from limited materials. The constraint of using what is available really sparks my creativity.

    And your tapestry is beautiful! What a great find.

  10. ceci

    I bet the person who started the tapestry and didn’t finish it would be thrilled that it had ended up with someone appreciative! I enjoy thrift stores and look for them especially when traveling. Around here its gotten to be mainly one large chain of thrift stores that tend to have pretty uninteresting stuff (altho I still take a pass through when I drop off a donation box, just in case). In the college town where one of my kids lives the same chain has a much richer selection, including some pretty pricey clothes and lots of very gently used outerwear. There also tend to be excellent thrift stores in the small coastal towns in Maine we frequent, perhaps because there is a fairly wealth donating demographic? Both of my kids are thrift store shoppers, so its contagious.


  11. Ulla

    I volunteer at a thrift shop at our social centre and like the idea that you can give away unwanted things so that other people can buy them cheaply, thereby earning money for charity. I would always recommend, however, not to wear second-hand stuff before washing it. If you have ever been on the receiving end of donation bags and boxes, you know why they hand out gloves to the volunteers. It often happens that people clear out the stuff of their late grandma without even looking at the state of the single items – but we have to, and it’s not always funny.

    • fabrickated

      It’s even worse than that. I used to run the Notting Hill Charity shops – we had about 20 in London. Some people would literally send their rubbish – not just stained, melted, burnt, stinky clothes but also dirty nappies etc. So I take your point. However some items will have been carefully washed or dry cleaned before donation. Buyer beware, eh?

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