Chronicles of a Garbage-Picking Crafter, II

See that beautiful poppy?

That was part of a cheesy jacket manufactured, oh, around 1972, I’d guess… you know the kind? Based on athletic wear, with knit cuffs and waist and zipper up the front and made of either polyester (the early gross type) or acetate?  Truly awful, in other words.

But, look how pretty that poppy is cut out, stabilized, and partnered with quality quilting cottons.

If you have a local clothes depot, real gems are waiting for you, too.

Cambridge, Mass. offers “Clothes by the Pound”. These are the articles that local Salvation Armies have given up trying to sell. They are heaped in piles on the second floor of an old office building near Kendall Square. One fills a bag, it is weighed, and off you go with a trunk-load of fabric for about $9.00.

While I’ll admit it’s not for everyone (the smell takes some getting used to, for instance), I love it!  One gets down on one’s knees and starts flinging garments around like a dog digging for a bone in the old cartoons.  If I’m there with fellow-treasure-hunter B., we might toss items between us, with commentary such as, “ooooh, an Ann Taylor — I can see you in that!”  The clothes piles invite a scrappy approach to acquisition that I seem to be more comfortable with than traditional shopping.  In fact, I am more comfortable routing around through used crap than trying pants on in an upscale clothing store at the mall (an activity I hate so much that for years I didn’t wear pants, and No, I did not go around half-naked.  I wore skirts.  They can be bought off the rack and fit fairly well).

One problem with a place like Clothes by the Pound is that it spoils you. I’ve gotten so that I wait for SALES at my favorite thrift stores, because $5.00 for a man’s shirt, even a very cool vintage Hawaiian, seems like, well, too much.

And, actually, another problem with Clothes by the Pound is that even though I’m not looking for clothing to wear, I often find great pieces — like a gorgeous 100%  wool J.Crew cable-knit sweater that was originally a Man’s Large, inadvertently shrunk — and now a perfect felted fit for a medium-sized woman.

I’ve learned to look for African fabrics, Indonesian batiks, and Indian madras. Also, anything from Hong Kong, because it tends to be hand-tailored and incredibly high-quality.

This quilt also features fabric from manufacturer’s headers (the green fish print).   Those are fun because fabric companies create sample booklets with colorways, so you would have coordinating prints, or a particular print in five different colors.  All swatches well-sized for a quilting patch.

Lastly, I recommend discovering a curtain maker or upholsterer in your area who would be willing to let you take some of their scraps.  This has been absolutely invaluable to me.  The real boon of a connection like this, especially if either of these sources work for upscale clients (and most people getting custom-made curtains and upholstery, are), is you avail yourself of very expensive linens and drapery weight polished cottons, for example, that you would NEVER pay for (many costing over $100/yard!!).

Happy Hunting!

8 thoughts on “Chronicles of a Garbage-Picking Crafter, II

  1. jude

    such a fun thing, i got started on garbage picking when i got a job delivering newspapers in college. i was out early in the morning and got first picks!

  2. Robin

    My idea of shopping! We have something similar in Portland which we lovingly call “The Bins”–all cast off stuff from Goodwill sold by the pound. I love finding old linens to dye there. There’s something so satisfying in being able to rescue a perfect bit that was headed for landfill!

  3. Linda

    Hello, Ive been on the web it seems for ever trying to find out how to start a slow clot. Can you please help do you sew the blocks with a machine or do you do a foundation then hand sew peices on? I need help with this. I live in Pittsburgh and I wish they had thw cloth by the pound here sounds like so much fun.
    Thank you so,

  4. deemallon

    Robin, I wished for a heartbeat that you lived in the east coast Portland so that I could visit The Bins, but alas, you’re a West Coast gal… I hadn’t thought of the rescue aspect of shopping for fabric by the pound, being so focused on the treasure hunt and money saving, but you’re right — it’s all stuff headed for the heap!

  5. deemallon

    Hi Linda, thanks for visiting. Most of my patchworky quilts are pieced, without a foundation (or a pattern)… but I have also on occasion used uniform squares of muslin and stitched my patches (by machine) onto them… I also applique shapes onto pieced sections, or just plain collage fabrics (in other words, no piecing)… Have you searched “quilt tutorial” and seen what’s come up… I have to believe that there are lots of visual instructions out there on the internet… What is it you want to make? A wall hanging or a blanket?

  6. albedoarlee

    oh, i do love back alley scrounging! And sometimes i walk by the highway, a dangerous but satisfying way to pick up cloth that has blown out of pick up trucks :}
    The BEST scrounge time i had was a summer about 18 years ago when i worked on an actual garbage truck!

  7. deemallon

    Garbage truck work WOULD give you a good view of stuff, wouldn’t it… I’ve been tempted to walk along Rte 9 to pick up rusted and chrome bits, but it seems a little too risky with traffic whizzing by the way it does….


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