Kalamazoo Thrift Store Tour

Every time we go to Kalamazoo, we get sucked in by the breweries and bypass the thrift stores. Not this time. I looked up all the thrift stores in the area on Google Maps and clicked “avoid highways,” becasue that’s how we like to travel.

We started out at a Salvation Army Family Store where I scooped up a twin size vintage sheet, among a few other treasures. It’s fitted, so I’ll have to cut the elastic out of it before I can use the fabric. I knew it was old when I tugged on the elastic, and it crunched. Busted elastic may make other buyers shy away, but since I am just harvesting the fabric, I scored some serious yardage.

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No maker label, but I suspect it’s from the 1970s.

 

I also found the most amazing vintage beach towel I have ever seen. I think I can make about six messenger bags out of the terry cloth. The sail boats absolutely kill me.

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This towel has all the colors.
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Sail on!

 

I found another Salvation Army just down the road in Portage, MI. Judging from the photos online, this joint was massive. And it was. After perusing the neckties, I went through the “boudoir” section and headed for the linens. They had a ton of fabric that was sorted nicely, but none of it appealed to me. I’m very particular about the type of fabric I buy these days. Not by choice. I just don’t have any more space to store mediocre polyester. Make no mistake. I can always find a spot to squirrel away some premium fabrics.

The three racks behind the fabric had some awesome sheets and pillowcases.  I turned up a Monticello by Cannon floral flat sheet and a few pillow cases made by Penn-Prest, Sears, and Springmaid.

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Monticello by Cannon

 

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I’m digging the orange butterfly on that yellow pillowcase.

It was right about this time that I saw a sheet pattern that I recognized. A while back, I bought a Cannon Royal Family Featherlite bed spread from the Kalamazoo Antiques Market for $8 that I planned to use for fabric. When I got home and discovered that while the sizing was for a full size mattress, it fit our queen size bed well enough and I decided not to cut it up. Today, a matching queen size flat sheet was hanging on the rack at the Sal. Coincidence or fate? I can’t wait to bust out this 1970s sheet/bedspread combo when the weather warms up.

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The half-off color was yellow. I looked down at my findings and saw a few yellow tags, including the sheet that partially completes our springtime bed set. Yes. That’s the sugar.

We decided to test out a few Goodwill Stores, which as you might already know, can be hit or miss on vintage merchandise. Sometimes, I suspect there are people within the organization who don’t see any value in old clothing, fabric, or linens and cast it aside. But in reality, I have no idea what their sorting standards are like. We did find a few vintage neckties for $1.19 each at one Goodwill, while another location was a total bust.

 

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The new vintage necktie lineup from various Kalamazoo area thrift stores.

 

My intuition was telling me that our luck was running out. There’s only so much gold you can dig up in one day. We decided to hit the NuWay Thrift Store on Cork Street as our last stop. The interior of the store is really dark, and the prices are fairly high. As a result, they have tons of stuff that appears as if it has been hanging around for a while. I am more than willing to dig through piles of clothing and fabric if I think I can come up with something for a good price, but this isn’t my first thrift store rodeo. I can sniff out a low-turnover hoard of mediocre goods in an instant. It wasn’t all bad. I managed to unearth two pieces of pretty cool polyester knit among the fabric. It was finally time to split and drink a celebratory beer at Bell’s Brewery.

 

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It looks like wool, but it’s not. Polyester forever!
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If you look at it too long, the pattern will start to move.

 

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The 18” quilted pillow semi-failure

I rarely make something for the first time and end up with perfect results, and this 18-inch quilted pillow is certainly no exception. I have a ton of vintage fabric and decided to make a large quilted pillow for my couch because you can never have too many throw pillows. I am a largely self-taught sewist, so if any of you pros out there have some suggestions, leave me a comment!

 

To make the pattern, I cut a flap off the top of a box of beer and found it was four inches wide. I cut it into a four-inch square and decided that if I made the pillow five squares tall and five square wide, I would end up with dimensions of 20 inches by 20 inches before any seam allowance.

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I randomly picked 25 different patterns of polyester knit fabric and tried to cut the 25 squares with expert precision.

 

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After arranging the squares just how I wanted them, I sewed them together in strips of five with a ¼ inch seam allowance.

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To join the strips together, I pushed the seams in opposite directions and sewed the strips together.

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I decided to use some fusible interfacing to back the both sides of the pillow. This is where it all went wrong. Instead of putting the interfacing on the back of the quilted piece after I sewed it all together, I should have bonded the interfacing to each individual square. Since I was working with polyester knit, it stretched in different directions and all my squares looked crooked. So much for my super-duper straight squares.

I decided to try and straighten the mess by top-stitching on either side of the seam and pulling the squares back into position as I went. It helped a bit, but black thread was probably not the best choice. Next time, I’ll go with something that blends a bit better. Still, it’s not a complete throw-away.

 

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After the top stitch. Meh.

For the backing, I chose some vintage bark cloth and backed it with the interfacing as well. I dug up an 18-inch zipper to install along the bottom. I basically stink at installing zippers. I’m more of a snap and button person. I cannot figure out the zipper foot that came with my machine to save my life, so I winged it with the regular foot.  However, for my skill level, I think it turned out OK.

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After the zipper was in place, I sewed the backing to the front and trimmed the inside corners so that when the pillow is right side out, they will be pointy instead of the fabric bunching up in the inside of the corner. Here is the end result:

 

 

Did it turn out to be 18 inches? No. It’s about 17 ½, but when I stuffed an 18-inch pillow insert into the cover, it plumped out nicely. So the first run was not terrible, and I would definitely make more of these in different sizes.

The great vintage necktie bonanza

I don’t know about you, but when I travel, I start scoping out the thrift store scene as soon as I roll into town. Huntsville, Alabama and Johnson City, Tennessee had the goods on some super wide vintage neckties. The Thrift Mart in Huntsville had one of the biggest tie collections I have ever seen in my life and it was teeming with tacky neck wear. I also picked up a few choice vintage ties at the Salvation Army Family Store and the Downtown Rescue Mission Thrift.

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Prince Consort was really using his noodle when he added that built in tie clasp. Brilliant!

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I believe Pablo would approve.
I believe Pablo would approve.

When we reached Johnson City, the Salvation Army Family Store had such an abundance of ties that many of them had been tossed into a bin on the floor. I sifted through the tangled mess of polyester and silk and came up with several vintage prizes I believe belonged to one man. I love trying to figure out if a collection of items in a thrift store all came from one person. As evidenced by the couple of clip-on ties and a few more that had been left tied in a Windsor knot, I concluded that all of my new Wembly gems belonged to the same dude. I built a picture in my head of bachelor who is either lazy or doesn’t know how to tie a tie. In either case, the manager seemed thrilled that I had taken some ties off her hands. She didn’t even count them. She just asked me, “How many?” and quickly took my money.

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Oooh. It must be shark week

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I already have hundreds of neckties that I use when making pockets and straps for my messenger bags, but that won’t stop me. They’re usually about a buck, don’t take up much space in my sewing area and the dazzling array of colors and patterns I find continually blow my mind. I dive into a rack and, pop my head up and yell at Rad, “Ooooh. Look at this one!”

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100% polyester. Accept no substitutes.

Once I was in a Goodwill and couldn’t find the men’s necktie section. Somebody came out from the sorting room and told me that they had “sent them all back” because they were under the impression that nobody wanted to purchase a bunch of ugly old polyester neckties. Never say never sorting room people. There are folks like me out there who have a significant, but manageable hoarding problem. Here are some more photos of what I scored in Tennessee and Alabama. Be on the lookout for them to appear as an accent to a messenger bag in my Etsy shop:

 

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“International” polyester? The Sal should have charged more for this one.

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