The Research Conundrum

I’ve come across this quite a bit recently, and I want to express that research is good, but experimentation is mandatory.

I’ll elaborate. I give a lot of advice on sewing and building costumes and props and so forth, both in person and various internet forums. I’m old, I’ve probably built/ sewn/ handled one of those before and have a good memory for such stuff. I’ve experimented and succeeded with a lot of materials and techniques. Because I’m old, I didn’t have videos on the internet where I could watch someone else do the thing. I had mom, dad, high school and college instructors, and PBS (Sewing With Nancy is still on the air BTW). And the library, always the library. In my generation, we knew we had to practice the thing to make it a good one. In wood shop the teacher cut out the gorgeous scrolled wood in a demonstration, but we could see the bucket of scraps, broken pieces and badly cut versions right there next to the table. I saw my mom use her seam ripper. I watched dad measure twice and cut once. Practice and trial runs were an inherent part of the doing process.

The thing is, we have so many more resources available to us, that the number of techniques and materials for any given project has multiplied exponentially. So the new sewist watches six different videos on installing a zipper and is more confused than ever because they don’t know which one to use. This is where experimenting comes in. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen posts where the questioner is essentially saying “which of these is the right way?” and we befuddle them further with the answer “whichever one works for you”. But that’s the honest answer, the ‘right’ technique is the one you can do to a level you find satisfactory.  Finding the right technique means trying, and failing, a bunch. But then you hit on something that makes sense to you, so you do it a couple more times and hey! that’s looking pretty good!

I’ve advised people on processes, they ignored my advice and spent more money and produced a heavier prop than if they had followed my advice, but they were happy with their result. So was their technique ‘right’? For them: yes. It’s the method they understood and could perform well, which made them happy with their result. and in the end, being happy is what really matters.

Ah, there’s the rub: happy. All too often I see people miserable and frustrated, mostly because of a lack of practice. They fell for the inadvertent lie and started their project full scale or in fine fabric and are in tears because the first time they did it it was an abject failure. They didn’t know or listen to the ‘practice first’ advice, and have now lost time and money in quantity. The biggest problem I see in this situation is the maker not realizing they need to practice. They failed once and assume that there must be some other technique that will be better, that will be perfect the first time. All I can say is “there there, try again”. I’m truly sorry you had a catastrophe. And it might not be the unrecoverable failure that you think it is at this moment. That might even be the perfect technique for you and that specific project, but you won’t know unless you keep trying.



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Pokemon Go vs. fitness apps in general

Like many middle aged Americans, I’m heavier than I’d like to be. Over the last year and a half, I’ve managed to get my caloric intake under control and significantly balanced my nutrition using My Fitness Pal. It’s handy, I’m more than halfway to my goal weight/ size. But this app has never motivated me to exercise, sometimes I’ve even been frustrated by it’s lack of options in Activities That Cause Me To Break A Sweat on the occasions where I think about logging activities instead of just food & weigh ins. No, I don’t use Premium, I’m capable of mentally tuning out the ads and nothing Premium advertises is anything I want. I tried several other exercise based apps, some were better than others, but again, none inspired me to put on my sneakers and go. Sure they told me how far I’d gone, whoop de do, so does the odometer on my car. I have friends who post to FaceBook with these kinds of apps and I don’t care, it does nothing for me. They sent me emails with pictures of skinny people running with lengthy lectures on Knee Health for Runners! I’m NOT a runner, never will be. The genetics I was given mean issues with my feet where running is just flat not an option, too much impact and I’m hobbling around for days. I don’t do jumpy things either. I’ll walk, I’ll climb, I’ll crunch, I’ll pedal and row and lift, but not jump and not run. I have access to a wonderful gym, with trainers, only a 15 minute drive from my home, but the motivation to go is sorely lacking. The inherent flaw in most fitness apps is they are written by and for people who already possess the internal motivation to exercise. If one lacks motivation to start, the app is completely useless. Same goes for diet plans, the vast majority of humans have the internal motivation to eat, but we don’t all have the motivation to moderate our eating or balance our nutritional intake.

Enter Pokemon Go…

I’m a dork enough to admit I used to watch the Pokemon cartoon quite a bit, as an adult. (we didn’t have cable, so sue me…) I never played the card based game, it required a social circle also interested in that, which I lacked, and I’m just not that competitive. Scrabble is more my speed. At first I had no interest in this latest phone based game, I’m well past playing Pokemon games, right? But then some of my mom friends got roped into playing by their children. One, lets call her Celeste, is pretty heavy, like probably tipping the scales at double what her doctor would like to see her weighing in at. She has more than two children. She, because she’s a Fun Mom, loaded the app to play along with her kids and they went Pokemon hunting. And she had fun. She didn’t just see her kids having fun and was happy, she herself enjoyed it. She had no idea what she was doing other than running around with her kids and collecting random cartoony things and spending time with her children but she was out walking for two solid hours. When she told me about it she said her feet hurt, but she didn’t even mention it in terms of exercise, she was aware she had done so, but was preoccupied with the game enough that the exercise just went along with it. Pokemon got this very overweight woman out the door where every single app, diet program, fad soup and more failed. And she has tried them all, I’ve heard at length over our yarn and coffee just how perfect this next program was going to be for her and all the excuses as to why the last one failed. It boils down to just one thing: they weren’t fun.

Pokemon Go, is fun. Just the “what funny thing will surprise me today?” has gotten me into my sneakers and out the door three days in a row. I’ll be in my parents neighborhood this evening and just the idea of “oooh! I wonder what I’ll find near them?” makes me plan ahead to wearing sneakers even though I already walked my own block this morning. I don’t care about teams, or competing, or any of the other really Pokemon specific aspects of this, just knowing there is a surprise out there waiting for me is all I need, because I am a curious soul and want to go find it.

So, fitness app makers take note: none of you are creating motivation to exercise because you see exercise as fun. Those of us who don’t exercise because it’s not fun, it never was fun, get zero motivation from you. We wore glasses so didn’t play football as kids. We had big boobs by sixth grade so all running and jumping things were embarrassing, difficult, and painful. We were uncoordinated awkward kids who were picked last with groans because we offered nothing to the team. We don’t follow sports because that kind of competition never interested us. We need external motivation. We need simple activities with something other than the exercise itself to motivate and even reward us.

Silly prizes, pop up ‘friends’ or landmarks or almost anything not related to the fact that exercise is getting you that virtual thing. Maybe random cheers and applause? If Map My Run cheered for me at every mile, I’d probably still be using it. Surprise landmarks with random interesting facts “hey! you just walked the length of the Champs Elysees! (insert random facts about Paris)”.  I’d not only enjoy using that, it would motivate me to go to find out what I’d discover today. I might even pay to use it (if it was under $5). Apps could inspire exploration or distance or even upgrade from walking to running or even adding things like push ups, sit ups & more. It could ding and say “hey! do ten push ups right now for five coins!” or whatever, I’d brainstorming here. I have zero talent in things electronic, so I freely give my ideas, because I’d love someone to make that. For now, I’ll keep hunting Pokemon despite the server issues and not caring about teams, because I’m having fun finding things. I’m having FUN! And getting exercise at the same time.

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Cowled Cape- it’s not as hard as you think!

The Cowled Cape

I see people wanting to do characters with this cool looking cowled cape freak out on a pretty regular basis. Don’t! It’s EASY!

First acquire or make a perfectly ordinary cape in the color & fabric of your choosing. Preferably something with a bit of body to it, it is outer wear after all.

Put on the cape.cape1

Reach one hand down and grab the bottom corner, pull it up toward the opposite shoulder. (My mannequin isn’t sentient, so I used the pin for demonstration. Pretend there’s a hand holding that corner).cape2

Pull it over the shoulder at least 6”, maybe more.cape3

Push the swagged part crossing your body back over your shoulder.cape4

Hey look at that! Now if you want, push the hanging coat front back over your shoulder.cape5      TA DA!!

And a back view just for fun. cape6

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June 2, 2016 · 7:15 pm

starch: still great stuff

In our world of modern materials and technology, things like ironing and starching garments aren’t as common as they once were. Don’t get me wrong, I still consider ironing a chore and I guide my husband toward permanent press for his work shirts because, ugh, that’s a lot of ironing. But when I do it, I do it well, and on garments that really benefit from it as opposed to hang-it-up-straight-from-the-dryer-and-it-looks-okay clothes.

This technique isn’t suitable for every garment, but high polyester content fabrics were designed to avoid ironing, so it shouldn’t be necessary for those. Cotton, linen, ramie and the various blends though, all benefit from starch and steam.

I love linen. I made these palazzo pants a couple years ago after the pair I bought eight years previous wore out. I copied that beloved pair of pants pretty closely, except I made the pockets bigger. But they are 100% linen, a fairly dense weave (the first pair were very thin, which is why they wore out so fast*). So, they pretty much wrinkle just by looking at them. Ironing isn’t optional, and dip starching makes a big difference.

  • linen is a very tough fiber, lasting up to hundreds of years and even centuries when processed and cared for well. King Tut wore linen, his clothes are in a museum.


Here are the pants hung straight from the dryer, not bad, but definitely could use some freshening up.


Ok, standard spray starch and a good hot iron. Below is the result.


That doesn’t look terrible, but just from ironing wrinkles have already set themselves. So, on to a dip starch!


The materials: liquid concentrated starch, water, a container big enough to fully immerse the garment, and a safe place where spills won’t be an issue. I’m using a bowl from my kitchen without worry, starch is a byproduct of processing food, mostly potatoes. Color and scent have been added, so I wouldn’t eat it, but you could boil some potatoes then use the leftover starchy water the same way. That’s how they did it in the ‘olden days’.


Read the bottle, it gives ratios for how stiff or light you want your starch. For these pants I want “heavy” which was 1:5 starch to water, so I used a pint glass as my measuring device as I needed to fill a fairly large bowl.


Stir the starch and water, then dunk your garment.


Let it soak 20 minutes to an hour. Longer than that the starch will settle to the bottom of the bowl and get weird and thick.


Wring out and hang to dry.

starch after

I got busy, so my pants hung there all wrinkly for several days. No big deal other than they haunted me to finish this post project.

starch after2

That’s pretty stiff!

starch after3

Plug in the iron and set it to the appropriate heat for your garment. linen needs high heat.

NOTE: Most irons come with a water reservoir and a steam setting. Really good quality irons this feature works really well, for a while. Cheap irons it rarely works even fresh out of the box. I’ve yet to come across even a high quality expensive iron that doesn’t drip or leak water when you don’t want it to after several years of use. Therefore I recommend keeping your iron dry and using a mister spray bottle for when you want steam. My iron (pictured above) is ten years old, and as good as it is thermostat-wise, it even leaks after all this time.

starch after 4

ready to iron!

starch after5

you can see the damp areas before I apply the iron. In order to activate the starch in the fabric, we need it pretty damp before applying heat.

starch after 6

hey, look at that!

starch after 7

Finished pants. Notice how the hems are standing in big loops instead of falling flat? that’s the starch working. I’ll update after I get another person to take a picture for me so you can see how good they look on a body.

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May 18, 2016 · 3:52 pm

“you suck, get better”, or Why Projects Fail

Why projects fail: a detailed explanation of a beloved gaming quote “you suck, get better”
Not doing the ‘homework’ of researching the technique/ materials first.
It’s easy to watch one video and say “oh, that looks easy!” and dive in before watching and reading several more tutorials. Maybe that first person knows carving so well because they used to work in a dentist office and that material is way more finicky than a beginner can handle. The more homework you do, the better your chances of finding a tute better suited to your skill set, climate, and tools.
Cutting corners in technique.
When the can says ‘touchable in 2 hours, dry in 24’ it means just that, doing anything else on top of the surface dry application can ruin both layers. You really do need to let the product set up as long as the can says. Skipping the ironing to sew faster results in shoddy looking sewing. Yes, you really do need to launder the fabric before use. Yes, when the product says ‘prime by wiping with alcohol, wait to dry before applying’, it means it. ‘Only use in a properly ventilated area’, seriously, why try to craft while high? Follow the instructions for the materials, they are there for a reason even if you don’t understand what that reason is.
Using the wrong tool.
If the tutorial giver elaborates on why they used a spoon instead of a fork, it’s worth listening too. Sure, you can cut balsa wood with a really good kitchen knife, but it’ll be really hard work. It’s much easier to find an actual saw and cut it with that. Learn to borrow, rent, or save money for the tools you need.
Using the wrong material.
There’s an old adage “You can’t make a silk purse from a sows ear”. Pigs ears are covered with fine hair, it looks soft, but it isn’t. they make paint brushes and scrub brushes from pig hair, it’s coarse and stiff. Silk, of course, is completely different, an insect product. The alchemists of old tried to create gold out of all kinds of other things. It didn’t work.
Don’t try swapping cooking spray for silicone spray (they are different on the molecular level!!) Don’t mix different quantities until you’ve done the math* to know exactly how much will result in your desired amount. Don’t try to convince yourself that draping will somehow magically reduce the amount of fabric the pattern says is needed. Don’t use regular paint on boots thinking “it’s only one wearing, it’ll hold up, right?” because it won’t.
Last I’ll say this: garbage in, garbage out. If you buy the cheapest poor quality materials you can find, no amount of talented construction is going to make sheer polyester broadcloth look like anything other than sheer polyester broadcloth.

Trying to rush the project.
This goes back to following the instructions, and points forward to failure to plan well. If you are in a hurry, trying to finish up the night before, you failed in some other aspect of planning, or worse, never made a plan in the first place.
Not practicing techniques before starting large scale items.
I’ll be honest, no one likes doing homework. The good news is the only person grading your homework is you. You can do small scale or partial sections, as many or as few times as you want. You are your own judge! So if you’ve never used this specific product before, but have used something similar, you can do one test on scrap and it will suffice. But if the whole thing is completely new, get extra materials, pick a section to do, and try it.
Not doing the math.
This mostly applies in two areas: sewing and mixing multi-part resins and glues.
For the liquids, the math is usually really simple multiplication, if 1 oz. plus 3 oz. fills ¼ of the mold, you simply multiply both numbers by 4, or five if you think you might need to allow for spills. But actually do the math, either by hand or with a calculator, but write it all out so you pour the right amount of A and B. Simply having it written down in front of you can eliminate many errors when in the heat of “pour and mix quickly for proper adhesion”.
Fabrics on the other hand can get tricky fast. If you are shorter than average, the yardage a pattern calls for will be more than you need, I buy that called for amount anyway, a little extra for practice is never a bad thing. Conversely the tall suffer having to guess how much more they will need, and it depends on the pattern and where their height falls, evenly? Or mostly in their legs? And bigger people suffer a multitude of injustices aimed at them by pattern companies. Learn how to measure your body, use the numbers to translate to the pattern. When draping, it takes many years of practice to be able to look at a concept drawing and a fabric choice and say ‘this will take five yards’. Your best bet when you haven’t draped enough to have acquired this skill, is to find a commercial pattern that covers the same amount of the body in roughly the same volume (say, using a wedding dress pattern with a full skirt for a ball-gowned character) and use that as a guide.
As a general rule of thumb, I’ve found the following estimates, when added to the above pattern use guideline, work pretty well. If you are taller than 5’9” and female, add a yard. Taller than 6’3” and male, add a yard and a half (increase by half a yard for every 2” height). If you fall into the ‘plus size’ range or are an exceptionally busty female and are average height, add two yards. ‘Plus size’ and over 5’9” female add three yards. ‘Plus size’ and over 6’3” male, add four yards.
Failure to plan.
Really, it doesn’t get much more simple. Getting in the car with no destination usually results in being lost, out of gas, and hungry. I’m a big fan of list making. It’s just a list, not an essay, nobody else has to read it but you. Write it down, on paper with pen, in a computer program, on a chalk board in your work space, whatever works for you. Getting all the different ‘buy’ ‘make’ borrow’ ‘learn’ written in one place helps immensely in getting your system organized, budget made, and time managed. My blog is called “three lists” because it’s the average number of personal lists I have going on any given day. Every project is composed of ‘buy’ ‘make’ and a third category determined by the type of project. Lists = planning, and that’s a good thing.
Now, go out there and succeed!

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Carnegie Hall

Carnegie Hall

There is an old joke that goes something like this:
TOURIST: “Excuse me sir, could you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?”
NATIVE NEW YORKER: “Practice, practice, practice”

The thing is, there was a time when no one got to perform at Carnegie Hall unless they were absolute tops in their field. To be invited meant that you had ‘made it’ in your performance genre. It’s still one of the top venues in the world for live performances. If Carnegie hall invites you to perform, your only excuse for saying no is being dead.

So, people who want to make things go to the internet to find out how. There are specialized websites, YouTube, Pinterest, instructables, craftsy, and so many more! It’s exciting! That guy did it in five minutes! It looked so easy! Ah, there’s the rub…
What you don’t see is the two hours of prep time and the five failed attempts. You don’t see the twenty-seven other similar-but-not-as-complicated things he made over the last year. You don’t see the scraps of practice swatches filling his trash can. All you see in the six minute video is the five minutes of final assembly. It’s not intended to deceive, but it does so anyway, because that guy has put in his practice time.

Watching Eddie Van Halen perform one of his amazing guitar solos isn’t going to suddenly make you be able to do the same the first time you pick up a guitar.
Watching Pablo Picasso paint isn’t going to magically impart his knowledge or talent to you.
Watching Michael Jordan dunk a basketball isn’t going to metaphysically impart his work ethic to you.

Watching an artist, performer or athlete can impart knowledge about what they do, it’s a vital step in learning to do a thing yourself. But you must do, over and over and over again, to gain the skill. Your hands and body must go through the physical motions, become comfortable with them. It doesn’t matter if it’s drawing, painting, carving, modeling, sewing, knitting, weaving, running, throwing, dribbling, passing, getting the right chord, hitting the right note, speaking the right words with the correct meter, pitch and accent…. It must be done over, and over, and over, until you get it right. Then keep going until you do it better. And then keep going until you are the one showing off your skill.

I often remind my students about the fact that Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. He had no innate talent for the game. So he went home and started practicing, hard, daily, and never ever quit until he retired from the NBA. He got there through hard work and determination, not talent. Innate talent is incredibly rare. Most people viewed as talented, are in fact just very hard workers.

So yes, you can play guitar or sew a dress or dunk a basketball, but it’s going to take a lot of practice. No technology exists (yet, I’m waiting on those Matrix downloads) that one POOF! will magically enable you to do the thing perfectly the first time and every time.

So when Yoda says “Do or do not, there is no try”, what he really means is: ‘You will do badly, many times. Then you will do mediocre, many times. Then you will do good, many times, then you will do great, and not stop, for if you do you will slip back into good, then mediocre, then bad’.

YouTube is not Carnegie Hall, it’s more like a small town community theater. Sure, there are real concerts and performances that people pay money to see there, but there are also those kids who wrote their own play that had to beg their own parents to come and watch. And the show was at 3PM on a Tuesday and free.
Take anything on YouTube with a grain of salt and some background research. Sponsored by a business or materials company? Probably have lots of practice and will give a good lesson or advice. Sell their products with good customer reviews? Probably good advice. Obviously filmed with a phone camera and say “um” every four seconds? Might know what they are doing, but poor communication skills mean it’s probably a waste of your time. Radically different approach, not using safety gear or ventilation, say things like “well I don’t have an [tool] so I used [kitchen implement]”? Chances are they don’t know their ass from hot rocks, skip it.
I’ve seen displays of good work or talent ruined by an inability to communicate, which is frustrating. I’ve seen people who obviously weren’t skilled enough to be teaching others, but apparently had the over-inflated egotistical notion that they did possess the talent, which is annoying. This is the downside to YouTube tutorials, anyone can post, there is no vetting, no required criteria, just a video and a means to upload it.

There are websites with reliable tutorials and videos, but they vet their authors. Craftsy, instructables and make all have pretty reliable authors on a wide range of subjects and projects. There are hundreds more that are more specialized for specific crafting genres like knitting, woodworking, car repair and then some. These are often a better first step than just going straight to the Tube for your instructions.


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Thrift shopping for costuming

So you don’t have the skill to sew for this specific character and he’s wearing more-or-less ordinary clothes, so why not try to buy second hand? Yes! Second hand shopping solves many issues: it’s ready to wear, it’s reasonably priced, and more often than not your money serves a wide variety of charitable ventures. Thrift stores fall into three basic categories: big chains, small independent church or club shops, and ‘full retail’ consignment stores.


Big Chains
You know these names: Salvation Army, Goodwill, Thrift City. Of the three Thrift City is a business, not a charity, their mission is admirable, just understand the difference in where your money is going if it makes a difference to you.
Pros: big chains will have the biggest stores with the largest volume of stuff and they are often pretty well organized. The employees will be paid staff there at least 20 hours a week if not full time, so they will have a good idea of where to look for things. Pricing is set very clearly and daily specials are common. Because they are big their product turns over very quickly, just because you couldn’t find purple pants last week doesn’t mean they won’t have six pair this week.
Cons: People are lazy and rude, so a lot of stuff dropped on charity porches is done so unwashed, on Saturday night, in the rain. Thus the “Thrift Store Smell”. Clothes are washable, you’re getting a mans suit for $30, remember? That cost $300 when it was new ten years ago and has been dry cleaned ever since, shelling out $15 to get it cleaned to your tastes it still is a fantastic bargain. There are certain things big chains just don’t bother with: board games, sewing patterns (unless they come into the store in a box then they will hit the floor as a group) and craft kits where missing pieces mean it cannot be completed as-is. Another con is they rarely have truly vintage stuff, it’s mostly just recently outdated. If you are in college and need a muffin tin, this is the place to go.

Independent church and club shops
The Junior League is a national organization with chapters darn near everywhere and better than 60% of chapters run a shop. Even the smallest towns have at least one church that runs a thrift shop that supports various missions of the congregation. Middle sized and large cities often have thrift stores that support a specific mission, like a runaway shelter, an animal welfare facility or a senior care organization.
Pros: these are my favorite shops for vintage goods. Because the majority of donations come from congregation or club members, the things they held onto longer get donated to the organization they really care about. You feel good giving your prom dress to your club shop when your friend runs the counter. Another pro is that they tend to be a lot cleaner. When Sally hands Mavis her bag of goods, Mavis will tell everyone if she didn’t wash them first. Last, because they are focused on raising money for charity, they put out for sale everything they get, sewing patterns and games are much more commonly found at these types of shops as well as more formal or fancy home goods like champagne glasses or really nice furniture. I have kicked myself for years for not buying the Ethan Allen twin sized canopy bed I saw for $60…. At the time I didn’t have children yet and nowhere to store it.
Pro & Con: these shops are more focused in their donations and area of contributions. Which means if you live in a working class neighborhood, the shop at the church down the street isn’t going to have anything nicer that the richest guy on your block, who only makes $2k a year more than you. BUT if you are willing to drive across town to shop in the ritzy neighborhood, you are in for a treat! No, not the brand new McMansion neighborhood that just went in, there won’t be any thrift stores there at all because the rent on retail space is too high. Go to the neighborhoods with the big old houses, with white haired ladies still driving their 1995 Cadillacs. That is the shop that will have mink stoles and 1950’s taffeta prom dresses, designer men’s suits and Louis Vuitton luggage. (yes really). When I was a kid my mom went across town to shop at The Green Door. There was a song ‘green door, what’s that secret you’re hiding?’ I honestly thought the song was about that shop because they had such wonderful things. I was in high school when I realized it was a second hand store. It’s still a great place to shop, huge applause to the ladies of Saint Luke’s Episcopal for running such an incredible shop for so long.
Cons: the staff are nearly always all volunteer, and likely each only work one shift a week so they don’t know what’s in stock. There’s always one really grumpy lady, can’t tell you why but it seems an unwavering fact of these types of shops. Chances are they are all retirees, so no hope of getting help loading that new-to-you couch into a truck. Pricing may not be quite as clear and you might be face to face with the person who donated that item, keep disparaging remarks about the goods to yourself. Because they are smaller and draw from a smaller pool, these shops don’t get as much new merchandise as often as big ones.

Full Retail consignment shops
These are rarely charity driven, but occasionally you may come across one. These types of shops are much more current fashion and often high end goods, designer labels and tailored items. The standards for what is accepted into this type of shop are much higher. Things like wedding gowns and really nice suits are most common in these shops. While I frequent these types of shops, I do so for everyday wear, not costuming.
Pros: Everything will be clean, complete, and generally good quality if not full blown designer label stuff. Their vintage will be the collectible, highly-sought-after type things. My best friend in high school had a pink Chanel suit from the 60’s (the Jackie O one) that she paid $100 for at one of these type shops. I’m still jealous.
Cons: Their prices are higher, justifiably so, but you’re still going to spend more in these shops. But hey a pair of Tony Lama boots for $75? Heck yeah! You will feel more guilt buying something so nice if you know you need to tear off the sleeves and slap ‘blood’ all over it. These aren’t where you want to shop for Halloween costume stuff.

Okay, so we covered the types of shops, so now how to go about finding what you are looking for.

thrift7be kind to your fellow shopper, even if you can’t see her over the racks.

First: this is going to take time, multiple trips and possibly several locations. I live in a big city, there are twelve Salvation Army shops and seventeen Goodwills, and that’s just those two chains, there are more independent shops than those two combined. When I decided to dress as the Tenth Doctor for Halloween a couple years back it took me two separate days of shopping, at least ten stops, and a whole tank of gas before I found a brown pinstripe suit that fit me. The smaller your town the fewer options you have and therefore the more time you need to give yourself for the shops to potentially bring in the thing you need. By “more time” I mean weeks of waiting in between individual shopping trips.

Second: have a list that includes both immediate desires and long term planning. My current list is as follows: an orange shirt for younger child for a Welcome to Night Vale character (immediate), a light colored leather day planner to do John Winchester’s Journal (immediate), something than could be converted into a celery costume (yes really, it’s for a school play), anything real leather (long term), and anything non-polyester taffeta preferably in a formal length with lots of yardage (long term). You might find a jacket perfect for a character who was lower on your list and be able to bump it up to a sooner wearing because the hard-to-find piece fell into your lap.

thrift4 oh hey look, someone stashed some taps shoes in the mens section…

Third: walk the whole store. Doesn’t matter if you only need a white mens dress shirt, you might find just the right size stuck in ladies shoes. It’s a thrift store, that happens a lot. And because of your list, you might find a pan or a decorative bowl that might be a perfect base for a weapon build for that other character on your long term list. It might be inspiring as well, we made a Jedi costume for my youngest because we found the perfect pair of boots, and they fit. We didn’t go in with Jedi in mind, but the right stuff was there.

thrift10 this has all kinds of interesting potential…

Fourth: Think outside the box. This is the hardest part and I’ll do a separate blog on modifying clothes but like the Jedi example above, looking at the potential of each item is key to getting the most mileage out of your money. What does this look like? Can you cut or tuck it somewhere to make it work for something? Hem it shorter? Add a ruffle? Paint a stripe?

Last: be fearless with what you may potentially do to that item or garment. That wedding dress is at a thrift store, not a nice consignment shop, it probably has bad karma from the original wearer and she’d be happy to see you turn it into Zombie Bride. Don’t think because it was once a nice blouse or an expensive-when-it-was-new jacket that this fact in anyway prevents you from cutting, tearing, sewing, painting, or whatever else you want to do to it. You paid money for it, it’s yours to do with as you please.

Go shop!

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