Tuesday, May 27, 2014

SFS Month #5: Treasure Hunting!!!

Whew! What a week :) In frustrating but eventually happy news, I switched internet services. There's still a few wrinkles that need to be smoothed out, but I'm so glad to be online again! A week ago, I had my SFS planned out this month, with a grand total of nothing spent. But then the most wonderful thing happened and The Great Stitchy Karma Gods blessed me with a rainbow-hued windfall of crafty goodness!!!

Hellooooo COLOUR! Isn't it divine?! It totally astonished me when I put everything together to take pictures and saw how well the colours coordinated. I didn't see the pattern to my purchases and gifts until they were laid out together. Neat, hey?

All of these supplies came to me in different ways, so I thought I'd talk a little about that for fellow Stitch From Stashers looking for shopping inspiration! Most of this is stuff you've probably heard - or done! - before, but I've gotten a few questions about shopping for craft supplies on a strict budget, and I hope this post will help :)

First, I'll quickly go over my treasure hunting booty and how I found it, and then I'll share a few thoughts on my experiences thrifting for crafty supplies in general.

1. Couponing

Now, this is pretty obvious. But my tip here is to become familiar with your local chain stores that carry craft supplies. And if there is more than one store close to you, be sure to scout out each one every so often to take stock of what they carry. There are three Walmarts near to me, and every one carries slightly different things.

If you can, sign up for e-mail flyers and newsletters as they sometimes have special deals and coupons, often centered around seasons and holidays. I use a specific "junk account" for this type of mail so it's all in one place and easily skimmed through, and I don't have to worry about deleting something important or about being hacked.

My other tip is this: don't wait for the coupons to come to you. If you can't wait for a sale, it's worth taking the time to check online before you go. Now, I really dislike printing off coupons. It uses up time and ink and paper, and you basically pay to get what should come for free. But there happened to be a rare 30% Off Entire Purchase coupon at Michaels, so I printed it off in case it would come in handy.

And it did! These craft threads are by the in-store brand Loops and Threads. L&T products have been hit-and-miss for me in terms of quality. I haven't used these before, but the bright colours really drew me in and I can't wait to try them out!

The other place a purchase discount - opposed to the more normal per-product discount - comes in handy is for multiple small items like DMC floss! Although on the surface you only save a few cents, it quickly adds up. Of course, I went and forgot my Missing Floss Colours list, and ended up buying a few duplicates, but what the hey?

Floss is regularly 49 cents, and with the 30% discount I saved 15 cents on each, making it very near "buy 2, get one free". In total, I bought 29 skeins ($9.86). The L&T Craft Threads were $6.99 each, I saved $2.00 on each pack for a total of $9.98. All in, with tax, I spent $19.84 at Michaels and saved $5.00. Yay!

2. Donations/Gifts/Freebies

This is a method of acquisition that is often overlooked. But talking to friends and family members - and even strangers sometimes - about needlework can result in unexpected but much appreciated gifts. Especially if you don't limit yourself to only needlework supplies! Plenty of general craft products can be repurposed :)

In this case, grumbling to my Stitchy Guru Mother about needing a clear ruler for charting on graph paper resulted in this windfall of prettily packaged vintage quilting supplies! Which brings me to an important point - keep having conversations about supplies whenever possible because people don't always remember what they have in their stash ;) Or they have products like these that are technically for another craft entirely and honestly don't think you will be interested in them!

Also, often people will consider older supplies to "not be good enough" to offer to you, so it's important to make it clear if you don't mind vintage or gently (or even greatly) used products. The T-Square ruler, for instance, was originally clear but has yellowed with age. But that's perfectly okay for me - it still works for what I need!

As for the other gifts - I'm thinking that the quilting pencils and eraser will be great for drawing free-hand embroidery stitches on testers, and that the plastic marking pencil will be helpful for making templates. And needle grabbers are always great!

3. Dollar Store

As you probably know by now, I love dollar stores! Again, it really helps to scout out the different stores in your area because they often carry different things even within a single chain. There is one small store I love to go to that carries a lot of end stock products from great brand-name companies. The quality of these are generally much higher than the usual second-best off-made stuff, but is usually arrives in very small batches that sell out quickly and often cannot be restocked once sold out.

End-stock stores are usually local or small-chain, and carry a mixed bag of regular bargain products and with a small core of rotating one-off lots. These will usually be brand-name, but be very careful because there are a lot of faked "big name" products or ones with very similar packaging and slightly off names which can be confusing.

On my trip, these bright colour craft felts called out to me! I'm not sure what I'm going to do with them yet, but I've been seeing tons of great felt crafts online and I'd like to try some. These are not the good wool felt that is often recommended, but they are as good or better than those sold at Michaels and are the same brand as the felt sold at my local fabric store for a much higher price, so I was happy to find them.

Instead of $1.99 a sheet, I paid 33 cents each, or three for $1. So I got 12 sheets (two of each colour) for $4! If I had bought them at Fabricville, the total would have been nearly $25 dollars. Crazy! Also maddening. Very glad I waited and looked around!

4. Thrifting

Thrift stores can be depressing dispiriting doldrums or the most magical wonderful worlds, depending on the day, your mood, and the items on offer. The content often changes weekly or even daily, depending on the store. I also consider garage sales and estate sales to be thrifting - even flea markets! - but those all usually have an element of bargaining that is lacking from actual stores. So even though the methods are mostly the same, I'll save those for another day when I have examples to share.

Everyone has a different way to thrift. For me, The Great Stitchy Karma Gods are everywhere - including thrift stores! My approach to thrifting has really changed in the last few years to reflect this, and I'll try to explain what I mean. First, my finds:

If there's anything I love even more than craft supplies, it's craft books!!! Er, okay - all books really :) While I've come to rely on online tutorials and information, there is still nothing like having an actual book in my hands for inspiration! The newer Colour and Composition book is another example of borrowing from another craft; although designed for quilting, the book is actually all about colour theory and art-drawing exercises that can be used for any creative endeavour. It was 99 cents.

And so was this incredible beauty!!! Although written in the late 1970s and somewhat dated in project choice, Creative Needlecraft is a lovely full-colour stitch guide for many different techniques, including blackwork. Whenever I'm anywhere near old or new books, I look for embroidery guides and despite much intense searching over the last few years, this is the first real one that I've found. I can't wait to read it, and I hope to review it soon :) I just love the cover, with the Anchor floss rainbow!

So if you want to feel like a pretty parrot-carrying Piratess raiding magical rainbow shores for stitchy goodness (and really, who doesn't?!) here's three helpful tricks:

Consider Condition

I really can't emphasize this enough. It is SO easy to completely fall in love with an item only to get it home and find it's entirely unsuitable. For books, flip through the pages and look for signs of damage - from water, food stains or rough handling - and age, such as mold spots, foxing and yellowing. And although it may look weird, I find it helps to quickly sniff the book ;) Sometimes strong smells are insurmountable.

In my experience, airing will take care of light odors but strong odors can linger and infect other items in your house, sometimes to disasterous effect! Leather bindings, and leather items in general, tend to hold smells the longest and cloth-bound books can be bad too. Anything that's clearly disintegrating is probably not worth saving.

Magazines air out more quickly than books. My trick for smelly reading materials is to spray a paper towel with Frebreeze odor-reducer and let it dry, and then bundle the offensive items in a clean plastic bag with the towel. Leave them this way for a while. It may take a few hours for light smells, but a few days to a few weeks for heavy odors. If the latter is the case, replace the towel with a new one every so often.

I've managed to save a lot of stitchy magazines this way! When they're all freshened up, you can remove them from the bag and add them to your regular stash without problems. This also works on great for smaller items like floss and Aida fabrics!

Consider Completeness

Although this is related to condition, it's something I always have to remind myself of, especially when dealing with needlework kits like this lovely pattern made by Leisure Arts for Hallmark. On the surface, everything looks great, but when I flipped the flap up I saw that it had been opened. Thankfully, everything appears to be there!

But often smaller kits are bundled together in bags and you don't have the luxury of sorting through them individually before purchase. I understand that stores do this with small craft items like floss and patterns so it's easier to sort, display and sell but it can be really hard to tell what you're getting. When it's 99 cents, as this kit was, it's not a big deal. But I've seen needlepoint kits for as much as $20 at this store, and if I can't assess the contents of an expensive purchase like that I've learned to pass.

Speaking from experience, there is nothing worse than getting home only to find out that your new kit doesn't actually have a pattern! For some reason, I see a lot of kits with the patterns removed. It could be that the original owner separated the charts from the supplies for storage, but it happens too often to be totally random.

Sometimes it pays to go up to a floor person or cashier and ask to open the package to see the products before buying, but unfortunately it's not usually allowed. And employees tend not to have an interest in, or knowledge about, crafts so the things they bundle together can vary considerably. And the values they assign to items can range greatly too, or even be misprinted - this kit was incorrectly labelled for $99!

This is incredibly frustrating when, for example, you're interested in only two kits in three different bundles but are unable to just pick your preferences out. Crochet cotton is often sold this way, and when similar items are split between bundles you have to choose between paying for items you don't need to get the ones you want. Again, if the cost is inexpensive, it can be a great surprise find. But it quickly adds up!

Consider Cost

Besides the obvious sticker price, I've learned over time to really think about the actual cost. Say you stumble across a book on pottery making. Or candle making, or dried flower arranging. It looks really neat, and you want to try it. It's only $2. But - what will it cost to buy the supplies? To take a beginner's class? Do you have the space now, or expect to have space in the future, to practice the technique?

And - most importantly - what will you actually DO with whatever you make?! I know, I know - it's a killjoy. But it's so easy to wind up with stuff you'll never use!

I'm not going to lie - it's painful to lay things aside. Sometimes it helps to thrift with a good friend so you can get each other's opinions on things and give each other reality checks, especially when you're just starting out. A useful tip is to carry the item around with you as you walk around the store. If you still like it by the time you're ready to check out - and after seeing all kinds of other things - then it's a good buy :)

Thrifting is really just like any other art or craft - it takes time, patience and practice to develop your own taste and figure out your own wants and needs. It's that simple, and that difficult LOL. It's a skill you build on with each buy. Everyone develops their own style eventually, and this is what we admire in a great bargain hunter!

10 Tips for Crafty Thrifting

1. Become familiar with local stores and frequent them often. Don't get disheartened on dismal days; they're inevitable for everyone and are far surpassed by great finds!

2. Subscribe to e-mail newsletters, if available, using an alternate "junk mail" address. Check flyers and websites for upcoming special sales, and ask about loyalty programs. And see if there is a "donation discount" - sometimes bringing in new donations to the store will net you a percentage or amount off your own purchases!

3. Look for deals on multiples around the store, which is common on books and magazines. This is to encourage quick clearance on frequently donated items.

4. Don't limit yourself to the "crafts" section, assuming there is one. Things get scattered all over the place, and it really pays to keep your eyes open as you walk through the store. I actually found this Aida remnant in with some greeting cards:

5. It wasn't priced, which brings me to this tip - if you find a non-priced item, check to see if it belongs to a set (this is usual for dishes and glassware) or opened bundle. If not, bring it to the cash and offer or ask for a price. The cashier charged me 29 cents for this piece which is large enough for a small ornament front with extra for a tester!

6. If the donations are sorted on the store floor, find that area. There are usually racks or bins where incoming items are tossed to be sorted through and priced later. It may seem sassy, but feel free to carefully scan through these things. I find that if you group like items together and keep your digging tidy, the staff usually doesn't bother you :) This is a great way to find the newest things! If a store will not sell unpriced merchandise - and some do not - ask if it can be reserved for you, or visit again in a few hours. Once you know what you're looking for, it's easier to find!

7. Be open to vintage brands, but make sure that they're in good condition. Sewing thread, floss, other threads and fabrics all disintegrate over time so if it's very old, it may be worth collecting for interest but may not be suitable for actual use.

8. Look for things that will be useful to you in craft work that aren't actually craft supplies. Pretty glassware or nice boxes make for good organization, an old shirt might have the perfect fabric to back an ornament series. Picture frames are always useful, and I snap up ones I like when I see them and stockpile them for later use. It's amazing how much that comes in handy for special event gifts! The sky's the limit.

9. If you don't see what you're looking for, it never hurts to ask and to be specific. Some stores do not have a Craft or Sewing section. Usually all crafty things are lumped together with home repair, gardening and interior decorating under "House Wares", sometimes called "Home Decor" or "Household Living". It's well worth checking out the Kids section too - all kinds of things wind up there. And finally -

10. Buy Only What You Love!!!

This is the MOST important factor of all! If you take anything away from this post, I hope this is it. Let me tell you a story: I grew up in a small town without thrift stores. At the time, vintage clothing was all the rage again and I read lots of articles in US teen magazines about shopping at gigantic stores where you bought clothing and junk by the pound, weighed on huge scales. And you haggled for your bargains.

So when I moved into the city years ago, I was envisioning factory-sized flea markets basically :) The truth was rather different, and although it took some adjustment, I've come to prefer smaller stores. Although usually haggle-free, often rather dingy and sometimes dirty - and definitely not glamourous - I love bargain hunting and enjoy knowing that my money is going to charity (be sure to check; causes vary by store)!

I'm not ashamed to be a thrifter, because I see it as supporting a worthy cause and aiding in the environmental ethos of reduce, recycle and reuse :) Not only that, but it's the best way I have to find unusual crafty items locally, along with vintage brands that are no longer in production and books that are no longer in publication!

Not only that, but every thing has a story, and it's fun trying to "read" their history ;)

But when I first started thrifting, I was so taken with this new method of treasure hunting that I snatched up everything even remotely interesting. Things I wasn't sure I really wanted, and I mostly never managed to find a use for. I overlooked a TON of condition problems. It's all very well to do restoration, and a lot of things can be successfully redone, but I pushed aside all the red flags and bought completely hopeless things anyway because I imagined that I would never get the chance again!

In short, I became greedy. I was an unwise and terrible Treasure Piratess. It took me a long time to realize that The Great Stitchy Karma Gods - who are really present everywhere, and in everything - were looking out for me. Now, I truly believe that if you are meant to have something, it will find you. I believe that you should put back the things you only like for someone else to fall in love with. I believe in Karma.

Now, I know this may sound incredibly loopy. But practice it yourself for a while and then see how you feel :) Here's a great example of things that find you:

This little framed lace bouquet caught my interest the moment I saw it! I think it's machine made, probably for the tourist trade. There's columbines and bluebells and some other flowers and leaves in an urn. It's mounted on black velvet, which is a little dusty in places, in a modern gold frame. It's not old, but it's pretty! It had smears on the glass and adhesive from the price sticker, but it was 99 cents and I loved it :)

The first night I found it, it was near closing time. I waited for almost an hour in line to be checked out, but then I lost my patience and decided I didn't really *need* it. But it stayed with me, as the best would-be finds always do, and I went back the next day to buy it. But it was gone - or so I thought. Nearly two weeks later, I went again and happened to buy a Singer Sewing Library book for my Stitchy Guru Mother.

Only, it turns out that I had already bought that one for her a few years ago. I hurried back to the store and asked for an exchange since I was *just* there. Now, they don't usually allow that, but the manager did that day. While I went back to the books, upset with myself and looking for another title, what did I see but a little gold frame, face down in a nearby pile of old cassette tapes under a heap of vinyl records!

I would never have found it if I hadn't made that mistake, because I thought it was so long gone that there wasn't any point in looking for it. To me, that is Thrifty Karma :)

SFS Total for May, Month #5

Wow, this ended up being a little longer than I'd thought. But I hope some of this is helpful on your own Thrifty Crafty Treasure Hunts! One last thing - beware other bargain shoppers: some of them will steal your stitchy booty when your back is turned, or - as I can unfortunately attest - even grab it out of your own two hands! The Thrifting Seas can be perilous, but Stitchy Karma will ensure good sailing ;) LOL!

So my total SFS for this month, including tax, is: $28.09! I'm over my monthly budget of $25, but considering all my finds, I'm incredibly pleased that I didn't have to dip that far into my banked amount. This leaves $55.43, which is great because I'd like to keep the bank over $50 if possible, in case of more emergency spontaneous spending :) For all my fellow SFSers and stitchers, I hope May was good to you too!

If you have extra craft supplies, please consider donating to a thrift store near you :)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Easter Egg Finish! + Craftsy Feature

My Easter Variation of "Christmas My Way" by Keslyn's Designs

Wow, has it ever been a hectic few weeks here! Mostly happily so, but very busy nonetheless :) My apologies to anyone who is waiting on e-mail from me! Hope to remedy that and resume my bloggy browsing ASAP. I just wanted to quickly share the Final Finish for my little Easter Egg ornament! It turned out a little - okay, a LOT - differently than I had envisioned, but that always seems to be the way, doesn't it? ;)

Also, thanks so much for all the lovely comments and encouragement you left on my last post, and the compliments on my colourway! Floss is really fun to play with :)

Here is the original project - from Just Cross Stitch's 2011 Christmas Ornaments Special - and my variation together for easy comparison (full details in this post):

For this finish, I made the corded trim out of the DMC 3846, a lovely turquoise:

Originally, I had intended to use the grosgrain ribbon I bought with my backing fabric (see it at the end of this post) to make a ruched trim with a ribbon bow (a little like this tutorial by Lynn B. @ Happiness Is Cross Stitching, but with longer tails) at the top. But: a) the turquoise ribbon was slightly off the floss colour, b) Two meters of ribbon was not nearly enough for ruching, and c) it just plain refused to work out!

So I just used what was left of my floss to make simple hand-twisted cording :)

What looks like a third loop in the middle is just the hanging loop - to make that, I cut a section off the end of the cording, made a loop, and attached it separately inside the top of the ornament before I ladder-stitched the top seam together, as I usually do.

To attach the cording and leave enough length to work with, I pinned the middle of the cording to the bottom center of the sewn-up ornament, leaving two long tails on either side. The cording was sewn down with one strand of floss, looped over the twists to help define them. Then when I reached the top again, I looped the "ears" over each other to form the bow, and wrapped my sewing floss around the center until it looked right to me. I did try tying the bow, but I couldn't get it to lie right!

Then I cut the ends to the same length and frayed the threads below the knots to make little tassels. Although I intended to leave the ends lose, they sort of flopped around so I tacked them with a stitch above each knot. They still aren't perfectly symmetrical by any means, but it was the closet I could get. I deliberately made the tacking stitches loose to leave a little give so I can adjust the way the ends hang.

And after a difficult start, when I had to discard my first backing piece because it frayed from putting in and taking out stitches, I *finally* got my motifs lined up:

I wanted the bunny talking to the little chick, and his buddy bunny with the floomy tail, to be the center and it took some finagling to keep the chick's wing in the frame! Happily, I'm still in love with the fabric, and I have plenty left over for next Easter :)

Feature on the Craftsy Blog

Some exciting news: My Chicken Scratch Sampler on Aida was recently featured in an article called "The Story Behind Amish Embroidery", written by Leigh Bowser for the Craftsy Blog! The site is also currently hosting the Lifetime of Craftsy contest.

Happy Victoria Day to Fellow Canadians!

Although I am confused, as always, as to why the 24th of May is celebrated a whole week early (it's got something to do with the Government's Holiday Timetable, or so I've been told), I'm nevertheless looking forward to the long weekend :) Whatever you do and wherever you go, I hope you have wonderful weather and a great time!