Monday, February 20, 2012

The Sweatercoat Chronicles - Chapter One - The Shopping

I have been having a lot of fun making Katwise Sweatercoats. You can purchase the tutorial here and try it too!

I have just completed my fourth coat and I thought it would be fun to write about what I have learned.

This is my first coat. It is modeled by my charming and talented neighbor, Julia, Thanks Julia!

Anyway, after reviewing the tutorial - which is a link to a download so you don't even have to wait for the mail - woot! - I headed to the thrift store to look for sweaters. This coat is made entirely from thrifted sweaters. Isn't that great?!?! Recycling at it's finest.

I have never been a thrift shopper. If I did go into a thrift shop it was because someone else wanted to shop and I was stuck. I purchased some vintage fabric and craft supplies once - that was fun. I see all kinds of posts online about shoppers who find great things, but this never happened for me and I considered it a waste of time. So sweater thrifting is completely new to me and I am surprised by how awesome it is.

With a specific target in mind - 100% wool or cashmere sweaters - as cheap as possible - I headed to Goodwill.

Our Goodwill stores have the sweaters mixed in with the long-sleeved tops. So I started with men's because I figured I would get the most yardage that way. I also started with the largest size and worked my way to the smaller sizes.

I discovered that there are not very many 100% wool or cashmere sweaters in AZ! I also discovered that there are TONS of acrylic sweaters and they are always in the prettiest colors. Acrylic can mimic wool or cashmere so I always check the labels. Fiber content labels are often found in the lower side seam of the garment along with the care instructions.

Speaking of labels - sometimes the labels are completely cut out of a thrifted garment. This is because these garments have been donated by retail outlets and they want to be sure that the items are not returned to the store (or seller.) Sometimes the care and fiber tags in the side seam are still intact even if the brand and size tags are missing. Be sure to check!

I bring my reading glasses to the thrift stores because sometimes the labels are faded and hard to read.

There are loads of fiber blends. I trust my instincts on these. If it is 70% or more wool, and I like the color and the feel of it, then I will get it. If the first fiber listed is "acrylic" then it is vetoed. Mohair and angora (rabbit) fur are soft but they really shed. A lot.

I have just purchased my first alpaca sweater. We'll see how it goes....

After visiting a couple of Goodwills I figured out the "color" system. I'm sure I am the last one to know this, but there is a "tag color of the week." Say purple. So all purple tags are half price and on Thursday of that week. purple tag items are $1.00. So Thursday is the best day to shop at Goodwill as long as I am disciplined enough to stick with the "color tags." Which I usually am not....

About every other Saturday seems to be 50% off everything in the store. This is great, but always crowded. I have shopped a couple of times on these Saturdays and it is tough to get a cart. Next time I will be early.

Here in Phoenix, we have another thrift shop called Savers. Savers is great because they separate the sweaters from the long-sleeved tops so shopping is simple. However, Savers is generally more expensive than Goodwill. For instance - a man's cashmere sweater at Goodwill is regularly-priced at $6.99. At Savers it can be $19.99! WHAT??? Forget it. Savers also has color tags and regular 50% off sales. I also have a "membership card" for Savers which entitles me to early shopping on discount days. I did this yesterday. I was able to shop the "President's Day Sale" one day early. Everything was 50% off. But I still didn't get that expensive sweater!

There are tons of other thrift stores and although I haven't been to ALL of them, I have found that generally they all have regular sales and that's the best time to go.

Kat recommends "boiled wool" for the waistband of the coat. I have to remember to check the women's jacket department for these. I almost always forget....

Most important in the thrift store is to sniff every item for moth balls. I have purchased a couple of items that smelled of moth balls and didn't realize it until the items were in the wash. The stench just doesn't go away. Washing the sweater puts the smell of mothballs into the washer and contaminates the entire load. So, the first time this happened, I sniffed out the guilty sweater, threw it away and washed the rest of the load two more times.

Also check your sweaters for holes. I can usually cut around the holes, but this creates waste and I hate waste. Net time I will check more thoroughly and avoid the holes.

Here are some more tips:

1. Colors like black, brown, navy, and burgundy are easily found in the men's department and men's sweaters yield more fabric.
2. If you have time, search the dresses too. Sometimes long sweaters are hung with the dresses.
3. Unusual colors work well as accents. You don't have to use "matching" colors. Go ahead and purchase the odd one. It may be the contrast that your coat needs.
4. Thinner sweaters can be worked into sleeves, hoods, and the bottom rows. Also, felting will "thicken" the sweater.

Of course I have 20/20 tunnel vision when I am thrift shopping. I have never looked at any furnishings, accessories, books, or anything else. I just go straight to the sweaters.

However, one time while quickly breezing through the jackets I spotted a brand new paisley corduroy jacket (Isaac Mizrahi for Target Collection) that I had to purchase for Kaitlin. It was only $3.50. She loves it. That really opened my eyes. There are some great finds at thrift stores!


theminx said...

When you wash the sweaters, since they are wool, they shrink, right? And they should felt, too. "Boiled wool," is just felted wool, wool that's been washed so it shrinks and loses all stitch definition. can make your own. :)

I can't imagine there are many 100% wool sweaters in AZ at all!

Laura K said...

Upon close examination it seems that "boiled wool" is woven fabric, while the sweaters are knitted. Even after felting, the sweater texture is not as tight as the woven wool.

Not many buy new wool sweaters in AZ but everyone gets rid of them. So they are in the thrift stores - not a lot - but I have managed to find "a few..."

Anonymous said...

Nice coats! In my experience, you don't actually have to throw away those moth-ball contaminated sweaters, though I still try to avoid them, too. Instead, if you leave them out in the sun (ideally on a laundry line) for a day or three the smell should completely dissipate. Sadly, it isn't so easy to air out your washing machine!

Also, while there is technically a difference between boiled wool and a densely felted sweater, some pure wool sweaters will felt into a minimally stretchy material very similar to boiled wool. I've used this successfully for coat waistbands. I do keep a particular eye out for boucle-textured sweaters (with bumpy/loopy texture on the face), since they tend to felt up very densely and work well for waistbands.

Happy sweatering!

Laura K said...

Wow that is great advice Leah - thank you! I see the :boucle" sweaters and pass them by because the texture does not appeal to me. I'll get one next time.

I can easily try the "fresh air" method to get rid of moth ball odor too. Here in AZ there is plenty of sunshine and fresh air. OXOXOX