How-To Find Foreign Thrift Stores & Flea Markets

When I started planning my first trip to Italy this spring, the Wardrobe Refashion Challenge seemed like an excellent excuse to seek out ways to buy used and handmade garments as souvenirs. Thrift stores and flea markets are some of my favorite places to shop at home, and at first, finding these options abroad was proving challenging. I like to shop in smaller cities with an eye for bargains and an element of the hunt, but many of the shops whose information was available in English or had been blogged by foreign tourists seemed a little pricier and in major cities. Our trip was through Venice, Bologna and Ravenna. Since Venice is both expensive and very touristy, and Ravenna was only a one day stop, we decided that Bologna, a famous college city, would be the place to shop. I had trouble finding anything there to suit my taste until I discovered a few foreign language search tricks.

Here are two ways I used to find places to shop using Google Translate.

1. Translated Search - Easier for people who don't like language puzzles. Very simple and straightforward, but I found that the end results were a little less good. Just use the search terms you might normally use (e.g. flea market Bologna) to search the web, but choosing the English -> Italian options. Keep in mind that you might need to try several variations of word combos, since what is a "recycle shop" in one language might be a "thrift store," "ops shop" or "used clothing market" in another.

La Piazzola
This open air market was found using the first method. Every Friday and Saturday there is a huge market that has sections devoted to both new and used items. There were housewares as well as clothing and accessories, but one big surprise was the number of counter-culture type booths.

I purchased a fabulous handmade vintage dress with sailboats for only 10 Euros. My partner who is not doing WR Challenge got a new Italian belt and underwear.

2. Hybrid Search - In this method I translated many different phrases for what I was looking for into Italian, and put them into a regular Google Search.

By scanning the search results in Italian for repeated phrases, I picked out new search terms that were more natural in Italian such as "usato e vintage," "negozio dell'usato," & "mercantino dell'usato." I looked at the translated versions of these sites to see what I had found. Repeat the process until you find the best search terms. While doing this, keep in mind that if the search page prompts, "Did you mean...?" and gives an alternate phrase, the answer is probably yes.

Since this one was part of a chain, it seemed like a jackpot choice. There were 4 just in Bologna, and if we ever went to Italy again they seem to be everywhere. The selection was like a lower end thrift shop in the U.S., but I did see some amazing things such as the handmade vintage dress that I purchased for 6 Euros.

Cose d'Altre Case
Our biggest haul was from here! They had a great selection of very nice housewares, clothing, jewelry, books, etc. They also had framed and unframed prints that would make excellent souvenirs. We picked up a hand-blown carafe, an enamelware pot, a men's shirt and a women's shirt for just 20 Euros.

We had a great time shopping in Italy, and will probably continue our thrift store adventures on future trips. So if you have any suggestions for the best search terms in other foreign locations, please add them to the comments!


wardrobe refashion: t-shirt recon

i found this tee in one of my local thrift shops:

i loved the kitties on the sides, but it was too big for me. my standard fix for a shirt that's too roomy is to just hack off the sleeves, take it in at the side seams, and re-attach the sleeves (or leave it sleeveless). but that was impossible with the placement of the kitties. so i had to figure out a different plan of attack on this shirt.

i began as usual by cutting the sleeves off at the seams, but then also cut through the shoulder seams, which made it into a big tube.

i then opened it up and reoriented it so that the kitties were in the front and back, instead of on the sides:

then i went about taking it in, first by marking it at the bust line with my measurement....

...then by doing some very (not) precise pinning of the shoulders and sides while wearing it inside out:

i sewed in the new shoulder and side seams, and that was that! a slightly tricky project brought to completion. i left the neckline raw because i like that look, but i could have finished it with a quick hem or some bias tape.

just goes to show: there's more than one way to skin a cat. (sorry, couldn't resist...).

- cakehouse

Wardrobe Refashion: Thanks Mom!

We learn a lot of things at our mother's knee. And I learned pretty quickly from my friends that they didn't learn the same things from their mom. I was secretly happy about this. But maybe that's another story.

This story is supposed to be about handmade things. First and foremost, my mom made a lot clothes for me growing up. She knits, she sews, she even macrames. I loved going to the fabric store. I could touch everything and somehow from just an idea my mom could make an entire outfit. It was magic.

Although there came an age when I thought I was too cool to wear clothes that my mom made, luckily I grew out of that.

Going to a Father-Daughter Dance, my mom made both the shirt and skirt. That was one of my favorite outfits for as long as it fit. My mom reminds me that there was a vest that matched the skirt too. I was really into vests.

My first knitted hat. We can't remember if my mom made it when I was 4 or 5, but it was ... ahem... a little big. It and the matching scarf served much better when I left California for Upstate NY. I'd grown out of the mittens by then though.

Still one of my favorite skirts that I wear almost all summer.

This was my wedding dress (we're not so traditional). I was so honored when my mom offered to make this for me. And then I was amazed that it fit perfectly despite the lack of fittings since she lives across the country from me.

So thanks Mom! Besides a love of handmade you encouraged every project and creative endeavor. I'm so happy to follow at least a little in your footsteps.

And thanks to all the rest of the moms out there who are giving their children things they make with their own hands. There's no substitute for it.

- Karen
Karen's Monsters

Drawing the Curtain on Winter

I have a friend who I would consider to be my wardrobe refashion-enabler. Over the years I have gotten tons of “hand-me-downs” from her that often need just a little tweaking to be wearable. Sometimes she just provides the raw materials. This is one of those instances. She gave me a pretty flowered curtain that I’ve had lying about for a while as I waited for inspiration to strike. Spring is just starting to appear here in New York, so I thought that it might be time to cut into the lovely yellow and orange flowers. Now, normally I am a pattern-follower, but I thought that I would try a little improvisation on this project.

First I cut off the hem and the hanging sleeve. The fabric has a directional pattern so I folded the curtain in half, cut along the fold and rotated one layer so that the flowers were all headed in one direction.

I chose a basic a-line skirt that I like and used it as a very basic pattern. I lay the skirt on top of the fabric and cut around it, keeping the bottom quite wide so that the skirt would have more of a flare (surely all flowery skirts should be the swing-y kind).

Then I sewed up the two sides—adding a short zipper to the left side-seam—and tried the skirt on in order to improvised some darts. Voila!

It was done, but it was little boring.

It needed a little more zing and I apparently needed a little more of a challenge (it is wardrobe refashion challenge, after all.) I had a fair amount of fabric left over so I thought I would turn this from a simple a-line skirt to a slightly-less-simple gored skirt. I tried the skirt on again and decided where the gores should go. I folded the skirt in half with the side seams together and measured and marked a straight line parallel to the folds (the center front and back).

I then took a deep breath and cut long slits along these lines. Then I cut four triangular pieces of fabric from my scraps that were the same length as these slits in the skirt. I initially tried to insert the gores using lapped seams (these come up a lot in the vintage patterns that I like to use) but something about this technique made them look flat and I wanted a bouncy, swishy skirt. So I ripped out the seams and tried again by reinforcing the top of the slit with a little stay-stitching and then pinning and sewing the gores in one side at a time. I liked this result much more. It gives the gores a little more of a three-dimensional effect.

I am finally happy with the skirt though it still needs a proper hem and waistband (probably in some contrasty color) and I am waiting anxiously for spring to really arrive so that I may wear it out!

Tanya Luck(x4)

Wardrobe Refashion: Clean Up That Mess of a Shirt!

I am not the most graceful of people. My movements are not smooth and clean but rather hurkey and jerky. Put a glass in my hand and whatever inside will inevitably end up on my shirt, skirt, or pants. I have not been blessed with any skills or helpful techniques for stain removal. When I try, the material gets all gross and fuzzy and I shove the garment to the back of the closet and then eventually throw it away. Conveniently, however, I am a screen printer. I find it's easiest just to hide that stupid stain. It's very gratifying to print right over that nasty mess, creating a whole new piece of clothing that is completely original. Nobody will know that you can't drink out of a cup or that you refuse to wear a frilly apron when you fry your food.

Here is a simple way to screen print without investing in the whole studio.

What you'll need:
-contact paper (preferably clear)
-a screen (pick a simple one up at your local art store)
-fabric printing ink (also at art store)
-squeegee (art store)
-duct tape
-masking tape or t-pins
-sharp x-acto knife
-spoon or spatula

1. Your Image

Decide what image you want to use. Make sure that it is something without too much detail. Cut a piece of contact paper the size of the inner dimensions of your screen. Either trace or freehand-draw your image onto the paper-side of the contact paper. On a safe surface, cut that image out with your x-acto knife . Set aside the part you cut out. You will be printing your image using the negative space within the rectangular field of the contact paper.

2. Your Screen

Sometimes when a screen is new, there is a coating on the mesh, like with many fabrics. It's best to wash your screen with soap and water and let it dry (speed it along with a fan). Place your dry screen on a flat service, mesh side up. Peel back half of the paper backing on the contact paper and carefully smooth it onto the corners of the screen. Flatten it down lightly and then press harder from the middle of the screen towards the corners, making sure there are no bubbles. Pull off the rest of the paper backing and repeat for the lower half of the screen. Take your duct tape and tape along the outside of the contact paper and along the edges on the underside of the mesh. This will help prevent the ink from "bleeding".

3. Printing Area

Make sure your printing area is as flat and clean as possible. The textile printing surface is preferably a felt covered table with canvas stretch over it (similar to an ironing board), but one can make it work for any situation. Kitchen floors and diner tables also do the trick. Tape or t-pin your garment down so that the stain is right in the middle and as flat as can be. Depending on the garment, you will probably need to place a piece of card stock or paper in between, so that the ink doesn't transfer to the other side. You may want to get a few more things out to be printed. It's also a good idea to test out your screen before you dive right into the garment you are trying save from death.

4. Printing

Place your screen on the item to be printed. Then put a good amount of ink at the head of the screen above the image. I would say 3 tablespoons for an 8"x10" image, but it relates to the density of your ink, size and detail or your image, and the weather. That's why it's best to do a sample print first to help you see if you need to add more ink.

Hold the screen securely with one hand and with the other drag your squeegee through the ink and over the image, lightly at first ("flooding" the image), harder the second time. Then push the ink back over the image, and pull the squeegee down a third time for good measure. If the fabric is fairly thick, you might want to do a fourth pull. No need to wash the screen between prints, go right on to the next item. You can use this technique to print fabric to make pillows and amaze your friends as you camouflage yourself into the furniture!

5. Finishing Up

Depending on the "variables and elements," you could probably print ten times (probably more) before the ink drys up in your screen. But don't wait for that to happen, wash that screen out. Remove any excess ink from the screen using a spoon or spatula, returning the ink to the container to be used again. Rinse your screen off in the sink or tub with cool water. You can also use the garden hose outside or attach one to your shower head or kitchen sink. Now clean up the mess you just made.

The final step is to heat set your garment after the ink is fully dry. Iron it or throw it in the dryer on high for up to an hour.

Now go on and show it off.

-Karin of Better Than Jam

craft on draught!

last thursday, i attended a really fun crafting event: the first craft on draught night at spacecraft in south williamsburg. with me were two other {newnew} refashioners: kayte of this is love forever and kari of ikyoto.

craft on draught is a series of crafting parties, co-sponsored by the {newnew}, that promise "the ultimate happy hour of destruction, reconstruction, and social mixing!" as you can see here, it was just that:

your admission fee gives you access to a huge heap of awesome donated fabric and clothes, tons of trimmings, and all the tools and supplies you could desire, from needles and thread to hot glue guns. some people used all these goodies to give new life to old clothes, while others chose to create entirely new garments.

here's me with kayte and kari and our creations:

i turned my old mock-turtleneck sweater into a cardigan with the help of a giant button and some reverse applique. kayte gave a stripey dress some sequin-infused appliques made from a gorgeous marimekko print. kari took a shirt and some coordinating fabric and put them together to make a cropped summer cardigan. do you see the horse print on that shirt? there really were some amazing materials to work with. we ripped, we sewed, we laughed, we drank pbr. all in all, the perfect night.

hope to see you there for the next one. it will be at 3rd ward on thursday may 7th, and will focus on felting old wool clothing. come and catch the refashioning spirit!

- cakehouse

Wardrobe Refashion: Stenciled T-Shirt

A friend of mine recently made this t-shirt for me. The shirt is upcycled from the thrift store (yay thrifting!). She cut a stencil out of cardboard, laid it on the shirt and sprayed bleach onto it. When she lifted up the stencil, it left this great design.

You can use the same technique with found items as your "stencils." Leaves work quite well.

I'm especially fond of the idea that revolution includes a lot of love.

Karen's Monsters

Wardrobe Refashion: How to Hem a Leather Garment

Leather is a material that I love for long-wearing garments because it only seems to get better as it ages. When my partner's mother gave me this leather jacket, I was thrilled, except for the fact that I couldn't see my own hands beneath the super long sleeves. Here are the steps I took to shorten the hem, and adjust the lining.

After measuring to see how much shorter I needed to go, and making a note of that measurement, I opened up the lining at the wrist to take a look at what was inside. I marked the length to shorten to as mark #2 all the way around. Mark #3 was where to cut for a 1 1/2" turn, and Mark #1 was that same 1 1/2" turn to align the cut edge.

Next I cut a long 1" wide strip of iron-on interfacing to press just above my hem line. This step does double duty: it keeps the leather from stretching out over time, and it makes a crisp turn line. Alternately you can glue in a strip of any non-stretch woven fabric for the same effect.

Using leather glue (rubber cement is a good alternative), I spread a thin, even layer about 2" wide right over where the hem would be. For the adhesive to work properly, let the glue dry until opaque and tacky before folding up the edge to your marked line.

I used a roller to smooth the hem into a tight crease. Any burnishing tool, bone folder, or back of a spoon would also be useful for this step.

To ensure that my lining was long enough (it should be longer than the sleeve where it is attached to keep it from pulling), I thread-marked it where the hem was the same length, added 1/2" seam allowance and cut off the excess. I drew a line 1" up from the hem on the leather, and hand stitched in the lining along my thread-marked line.

This technique for hemming leather is equally useful for skirts or pants.

Like any good "after" shot, my smile is much bigger than before. Now I have a jacket that fits properly and will likely give me a decade of use.



wardrobe refashion: small changes make a huge difference...

i bought this dress at the salvation army a few weeks ago, and though i loved the fabric and general shape, i had a couple of issues with it:
the band of dark fabric at the bottom seemed too wide, and strapless bandeau-type tops aren't the most flattering on me. so i figured out a way to solve both problems in one fell swoop.

i started by hacking off about half of the band at the bottom:

then i measured from the top of the dress to where my neck and shoulder meet, and based on that, drew a rough pattern of a halter strap, which i pinned to the fabric i had cut off:

i used a double layer of fabric, for two reasons: 1) i thought it would look right beside the thick elastic-filled top of the dress, and 2) i hate to hem. so i ended up with 4 halter strap pieces, which i sewed together at the middle and then along the edges...
...then turned inside out. and i made a boomerang! thanks for coming, next time: fabric nunchuks! hee hee.
to attach them without the stitches showing, i sewed them to the edge of the interior seam at the top of the dress, where the elastic band met the main fabric:

then i hemmed up the bottom edge, and ended up with a dress that i love!

- cakehouse

Wardrobe Refashion: New Socks

There are two things that I wasn't sure I would be able to handle with the Wardrobe Refashion Challenge: socks and underwear.

Despite having a seamstress for a mother who made a lot of my clothes growing up, those are the two things that I have always bought new from a big box store. I thought about stocking up on socks and underwear before the challenge, but I thought maybe that was cheating a little.

I have discovered on etsy that there is a ton of handmade underwear available. While much of it is a little too frilly and exciting for every day wear, there's plenty that just look comfortable and not too expensive.

As for socks, that was a little harder. So I thought, I'll tackle that first and then everything else will be easy. But... I don't knit. And I'm not interested in knitting. My mom is going to knit a pair of socks next. But I'm not holding my breath that they're for me or that I'll see them anytime this year, so I'd better figure it out on my own.

I remember seeing a pair of socks made from stretchy knit fabric on etsy, though now I can't seem to find them. So when I sat staring at my piles of fabric I started pulling out the stretchy-est fabrics I have. Here are my first two inventions.

I think it might need a little more tweaking in order to get excellent knee-high socks (my favorites), but these are both comfortable and cute.

Karen's Monsters