Back in college when I was a knitting demon and had no cash to spend on high quality wool -- I came up with a solution that worked like a charm: I would go to thrift stores and buy handmade sweaters that some ingrate had cast off.
I'd unwind all that hard work that some grandma put into a ridiculously styled poncho and end up with a trove of gorgeous wool to make something that suited my tastes. Just this morning my husband went off wearing mittens that I made from one such misshapen thrift shop sweater.
But, and I'm showing my age here, that technique hasn't worked lately. It worked best 20 years ago when it seemed that me and my college roommate were the only geeks under 70 sporting knitting needles.
Since then knitting has gotten very trendy. That's caused a multitude of problems for my yarn recycling scheme. First of all, it seems, any sweaters made of high quality yarn that end up in thrift shops are snatched up before I can find them. I also surmise that people are holding onto their hand-knitted gifts more often now since bulky sweaters with too-long sleeves and fabulous yarn are all too in fashion.
Finally, craft stores like Michael's now stock all sorts of cheap yarn. If I want cheap yarn I can go there. And if I try the unwind-a-thrift-sweater technique, I risk ending up with wool that is not special enough to warrant the effort.
That's not to say that you can't make fabulous "handmade" items from used sweaters found at a thrift shop. Sarah Gilbert introduced me to a technique I've also seen emulated by artisans in the East Village -- slicing up used sweaters and turning them into something new and chic -- like these amazing hats (see photo). Now that's real talent.
Thrift shops also have, of course, a wealth of fabulous sweaters to buy, as Barry Summerlin learned. As for me and my needles, these days I'm avoiding the thrift shop and splurging on yarn at my high end, oh so trendy New York yarn store.
This post was written as part of a series on how to thrift shop smarter. Read more on what to buy, and not to buy, at thrift stores.