Ugly Christmas Sweater Success

ah the good old days.

ah the good old days.

The Ugly Christmas Sweater has gone the way of so many other things associated with Christmas: death by commercialization. The original concept was so great: find a vintage sweater, that was once sold as a nice sweater but in today’s ethos is actually ugly and wear that OR turn your own sweater into an ugly one by making it so. But because the trend is so popular, finding an actual vintage sweater has become far more challenging than it used to and making your own? Well, why would you do that when you can just buy one? Nowadays, (wow, that made me sound like an old fart) you just hop to your local mall or find an store and drop your $$ and you have the appearance of having made an effort.

Well, not in my family.

Benita ugly christmas sweater

My sister, Benita and her talented daughter, Abigail did it the right way, using their talents and their thrifting sense to create this masterpiece.


Isn’t awesome?

Between Michaels and (evil) Value Village, they got all they needed: $4 sweater,$3 scarf (from which Benita made the furry trim) yellow felt 59 cents and fabric glue $7. Abigail drew the image – that part was priceless.

But basically, they created a $15 sweater that’s unique, one-of-a-kind and hilarious!

What’s your ugly Christmas sweater story? Would love to see some photos of your actual vintage finds or your own creations!


Posted in christmas, ugly christmas sweaters | Tagged , ,

Spruce Collective


There’s a couple of great little shops in Abbotsford called Spruce Collective and The Market by Spruce Collective. The Spruce Collective is actually that: a collective of women who met as vendors at vintage markets and together opened up a brick and mortar store. They source vintage, stock made, and sustainable goods. The Spruce Market is a spin-off that focuses on vintage furniture and household wares. They also sell items on-line and rent items for events. From what I can tell, they are doing a roaring business.

There’s a lot I like about this little/big venture. I like that they support local artisans and crafters. I like that they focus on sustainability and community – they often hold workshops from calligraphy and make-your-own-incense (who knew?) to re-purposing furniture. They really do have a lot of unique items in their stores.

side-boardYesterday, a friend and I ventured into the Spruce Market and I found something I’ve been looking for, for well over a year: a vintage sideboard for my kitchen. We have a pretty small kitchen but when we moved from our teeny basement suite into this house over 20 years ago, I felt like I was moving into a palace and the kitchen was one of the reasons why. I had TONS of cupboard and drawer space compared to what I’d had for the 11 years we’d lived in our basement suite. (People still marvel that I don’t own a dishwasher. I never have. One of the reasons we didn’t put one in this kitchen is because I don’t want to part with the cupboard space.)

side-board-detailHaving said that, over time we started running out of space. I’ve done quite a bit of purging over the last couple of years, which has really helped but we still seemed to have stuff on the counters all the time. My biggest eyesore was a table we had against one wall that just became the hold-all: where the mail goes, where our toaster oven sits, the fruit basket, the blender – you know, stuff you want to use but never know where to put.

side-board-tea-cupboardI thought about buying another counter with cupboards and putting it there but while that would be practical, it’s boring. So I’ve been looking for the perfect vintage sideboard for this purpose and now it’s here! I love it. It love the detail in the wood, the graceful lines the curve up each side, the drawer pulls, the fact that it has an old skeleton key to lock the cupboards. I like that it sits on a frame so I can clean the floor underneath it. It’s deep enough to hold my toaster oven but not as deep as the table was so it make the kitchen feel bigger.

side-board-cupboardHere’s the kicker. It was expensive. At least it was for me – with taxes, it came to over $500. Part of me wonders if that’s because it had the “vintage” label attached to it. I think that if this piece had ended up in a thrift shop, it would have landed in the ‘silent auction’ section (which so many thrift shops have now) and it might have gone for as much or more. If I’d found it at a garage sale, I might have got it for $50. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter because, you know, I bought it! Merry Christmas/birthday/valentines/anniversary/mother’s day to me!

side-board-keyHave you ever paid vintage for something you might have found thrift?

Posted in furniture, second hand, thrift lifetstyle, Thrift Shopping, thrift shops, vintage | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Perfect Clothes Pin

a great clothes pin is a work of art.

a great clothes pin is a work of art.

Yes, there is such a thing.

I spent this week in one of my favourite thrifting places – Victoria, BC. There are tons of thrift shops in this city and many of them in the downtown core, within walking distance of the hotel that we always stay in when my sweetheart has to attend conferences. (I tag along to do important things like snuggle at night time, provide stimulating conversation at dinner and thrift shop. Not necessarily in that order. But I digress.)

clothes-pin-packOne of my happiest finds this time around was a bag of near perfect clothes pins. I was ELATED. If you are a clothesline user, you’ll know that all clothes pins are NOT created equal. Many are too small or the metal spring is wimpy and won’t hold up a pair of jeans. Some are made of rough wood which then snags your clothes when you remove them. And aside from all these things, they are nearly impossible to find.

in the UK, these are called clothes pegs

in the UK, these are called clothes pegs

Many of the clothes pins I have used for years were thrifted in the first place and have served me well but they’re starting to break or they’ve gotten lost in the garden when dropped from the deck while taking clothes off the line. I tried buying some new ones at Bed, Bath & Beyond but they were of the wimpy spring variety. I don’t want to buy plastic ones because, you know, plastic.

So when I found this sack-full for $1.50, I nearly jumped for joy right there in the aisle. (In fact I might have… that would explain the look of alarm on the faces of my fellow shoppers.) I picked these up at my favourite shop: the WIN Reuse Store on Pandora.

the metal spring needs to be strong if it's going to hold up jeans, sheets or towels - especially if it gets windy

the metal spring needs to be strong if it’s going to hold up jeans, sheets or towels – especially if it gets windy

I also discovered that there are several WIN shops in Victoria. I visited the one on Wilson, which is quite small and has a very boutique kinda feel to it. I also visited the first WIN shop on Cook St., which is also small but has a wonderful community vibe going on with regular customers coming in and chatted with volunteers. I think if you live near these two shops and frequented them, you’d probably find deals quite regularly. But as a destination thrift shop, the one on Pandora has never failed to provide with me all kinds of great stuff and that’s largely due to its size: it simply is able to offer more because it’s bigger.

So, are you a clothesline user? If so, what’s your favourite part about using a clothesline?

Posted in clothes pins, second hand, thrift, thrift lifetstyle, Thrift Shopping, thrift shops | Tagged , , , , , ,

Room to Fit

1/2 of a fitting room in Johnny Ruth & Living Planet in St. John's

1/2 of a fitting room in Johnny Ruth & Living Planet in St. John’s

One of the most important rooms in any (thrift) shop that sells clothing is the fitting room. A fitting room can actually make or break a sale. If the room is too small, or doesn’t have enough hooks to hang your own clothing as well as the items you’ve brought in with you, or if the inconsiderate-so-and-so customer before you didn’t bother to take all their clothing out of the room and the most-likely-overworked-volunteer hasn’t had time to empty it out yet, then your own experience is affected by this.

I’ve been paying attention to this recently, especially after I visited a very unique retail shop in St. John’s, Newfoundland called Johnny Ruth & Living Planet . This unique shop features locally sourced and ethically based clothing and accessories. They’re pricey (I paid $30 for a t- shirt) but it’s excellent quality and one-of-a-kind goods. Also, they have fantastic fitting rooms.

each room was decorated differently

the other half. each room was decorated differently

Seriously, this is over-the-top – each fitting room was furnished differently with unique artwork and furniture. And they were huge – lots of room to move around, get undressed, put your clothes/purse/jacket/shoes down and try on the items you’d brought in with you. If you were shopping with kids, there’s be room for you and your stroller. Heck, there’s room for a family of 5 in here! It’s all part of the store ethos, so it really works.

Now, most thrift shops have neither the space nor the budget to do something like this (although, if you’re a thrift shop that also sells furniture, why not do this? Put your furniture in a unique fitting room like this and sell it right out of there? how fun would that be?)

Here’s what I think is essential in every fitting room (in no particular order):

a fitting room, somewhere in Stockholm. leave it to the Scandinavians to come up with a nice, tiny space.

a fitting room, somewhere in Stockholm. leave it to the Scandinavians to come up with a nice, tiny space.

  • Space. It doesn’t have to be as enormous as the room above but there should be room to move around. I was recently in a little thrift shop whose fitting rooms are too small to begin with and then they put a chair in there. I couldn’t even stand squarely in front of the mirror because the chair forced me to stand to one side. In this situation, I’d put a short stool or fashion a shallow, wooden bench across the full width of the back wall of the room. This allows a person to sit down if they have to take off their shoes (or wrestle with an ill-fitting item, ahem) but doesn’t take up as much depth as a chair does.
these look pretty good

these look pretty good

  • Privacy. I’ve been in fitting rooms that are made up of strategically hung curtains. This is actually a good idea if you’re working with a low budget or if you’re just starting out and are not sure if this exact spot is where the fitting rooms should go. What is bad is if the fabric isn’t wide enough or if it curls, creating gaps where people outside can peek in and see you, perhaps wrestling with the aforementioned ill-fitting item.
yes, no, maybe

yes, no, maybe

  • Hooks. There should be at least 3 hooks in each fitting room: one for your own jacket and clothing, one for the stuff you’ve brought in to try on, and one to hang the things that you’ve already tried on. Four would be even better because then you can hang the “yes” items on one and the “return to floor” items on the other.
it doesn't have to be this elaborate and if space is a challenge, hang directly on the wall or the back of the door

it doesn’t have to be this elaborate and if space is a challenge, hang directly on the wall or the back of the door

  • A full-length mirror. I was in a teeny, tiny thrift shop in Ontario that used its bathroom as its fitting room – the bathroom being a tiny room with toilet and sink. The only mirror in the room was the tiny one above the sink. Picture me standing on the toilet and trying to see enough of my body in the little mirror to see if the ill-fitting item was worth buying or not. I understand the limitations of space but a full length mirror on the back of the door would have done the trick.
nothing fancy!

nothing fancy!

  • A place to sit. After my experience with the tiny fitting room with the too-big chair in my point about “Space”, I wondered why one needed a chair at all. That was until I went to a second thrift shop on the same day and wanted to try a pair of pants on without taking my shoes off. A chair made this much, much easier. The last thing you want to do is fall out of a curtain-walled fitting room with your shoe-covered foot stuck half way in your pants. No one needs to see this. So, seating is a good idea, it just has to be proportionate to the space. Small room? Small chair.


mh-chair-and-mirrorCleanliness. Nobody wants to go into a fitting room that has a bunch of clothes in it from the customer before (I tend to clean this stuff out before I go in, a hangover from being a volunteer myself). You also don’t want the floor to be dirty, in case you drop your own clothing onto it. I realize that this is a tax on the most-likely-overworked volunteer so as a shopper, I remember to give grace, especially when it looks like it’s been a very busy point: Affirmation. One of the things I really did appreciate about the too-small fitting room with the un-needed chair mentioned earlier was the positive messages that had been stenciled to the walls. “You’re your own kind of beautiful” and “Let your inner beauty shine.”  Who doesn’t need a little bit of positive reinforcement – especially after an ill-fitting-item fiasco?

What’s the coolest fitting room you’ve even been in?


Posted in fitting rooms, thrift, thrift lifetstyle, Thrift Shopping | Tagged , , , ,

Reclaim Mending

Anna-Marie Janzen (photo by Tony Donovan)

Anna-Marie Janzen (photo by Tony Donovan)

I’ve blogged about my lovely friend Anna-Marie before. Anna is one of the most authentic people I know, someone who truly tries to live her life with as small a footprint as possible. She has tried to live out her passion by doing things to bring awareness to our consumer culture and our disregard for the earth. She spent a year not bought anything. She gave up plastic for Lent, wore the same dress for the month of October, and shaved her head to raise money for women’s education and employment projects.

In keeping with this passion, Anna has started her own small sewing business, one that has a very unique focus: mending. Reclaim Mending is intended to help you get more life out of your favourite clothes. On her website she writes:

In university I studied peacebuilding and international development, diving deeper into the broad human and environmental effects of consumerism. I struggled more and more with my complicity with the garment industry (as my love of clothes has never diminished). On a personal level I have tried various ways of removing myself from the industry – by buying only thrifted or fairly traded clothing; by wearing only hand-me-downs; by not buying anything new for a year. These experiments have been good, and fulfilling. But I felt like I wanted to do more.

photo credit Tony Donovan

photo credit Tony Donovan

So Anna has combined her love for sewing with her desire to help others reduce their carbon foot print by doing the repairs that will keep you from throwing out, say, a favourite pair of jeans just because the zipper is broken or has a rip in the butt.

The first blog on her website talks about tailoring jeans and body image. One of her statements was an “aha” moment for me. She writes:

One of the (many) issues I have with mass produced clothing is that it has made us all believe that our bodies have to fit our clothing rather than our clothing has to fit our bodies. Not long ago almost all clothing was homemade or tailor made to fit our wonderfully diverse shapes and sizes. With the age of vanity sizing and fast fashion, we have switched our thinking to believe that our clothes are right and our bodies are wrong. But our bodies are not wrong!

I had never heard the term “vanity sizing” but OH MY GOSH. It was like a whole bunch of things clunked into place in my head when I read that. It’s so true, isn’t it? That there is no way that mass produced clothing can actually fit anyone. We do grow to be a specific size (and we all know that the size stated on clothing labels isn’t even standardized so why should we believe that anyone’s body will fit into a certain brand’s certain size? So many women (and men) struggle with body image because we don’t fit a certain style or a certain size when, as Anna says, there’s nothing wrong with our bodies – it’s the clothing industry we should be struggling with!

photo: Tony Donovan

photo credit: Tony Donovan

Well. My sewing and tailoring skills suck but thank goodness for people like Anna whose skills are pretty amazing. My son has already benefited from Anna’s skills. He bought a pair of jeans when he visited France and absolutely loves them. So when they tore in the crotch, he was bummed – no pun intended. Anna came to the rescue, patching the tear and making my son super happy.

logo design: Courtney Klassen

logo design: Courtney Klassen

I love this initiative. Anna is reviving a skill that most of us have lost. My mother and my grandmothers all needed to know how to sew – and I mean create clothing, not just put a button back on. I learned to sew in high school and even though I didn’t enjoy it, I did it because at that time (in the late 70s, early 80s) it was still cheaper to sew your own clothing. That is not true anymore – clothing is cheap, literally and figuratively. So rather than make (or even buy) something of quality and care for it in a way that it will last, we buy cheap and cheaply made clothing that doesn’t last no matter how you care for it – with the added issue of it being made by people who are not paid a living wage, who often work in horrendous conditions. Anna is helping us rethink how we look at our clothes and is encouraging us to make them last. She’s helping us rethink how we look at our bodies and celebrate what is unique.

If you live in the Winnipeg area, I encourage you to make use of her mad sewing skills. In the meantime, tell me about your sewing skills. Do you make or repair your own clothing? What motivates you to do this?


Posted in alterations, consumerism, eco fashion, environment, sewing, sizes, thrift lifetstyle | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Granny and Grumpa’s

The store front of ONE of the barns at Granny and Grumpa's

The store front of ONE of the barns at Granny and Grumpa’s

Last week, my son and I visited a place that’s been on my “to visit” list for ages: Granny and Grumpa’s Antiques. Truly, dear reader, this is a place to be experienced.

The most honest way to describe Granny and Grumpa’s is “organized hording”. Their collection of stuff is housed in several barns on their farm in rural Abbotsford. Yes, you read that correctly: several barns. Not everything they’ve gathered could be called an antique but what they may lack in actual antiques they make up for in sheer volume. And it would appear that truly anything qualifies to be sold here.

One of the barns has an upstairs where they have books, movie posters, seaside themed stuff and barn swallows. Don't think the birds are for sale.

One of the barns has an upstairs where they have books, movie posters, seaside themed stuff and barn swallows. Don’t think the birds are for sale. But the giant Mr. Potato Head is.

Got a salt and pepper shaker collection? They have hundreds – and I bet they have a set you don’t have. Need an old sewing machine/typewriter/cash register/spinning wheel/bicycle/tricycle/chainsaw? They got em. How about a pack of Players from the 70s, with 6 cigarettes still inside. You could get a beer from the 60s or 70s – there’s a wall-full of FULL beer cans for you to choose from.

horror films should be shot here.

horror films should be shot here.

Or maybe a creepy doll?

GG aaron tractor 2Or maybe you like to think big. Come get a John Deere tractor, or a vintage fire engine, or a model T, or a rag-top VW – a standard with no clutch (actually, Granny isn’t really wanting to part with that one.)

because, you know, you don't want these to get dusty or anything.

because, you know, you don’t want these to get dusty or anything.

There’s costumes, records on vinyl and wax along with old players to play them, and a whole collection of bed pans. Behind glass.

I know, right?

GG hurricane lamps

GG wagon wheelGG barn 1They have a few things on display that are pretty cool – like their wedding outfits. Hers is framed with newspaper clippings of their marriage included. Nothing is priced, so for those who love to barter, this is the place for you. You know it’s open if the gate is open. You have to find Granny and/or Grumpa when you want to pay and they could be anywhere (we found them waiting in their garage.)

Aaron found these bad boys and an Alvin and the Chipmunks Punk album. On Vinyl. Be jealous.

Aaron found these bad boys and an Alvin and the Chipmunks Punk album. On Vinyl. Be jealous.

This really is a place to be experienced, even if you don’t buy anything. Here’s a tip or two: do NOT wear good clothes and it’s probably a good idea to wear close-toed shoes. If you have allergies to dust or cats, take your Reactin before you go – these are barns, after all, who dusts a barn? Plan on spending at least an hour, probably more if you want to get the full effect. Bring cash or a cheque book – I’m pretty sure they don’t do any credit or debit (although how you’d pay for a firetruck is beyond me.)

This is hands-down the most unique thrifting/vintaging experience I’ve ever had. What’s been your most unique experience?

Posted in antiques, second hand, thrift, thrift lifetstyle, Thrift Shopping, thrift shops, vintage | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Invaluable Advice

sofa pillowsAfter reading some of these antiquing tips from  Invaluable  I decided to share some of my  my best tips when it comes to vintage/thrift shopping. (They have a pretty cool website, by the way, you should take some time to check it out.)

I have to confess at the outset that my primary goal when I’m thrift shopping isn’t to find antiques or vintage things, necessarily. I either go with a specific purpose in mind or I go to see what I’ll find. Still, I have some guidelines that I follow when I’m thrift shopping that apply to antique/vintage shopping as well. I’ll also share with you some of my favourite finds and suggest a couple of cool places to check out here in BC.

This vintage glass piggy bank was given to my son when he was an infant. it has no plug - you have to break it to get the money out. Great way to save!

This vintage glass piggy bank was given to my son when he was an infant. it has no plug – you have to break it to get the money out. Great way to save!

  1. Set a budget – and know by how much you’re willing to blow that budget.

One of the frustrating things for those of us who are looking for deals is that the words “antique” and “vintage” do not necessarily mean “affordable”, in fact, it’s often quite the opposite, as though those words give a vendor permission to ask for a ridiculous amount of money for an item. Thrift shops are also picking up on this trend but there I comfort myself by reminding myself that my dollars are (usually) supporting a charity. So when you’re looking for something specific decide how much you’re willing to spend and don’t deviate from that. Some vendors will let you bargain with them, others won’t – be prepared to walk away OR be prepared to pay more but don’t cry over it later! Know what your absolute limit is.

i love the graceful, art-deco look of this sofa

i love the graceful, art-deco look of this sofa

  1. Be patient

Thrift/vintage/antique shopping is not like retail shopping where you go to a store to get what you want. Instead, you go to a thrift/vintage/antique store to see what you’ll find. If you’re looking for something specific, you may have to wait a while for it to find you. A few years ago, we were looking for a sofa, something to replace an uncomfortable hide-a-bed that we no longer wanted. I had something every specific in mind and we had a very limited budget to work with. I’d been looking for months and months to no avail. Then one day, I visited a favourite thrift shop to pick up some cheap Christmas ornaments and as I was walking into the store, I saw my sofa in the window. I walked straight to it, sat on it, told the lady who was looking at it to move on because this was mine. Then I told the store manager to come sit with me and chat about the price because it was more than I could afford. We landed on a price we could both live with and I was THRILLED. It was almost exactly what I’d been looking for, only the colour is not something I’d have chosen but it works in my living room and I’ve gotten used to it. It has great bones, was in fantastic shape and it only cost me $250. I know, right?

I sewed my grad dress on this sewing machine many, many years ago.

I sewed my grad dress on this sewing machine many, many years ago.

  1. Think outside the box

An old canoe can become a book shelf. A vintage beer bottle a soap dispenser. Old silver cutlery can be turned into eclectic jewelry. If you have a specific need, apply that need to whatever you’re seeing and see if it works. I needed an end table in my living room and had not been able to find anything that worked. Then I remembered that I had my antique Singer sewing machine tucked away in another room. When I hauled it out and put it in my living room it became a perfect end table, complete with little book-holding space beneath it.

Some of my favourite places to find gems

  1. Thrift shops.

If you’ve been following my blog, this is no surprise. Thrift shops are filled with treasures just waiting to be found. Nearly all my furniture, a lot of my household items and all my clothing is thrifted. Here’s a few of my faves: Wildlife Thrift on Drake in Vancouver, WIN in Victoria, Hidden Treasures, Abbotsford.

  1. Dedicated vintage shops.

I don’t visit these as often because they’re usually a little pricier than I like but if I am looking for unique furniture, this is usually a good place to start. Some great ones: Paraphernalia and Spruce Collective in Abbotsford. Other great shops can be found on South Main in Vancouver.

  1. Garage sales.

I don’t go garage sale-ing very often but when I have, I’ve found some great things although furniture pieces are not among them. My sister-in-law in Ontario has found some amazing furniture pieces and here’s something I’ve pondered: I wonder if finding vintage and antique gems is easier to find on the east coast of Canada rather than the west coast, simply because it’s older. You’re more likely to find a 200 year old wardrobe there than here simply because Vancouver as a city isn’t even 200 years old yet. What do you think?

Let me know your own tips and favourite spots to shop!

Posted in furniture, garage sales, thrift, thrift lifetstyle, Thrift Shopping, thrift shops, vintage | Tagged , , , ,