Monthly Archives: December 2009

Not Faint of Heart

Who wants to flip through a few records?

When I started my etsy shop in 2006, it was an online outlet for me to sell the beaded jewelry that I make. Mostly “statement necklaces,” before I’d ever heard of the term. I was known for using chunky gemstones in unusual color combinations. Unusual for 2006, but inspired by the colors of the vintage clothing I’d been collecting for two decades.

I didn’t actively seek out vintage clothing, but I do love it and I seem to have a knack for finding a dress from the ’60s or a skirt from the ’50s mixed in with all the flotsam and jetsam of a tightly-packed thrift store. Over the years, my collection grew. Sometimes I would find a beautiful dress that wasn’t my size, but the thought of some “upcycler” finding it and “modernizing” it makes my skin crawl, so I would buy it to keep it out of irresponsible hands. Now my closet has dresses for me, and dresses for… well, for who? Ostensibly for me, with a little tailoring… or a lot of tailoring. But there are people out there for whom those dresses will be a perfect fit. So I decided to sell the excess out of my etsy shop, as long as I already had one up and running.

Well now, that introduced a bit of an issue. You see, people liked what I had found. And they wanted more. And I like making people happy. Not only that, but being out of “proper” work means that I have time during the weekdays, when most folks are otherwise engaged, to go hunting for stuff. And the patience. And the deep love and appreciation for my prey. The thrift stores, around here anyway, are good about selling clean clothing. I rarely find an item in an ARC or Salvation Army that smells of smoke or has surface dirt beyond what it might pick up from being dropped on a dusty linoleum floor. That being said, there’s a nearby Goodwill that I will go to only on rare occasions, partly because it’s mostly the crappiest of crap and partly because I want to bathe in Purell whenever I leave. ::Shudder:: Thrift stores can be surprisingly consistent. Consignment stores will have a selection with far less junk in the way, but they charge higher prices (and rightly so, since they’re paying their suppliers rather than relying on donations). However, I am cheap frugal living on a tight budget and assume my customers are as well, so I try my best to find bargains that I can pass along.

And so I hit up estate sales. Typically, Ol’ Widow Jones, after living for 30-40-50 years in her suburban ranch home, the last few without the companionship of her beloved husband, has passed on. Her children have cried and bickered and quarreled over who gets which lamp or Hummel figurine or clock or sofa, and what’s left is too overwhelming for them to deal with. They can either set mom’s house on fire, or hire a company to come in, empty out all of the drawers and cabinets and boxes, price everything, and have a 3-day garage sale. When was the last time you moved? Remember how much stuff you couldn’t believe you had accumulated? Multiply it by a factor of… 10. Now, when you put stuff out for a garage sale, you dust it off. You wash it. You sweep out the garage, you move stuff that isn’t for sale onto the back patio for now. You’ve probably thought about that garage sale for three months. This estate sale was organized in a week. The fact that stuff is priced at all is impressive. Clothing is hung in the closet, exactly as it was found. Dresser drawers full of half-slips and Playtex bras are emptied into cardboard boxes, which will be pawed through by hundreds of people over the next three days. 75 church guild cookbooks are cleared out of the cabinets and piled on a folding table. Gardening pesticides that were outlawed in the ’70s are loosely organized in the garage. Over in the corner is grandpa’s box of 45s, the box that got wet when the pipes froze in ’86, and it dried up eventually but not until mold had time to form. Over here is grandma’s stash of brightly-colored polyester double-knit fabric from when she was still sewing her own clothes in the ’70s. The basement still smells “off” from the time when poor Rex was accidentally locked in there for 12 hours, and everybody was outside looking for him.

I went to a sale last weekend that was a little creepy for me, because I actually knew the homeowner. Mark, a neighbor of mine, lived alone with his two small dogs, Romeo & Juliet. I almost didn’t go at all, but I assume that Mark’s college-age daughter had hired the estate sale crew, and I wanted to make sure that she got as much money as possible to help her with expenses. The carpet and padding had been removed before the sale was staged, but you could still smell all the times that Romeo & Juliet didn’t get outside as quickly as they needed.

The sale I went to on Saturday caught my eye not only because it was a mere 1/2 mile from my house, but because the listing mentioned “over 6,000 LPs.”  Six thousand vinyl records. Holy jeebus! However, I didn’t notice the listing until Saturday morning. Estate sales usually start at 9am on Friday, and people line up early to get the best selection. I’d missed the first 8 hours of this sale before I even knew about it. Nah, anything good will already have been snatched up. Besides, it’s cash only (as they often are) and my bank is in the opposite direction. Also, my mom said she’d be stopping by, which means I’d only get over there even later in the day. Nope, not even going to bother with this one. I still have a couple of dresses, some Melmac, a BOX full of day gloves, and more sewing patterns to list. No time to be OH MAN I CANNOT STOP THINKING ABOUT THIS SALE. There are photos online, and that starburst wall clock looks coooool. The mid-century console phonograph is pretty rad, too. I have no budget for furniture, but I figure the kind of people who would own a Danish Modern buffet would probably have some neat kitchenware and clothing. Fine. Fiiiiine. I’ll go.

By now, I’ve hemmed and hawed for so long that the sale will shutter for the day in 90 minutes. The front door to the house is open. Through the doorway, I can see tables full of glassware, and as I cross the threshold, WHOA there were some dogs living in this house! Olfactory alert! I glance through the glassware, start to rummage through the costume jewelry, and before long I need to get out of that room. The kitchen is much better on the nose, and the basement merely has your typical musty-ness going on. There’s a bed heaped with tablecloths and whatnot, tables full of I-don’t-get-a-chance-to-look because there are racks of clothing, and I am racing against two guys who, I glean from their banter, buy up vintage rockabilly and western wear for export to Japan. There’s lots of polyester which I don’t bother looking at, but also a lot of cotton which needs investigation. The lady of the house was apparently a big fan of house dresses, so much of what I can manage to pull out from the tightly-packed racks gets put back. There are some gems squished in there, but I still have to look carefully at each item: our patron was also a seamstress, and many items are in an unfinished or partially-altered state. There’s mildew, there’s dust, there’s no delicate way to put this: there’s cat barf. The basement is a tight squeeze, and there isn’t much room for inspection. I do the best I can, pack up a bag that I thoughtfully brought along with me, and explore the rest of the house. The sunroom offers up a pressure canner that I could use, had I the room to store it or the initiative to clean off what looks like 40 years’ worth of dust and grime. There’s a container with some umbrellas, but a cursory glance indicates broken ribs, so I don’t take a closer look. There’s an entire Melmac dinnerware set, but one of the teacups is broken and I don’t feel like piecing it out. The first bedroom is nothing special, the second bedroom is stacked beyond comprehension with record albums (the 6,000 LPs! they really do exist!), the third bedroom is HOLY SMOKES this must be where they kept the cat. And for some reason, the heat is cranked in that room. Now that my senses have been thoroughly shocked, I can go back to the front room and look at the jewelry again. While I’m perusing the plastic baggies of brooches, I eavesdrop on the team of guys who are running the show. They’re laughing, they’re having a good time, they’re talking about the dead squirrel that is apparently somehow attached to one of those umbrellas that I didn’t take a closer look at. Seems that none of them want to be the person responsible for detaching the squirrel and then… what? What should they even do with a dead squirrel? Who would be the one to carry it to the Dumpster out front? They ring up my purchases. They offer me the fab-yoo-lusss 1950s dinette set for half price. I don’t have the cash, the space in my house, or the room in my car. Which is a shame, because that set is the best looking Formica/vinyl pairing I’ve ever come across. I go home. I wash my hands up to the elbows for about 10 minutes.

Maybe I’ll go back today.



Filed under Is it safe to remove the gas masks?, life-threatening clutter, shopping, vintage

Crash and Burn in Under 30 Seconds

In 1990, this NeXT Computer used by Sir Tim Berners-Lee at CERN became the first web server.

In 1990, this NeXT Computer used by Sir Tim Berners-Lee at CERN became the first web server.

Mom: Do you want these? A friend gave them to me in the ’80s. You can keep them, or sell them.
(hands me a Ziplog bag containing two holiday-themed brooches which are most definitely not her style)
Me: Sure. They might sell. Thanks.
Mom: I know she bought them online.
Me: Online?
Mom: Yes.
Me: Then it wasn’t the ’80s.
Mom: Yes it was.
Me: The Web didn’t exist yet. She didn’t buy them online, or it wasn’t the ’80s.
Mom: I had a computer in 1989.
Me: That’s entirely possible. But you weren’t shopping online from it. Email didn’t even become massively popular until ’95.
Mom: Believe whatever you want.

“Believe whatever you want.” Now that there is a good rebuttal to remember for the future. I have no way to get around that one, because it’s apparently my PERSONAL BELIEF SYSTEM that is preventing me from, well, believing that this unnamed friend of my mother’s miraculously bought two costume-jewelry brooches online, years before any publicly-accessible online marketplace existed. (For anyone dying to know, AuctionWeb, which later became eBay, was founded in 1995 as part of a personal Web site.)



Filed under family is going to be the death of me

Stocking Stuffer: Stockings!


In love with a vintage gal? Looking for a stocking stuffer? I suggest more stockings. And none of that Leg Avenue garbage, either. I’m talking about the real deal here. Full fashioned, keyhole-welted, seamed, reinforced.*

These specialty items are difficult, although not impossible, to find at brick-and-mortar stores, but are readily available online. This close to Christmas, shipping times are an issue so while many vendors ship overseas, you’ll probably want to stay closer to home for now. The top of the heap for U.S. customers has to be Secrets In Lace, which carries Dita Von Teese line as well as a broad selection of other stockings and a full selection of underpinnings. In the U.K., What Katie Did will be glad to help you out. These companies are fully engaged in what they do, and they carry quality products. They’re not the only horses in the barn, though. You may also find just what your gal wants at MyTights, Christel and StockingsHQ (U.K.), or StockingStore, StockinGirl, GirdleBound, or Alexis4U (U.S.). A search for “full-fashion stockings” on Google will bring up a bevy more.

While you hunt around, you may run into some terms that you’re unfamiliar with. Here’s a quick glossary that I hope will help un-muddle your head while you shop:

  • Cuban Heel: A reinforced heel that is blocked (squared off) at the back of the ankle
  • Denier: Unit of weight by which yarn is measured, used to describe the sheerness of hosiery
  • French Heel: A reinforced heel that comes to a point at the back of the ankle, also called Point or Pyramid
  • FF, Full Fashioned: Nylon stockings, knitted flat and shaped to fit the leg by decreasing the number of stitches towards the ankle, sewn together at the back to create our beloved seam
  • Hold Ups: See Stay Ups, below
  • Keyhole: Formed by doubling over the welt and then leaving a small section un-seamed, a foolproof way to determine if the stockings are full-fashioned or circular-knit
  • Manhattan Heel: A reinforced heel with a decorative outline
  • Pantyhose: Hosiery with an attached panty. Not what we’re discussing here.
  • RHT: Reinforced Heel and Toe
  • Stay Ups: The U.K. equivalent of the U.S. Thigh High. These are elasticized to “stay up” on their own, without the need for garters (suspenders in the U.K.). And what fun is that?
  • Thigh Highs: See Stay Ups, above
  • Tights: See Pantyhose, above
  • Welt: Knit in a heavier denier yarn and folded double to give strength for supporter fastening

Remember, FF stockings don’t have much stretch, and are therefore not one-size-fits-all. Don’t try to do this without at least some insight into the recipient’s actual size/shape, or the stockings may come up too short on the thigh, and/or bag at the ankle. I myself have, ahem, fuller thighs and honestly don’t mind occasionally giving up the authenticity of FF in exchange for a better fit. Additionally, there are very few of the original machines left that can still knit full-fashioned stockings, and the prices reflect that.


*Leg Avenue makes at least one model of FF stockings, and I can tell you from personal experience that they are awful. Terrible fit and they ran the first time I wore them. Unless you have thick ankles, skinny thighs, and glass-smooth skin: stay away.

TRUTH IN BLOGGING: None of the companies mentioned above have given me anything in exchange for writing this post. But I wish they would. :)

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Filed under fashion, holidays, romance, relationships, vintage

Oh, Drat.

The dress, now relisted

I sold a dress from my shop!

Oh, but I’m out of town and the buyer needs it by Thursday.

But I can actually be home in time to meet the Express shipping deadline!

But that will cost $15 more.

But the customer is willing to pay it!

And my flight isn’t delayed!

And my car isn’t buried under snow in the long-term parking lot!

And while it’s -9, it’s sunny!

And my car starts right up!

And it doesn’t take too long to clean it off and scrape off the ice!

And I’ll be home in time to ship that dress!

Until my engine cuts out at mile marker 8 on Peña Blvd.

And I spend 29 minutes (TWENTY-NINE MINUTES) on the phone with Roadside Assistance (Did I mention that it was 9 below? And do you realize that THERE IS NO HEAT in a car with no running engine? Because the operator seemed clueless to this phenomenon). And then wait for a tow to the nearest garage. And then wait for a gloriously kind friend to drive out TO THE AIRPORT to fetch me. And finally get home, cold and hungry, 3 hours late and 30 minutes AFTER the Express dropoff deadline.

So I had to cancel the sale.

The sale which would have taken a bite out of the $460 repair bill I’m currently faced with to get my car running again.

And I’m car-less until the repairs are done.

my car, about 15 minutes before it passed out

My car, about 14 minutes before passing out cold.

But, on the positive side: I managed to get my car off to the the side of the road. The problem is a distributor, not something even more expensive. I have WONDERFUL friends who came to fetch me at the airport–during rush hour–(Alison) and who used their wily in-the-business skills to find me a new distributor for less $$$ than the mechanic could locally (Rob). And the many people who kept me company via Twitter and text messages while I waited, and waited, and waited at various times during the escapade.

For now, it’s warmed “up” to -6° and I’m stuck at home with no car. But I have food and heat and kittehs and a call in to my insurance agent to find out if I can get a rental car for a few days. There’s a kitteh a couple of miles away who needs looking after while her folks are in Italy, and I’m not walking it unless the weather improves dramatically.


Filed under cars, friends, vacation