This week we have a guest blogger, Terri Wear, who is the Secretary of the Eastside Community Aid (ECA) Thrift Shop; she has been volunteering with the organization since 2014. Among Terri’s current responsibilities is creating and sending out the ECA newsletter. She especially enjoys sewing and other crafts. In this post, she shares how she has creatively “upcycled” some of her thrift shop purchases.
Upcycling is a term I wasn’t familiar with until just recently. Sure, I know about recycling, and I put all my recyclables in the correctly marked bin, even taking my Styrofoam to Styrofest. And I know about repurposing, like when someone puts a pillow into a large wicker basket to be a dog bed. I have certainly embellished clothing, like adding embroidery or button designs to existing t-shirts. But I wasn’t sure what upcycling meant, until I heard about it and gave it a try.
According to Google, to upcycle is to “reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original.” The term has been around since the mid 1990s when it was used to refer to creative reuse of industrial materials. I am glad that industrial materials can be reused, but that’s not something I am likely to do. But I do like to sew, and upcycling is definitely a term used for certain sewing projects these days.
Learning by doing
I recently made a tote bag from a black leather skirt I had purchased at a thrift shop. I cut off the waistband of the skirt and sewed across the bottom to create the tote. I added handles made from the waistband, and the lining of the skirt became the lining of the tote. By utilizing a small leather miniskirt that no one seemed to want anymore, I created an item that was more valuable to me and very pleasing to me aesthetically. I use it all the time, and the pockets of the skirt are just the right size for a bottle of water, keys or whatever. I “upcycled” the skirt into a tote bag.
This kind of upcycling project can be seen on many internet crafting sites and in sewing classes. I attended the Sew Expo in Puyallup in February this year, and there were at least two classes on upcycling projects. They all emphasized shopping at thrift shops as a way to obtain inexpensive garments or items to use in your upcycling projects.
One of the presenters at Sew Expo was Michelle Paganini, whose company name is Paganoonoo. She creates instructions for one-of-a-kind upcycled garments. She likes to take men’s shirts and combine them into interesting tunics and dresses for women. The results are a very wearable garment that one can easily see was made from men’s shirts. The fact that one can still see some of the design details from the original garment in the upcycled garment is one of the distinguishing features of upcycling.
Another presenter at Sew Expo, Marsha McClintock, elaborated on this. She said that if you just utilized the fabric from an existing garment for a new garment, that was called “harvesting” fabric. This is done all the time and is a useful way to find fabric for sewing. Even Julie Andrews did it in the “Sound of Music” movie when she made clothing for the children from the drapes in her room. When upcycling an item, though, the design features are still apparent on the new item. Whether it is the pockets on a skirt turned into pockets on a tote bag, or the collar and button placket from a man’s shirt that becomes part of a woman’s dress, those details are still apparent.
At Sew Expo, Marsha showed tote bags made from leather coats and jeans, and she showed aprons and adult bibs made from men’s shirts. She also talked about her favorite thrift shop in the Portland area for finding inexpensive garments to upcycle. Well, I have a favorite thrift shop too! I was a shopper at the Eastside Community Aid Thrift Shop before I became a volunteer there. I find wonderful bargains every time I visit the shop. Some items I upcycle, and some I just use as they are.
I think upcycling is fun, and it’s an admirable way to stock your closet, use your fabric stash, or inspire your creative spirit. I hope you will give upcycling a try!
This week, we have a guest blogger, Jody Orbits, who is currently the President of the Eastside Community Aid (ECA) Thrift Shop; she has been volunteering for the organization since 1992. In this post, she shares her recollections about how ECA got started and some thoughts about the challenges and choices ECA has faced.
Volunteering as a child
The same grandma was also one of a handful of ladies to create a thrift shop in our little town. That same thrift shop is still thriving today and as my mom says “it’s the only dress shop left in town.” It was through my parents and grandparents where I learned to always give back. I’ve never taken for granted how lucky I was to have a roof over my head, a wonderful family, and enough money to buy the basic things I needed. For me, volunteering has been a great way to meet people, learn to do different things, and figure out what I wanted to do as a career.
Some ECA history
This year marks Eastside Community Aid Thrift Shop’s 35th anniversary. It all started in 1981 when a group of fourteen women who had volunteered for several years at Overlake Service League wanted to do something to help local non-profits who were struggling due to cutbacks in federal aid. They held several garage sales to raise enough money to start a new, non-profit thrift shop that would help support local charities. On November 19, 1981, the Eastside Community Aid Thrift Shop was formed, with 501(c)3 status.
Jo Legan was one of the 14 women who helped start the ECA thrift shop. She volunteered at the thrift shop for over 20 years. When she died, we decided to start three Lake Washington Institute of Technology (LWIT) College scholarships in her name. We created one engineering and two human service scholarships in honor of Jo because she was an engineer at Boeing and because the thrift shop is a human service organization. Today, in addition to the three LWIT scholarships, ECA gives three scholarships to help support Cascadia Community College students.
The Eastside Community Aid Thrift Shop’s first location was in Redmond, where the income from the first day’s sales was $14 dollars. I got involved with ECA when I found the shop in Redmond with my two kids, who were in elementary school at the time. They had allowance money to spend, and they had fun hunting for treasures they could spend their money on. ECA was looking for volunteers to help sort and price toys, and the 3 of us started helping out with that.
Fast forward to today
Today, we have approximately 60 volunteers who sort new and used donations, price them, and put them on display at the thrift shop in Totem Lake West. There are no paid staff members. After paying the rent and other bills, the net profits of the thrift shop are donated to Eastside non-profit organizations and to the six community college scholarships. Some of the biggest challenges we face today include finding enough affordable space to display and store the donated merchandise.
The ECA thrift shop has given over $1.4 million in cash back to our community. Some of the organizations who have received ECA grants include Lifewire, Assistance League® of the Eastside, Helping Hands for the Disabled, Hopelink, the Humane Society, Little Bit Therapeutic Riding, Raven Rock Ranch, Eastside Medic Response Units, Sibling House, King County Search & Rescue, Eastside Baby Corner, and Compassionate Friends. In addition to monetary grants, we have given away many thousands of dollars of material goods, including eye glasses to the Lion’s Club, cell phones to Lifewire, blankets and towels to Homeward Pets, and clothes and shoes to several clothing banks. The best items are displayed and sold at the shop (or on eBay or Craigslist). The remaining donated items are passed on to other organizations that can use or recycle them. Nothing goes to waste.
In many cases, clothing sales benefit the buyer as much or more than the shop. For example, customers who are looking for a good shirt or jacket for a job interview can easily find a quality garment for $4 to $10. That same clothing item could be worth 10 times as much new. Our customers can also save a lot of money on an outfit for work, a pretty dress or jewelry for a special occasion, or a new pair of shoes, purse, or jewelry to go with clothing they already have. And kids of all ages love putting together nice school outfits or Halloween costumes at the shop. The quality and prices seem to attract almost everyone at one time or another.
The ECA thrift shop is not affiliated with any church, service club, school or any other organization. It is run by a group of volunteers who are very much appreciated. Anyone can join us. You just need an interest in making a positive difference in the lives of people in our community. Volunteering at ECA can be a great way to meet people, learn new skills, and help others. High school students can fulfill their community service requirements by working in the shop. If you would like to volunteer at ECA, just give us a call at the shop at 425-825-1877. Our community wouldn’t be the same wonderful place we enjoy without all our caring volunteers. Just like every living thing on this planet, they are priceless and we are lucky to have them.
Susan is a frequent volunteer at Eastside Community Aid Thrift Shop, where she sorts, prices, and stocks merchandise to her heart's content. Before retirement, she owned and operated a consignment shop for women's plus size clothing in Seattle. Through trial and error and talking with customers, she learned a thing or two. An avid "thrift shopper," Susan loves to buy clothing, especially when she gets good quality and value for her money.
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Eastside Community Aid
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Eastside Community Aid Thrift Shop is a 501c3 tax exempt nonprofit organization.
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