Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Shirt picking—a trip to the bins

I have written about buying men's shirts for the fabric. I am still doing that, and though my resulting quilts are not yet where I want them to be, I still am intrigued by the shirt fabrics. I went out to do some "picking" today and thought I'd bring you along.

Usually I go to the Goodwill outlet store where you can buy clothing by the pound. I decided today to try another thrift shop because I am not so happy with the Goodwill organization since I learned that they pay their disabled employees far less than minimum wage, really exploiting their workers. I always thought donating to and shopping at Goodwill was a good thing and helped people with disabilities, but now I am questioning that. I found a couple of good shirts at the other thrift store, but paid much more than I would have at Goodwill.

The yellow one was a good find. It is in perfect condition and a size XL, which means it will yield a lot of usable fabric. I paid $7.50 for these two shirts.

Somewhat reluctantly I went on down the road to Goodwill. This is what they call their outlet store. Most people call it "the bins." This is where you find the donations either deemed not suitable for their regular stores, or goods that did not sell at the regular Goodwill stores. The place is a mess. Stuff is dumped willy-nilly into the big blue, rolling bins and it smells musty.

Customers, including me, dig through the piles looking for whatever they need. You never know what you will find. Today this beautifully beaded wedding gown was in the mix. It looked like it was in great condition and really quite lovely. It might have been in the bins because it could not be washed for sale in the regular Goodwill. My daughter once found a beautiful Scottish wool blazer at the bins. After it was cleaned it looked like it was brand new. She paid less than a dollar for it.

I look for men's shirts that are 100% cotton, in stripes or small plaids, and not badly worn. I am a bit squeamish,  I have to admit. Today I found one that was a good stripe, but the armpits were really badly stained. I know I could have cut around the stained part, but it grossed me out and I left it behind. I often see boxer shorts in good, cotton plaids and stripes, but ewwwwww! I don't touch them!  I take the shirts home and they go directly into the washing machine, set for the hottest wash temperature. Today, in addition to detergent, I added about a cup of white vinegar, which I thought might help cut through the fabric softener that I often smell on some of the shirts. They came out of the dryer looking especially nice and clean today and smelled, refreshingly, of nothing. I think the vinegar was a good idea.

I got all stripes today, which are my favorites. Seven shirts for $6.39.

Tonight, as I sit and watch TV I will start cutting up the shirts. It so reminds me of boning and fileting a fish! I save all the buttons and labels. I don't know why, but it is fun to see how many I am accumulating. I discovered there is a YouTube video that shows you how to filet a shirt. She is not as thorough as I am. I trim off all the seams and remove the pocket and sleeve plackets and open up the front seams. I have kept the bag of collars and cuffs and yokes that I cut off. I may use them eventually, but there is a lot of labor involved in harvesting very little fabric from those parts.


  1. I get caught up in this activity myself. After overindulging in seersucker I've now only buying shot cotton shirts and being very fussy about the colors. I figure it will take a lot longer to add up to something.

  2. Bonnie Hunter of has a youtube video here: that really uses ALL of the shirt.

  3. I am laughing because I do the same with silk. It is a mad dash to the washing machine. I did make some cute wristband things that the younger set is wearing using the cuffs. Have fun!

  4. This is the way Bonnie Hunter does it:

  5. I think all used clothing places smell musty. I went to the bins with some friends and found some neat stuff though. We all wore dish gloves while picking through. One thing I found was a very large housedress made of actual african fabric. It had been put together to maximize yardage/minimize waste and so I got lots of fabric from it. One person in the group found a pair of too-small-for-her but otherwise perfect condition black leather pants. She's going to make a handbag and we're all jealous she saw them first! I also found some sweaters to felt and a neat skirt. Like you, it all went immediately in the wash. You just never know what you'll find. A friend once found 5 yards of silk there. glad you found some good stuff.

  6. I know what you mean about charities and their money. My brother-in-law was once CFO for Goodwill of Arizona and earned a 6 figure salary. When the the heads of these organizations earn more in 1 year than I earned in my lifetime, it's time to find a new charity to support.
    And as far as vinegar, it's what I use for fabric softerner all the time.

  7. I've been using thrifted shirts for years. One time a cousin saw me cutting patches for hand-piecing. She said, "Is that a sleeve? Do you walk down the street with your scissors and say, 'Hey, I like your shirt!'"

    I've been tempted!


  8. I love shopping at Goodwill! Having worked for an agency that provided a sheltered workshop for people with disabilities, I understand the need of low wages during training. It is unfortunate but that is the economics of making the program work.

  9. We have a Salvation Army thrift store and a Goodwill. SA is much less expensive and runs some great bargains. Usually on Tuesday you can get five items for a dollar each if they have a certain color tag on them. Those are the days I love to go shirt shopping for fabric!

    Like you, when I bring them home they go directly into the washer - do not pass go, do not collect $200! This did cost me a washing machine once as I also bought a few wine glasses at the same time. The clerk graciously wrapped the glasses in the shirts I bought so they would not get broken. You guessed it. I shoved the shirts into the washer without thinking. My front loading washer limped along for a few more months, but the damage I did was irrepairable. My own fault! Everyone laughs at me and tells me I need to remember that glasses go into the DISH washer... hahaha. I can laugh about it too.

  10. Haven't done the shirt thing, but vinegar has disinfectant qualities as well as softening, so that is a good thing. You found some good shirts today!