how to: polish vintage stainless with olive oil

high plains thrifter // how to clean stainlessWay back in December, my honey and I stopped at the Treasure Chest thrift store near Saint Cloud on our way to his family’s Christmas party. Everything in the store was half-off that weekend, including this fondue pot, which wound up coming home with me. Still in its original box, the poor thing was by no means beat-up, but still bore a few signs of use.

high plains thrifter // how to clean vintage stainless with olive oil In need of some advice on how to spruce it up, I turned to Google, and found this handy post on Apartment Therapy explaining how to use olive oil to polish stainless steel. Intended to advise folks on how to buff their stainless appliances, I found it helpful too, for sprucing my fondue pot.

I started out by giving it a thorough bath (minus the wooden handle and burner, of course).

high plains thrifter // how to clean vintage stainless with olive oil After all the pieces were dry, I followed the instructions on the Apartment Therapy post, using a clean, dry wash rag to buff a few teaspoons of oil on, flipping the rag midway through. Elbow grease = essential.

high plains thrifter // how to clean vintage stainless with olive oil I’m so pleased with how clean and shiny it looks now.

high plains thrifter // how to clean vintage stainless with olive oil Do you have any tricks for getting your vintage stainless in tip-top shape? If so, do let me know how you do it in the comments!

xo,

Meghan

how to: not be an idiot at the tailor

While this post is from the summer of 2010, Sew Simple remains my go-to spot for all my alterations. Since they just opened the doors to their new location (yay!), I thought it’d be a good time to refresh this post with updated info and additional tips.

Confession: I can’t sew for shit. My most recent accomplishment involving a needle and thread was sewing buttons onto a shirt of my sweetheart’s—a task that took me approximately an hour and an extra-large whiskey ginger.

It’s understandable then, when I need something hemmed, patched or repaired, I take it to the pros. Like Pahoua Hoffman and her mom, Chia, at Sew Simple, a-cute-as-a-button operation (conveniently located in the same building as my favorite Chinese takeout joint) that specializes in speedy, affordable alterations and tailoring. Since taking your thrifted vintage in to a tailor can be a bit intimidating at first, I thought, with the help of Sew Simple’s pros, we could cover some basics so your next visit is a snap.

1. Learn some basic lingo.

Knowing what to ask for is half the battle, and getting some simple terms down will definitely help you to not sound like a fool.

Hem: A hem is made when the bottom edge of a garment is folded over once, folded over again and then sewed down. A simple hem is when the garment is unlined. If you want a maxi dress made into a mini, or pants made into shorts, hemming is what you want. This also applies to shortening shirt hems, sleeves, jackets…anything with an edge.

Original hem: At Sew Simple, you can choose to have a simple hem (described above), or you can opt to keep the original hem (also known as a Euro hem) where the extra length is tucked under and sewn in such a way that the original hem is kept intact. This option is good for when you want to keep a detailed hem or maintain the same thread color used on other parts of the garment.

Taking in: The process of taking in an item makes it smaller for a more fitted silhouette. If you love a skirt, for example, but the waist is slightly too big, this is what you ask for.

Let out: The process of opening the seam allowance (definition below) to let out the extra fabric to create a looser fit. This is what you want to ask for if you thrifted a blazer or dress and the fit is a little too snug.

Seam allowance: A seam allowance is the area between the edge of fabric and the stitching line on two (or more) pieces of material being stitched together. Seam allowances can range from 1/4-inch wide  to as much as several inches. If you’re hoping to have something let out, check the seam allowance. If it’s small (like 1/2-inch or less), your tailor won’t be able to do much.

Lining: Lining is an inner layer of fabric, fur or other fabric that provides a nice, neat finish.

Seam: A seam is a line of fabric held together by thread.

2. Have realistic expectations.

Don’t get your hopes up; not everything is reparable. “We’ll tell you when we can’t fix something,” says Hoffman. Bringing your item in to a tailor is a good first step (don’t call and try to explain what you want fixed over the phone!). Consultations are often free, as is the case at Sew Simple.

Don’t expect that your garment will look “perfect” or brand-new, especially if you’re getting holes repaired, Hoffman cautions. “Most people who understand what vintage is are just happy that their garment is wearable again,” she says.

Don’t plan on being in and out in a flash. You will need to allot time to explain to your tailor what you want done, and if you want the fit altered, you’ll need time to try the garment on and have your tailor work with you to hatch a plan.

Some fixes need more of a designer’s touch, for example, if you want to reconstruct a piece or alter is drastically. An experienced tailor will know when something is beyond their skill level, and can refer you to a designer who can help. Sew Simple has relationships with local designers who can help you with a more creative project and can refer you to them.

3. Don’t go empty-handed.

Do bring (or wear) the underthings you’ll be wearing with the piece of clothing you want altered or fixed. It’s amazing the difference that foundation garments (a strapless bra or pair of Spanx, for example) can make in terms of fit. Also be sure to bring the shoes you’ll be wearing with the item—heels, flats, etc.—this goes for guys, too!

Do bring your wallet. Most tailors require full or partial payment in advance. Pricing varies per tailor, per repair. Most tailors will give you a quote for every piece. Sew Simple has a handy list of prices for common alterations, which you can check out here. (Handy much?)

Do be prepared to wait for your goodies. Your tailor should be able to give you a ballpark range of when your garment will be ready—usually in a few days to a week, with more complex alterations taking longer. If you need it in a jiffy, let them know, and they might be able to rush it through. At Sew Simple, there’s no fee to put a rush on an item, but be ready to shell out a bit more for faster service at other tailors.

A big thank you goes to Pahoua and her mom, who were ultra-helpful with putting this post together. Keep your eyes out for more tailoring-related posts featuring wisdom from the friendly folks at Sew Simple!

Sew Simple
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Closed on Sunday
Location: 2424 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55404
Contact: Phone, 612.872.4430
They’re also on Facebook and Twitter!

xo,

Meghan

holiday how-to: DIY mulling spice kits

mulling spice kit // high plains thrifterThere’s nothing more gratifying than giving a homemade gift. I know it sounds cheesy, but the heartfelt aspect of making and giving just can’t be matched buying store-bought presents. In order to save money, time and sanity during this busy holiday season, I’ve learned (the hard way, some years) how important it is to find ideas that can be made ahead, multiplied and don’t require a ton of expensive specialty supplies. Which is why I’m so stoked about these cute mulling spice kits I made for the craft swap.

mulling spice group // high plains thrifter

It’s seriously the easiest gift to make! Start by finding a mulling spice recipe you like (or make up your own, as I did!), and then figure out how to scale it to suit your gifting needs. (I needed to make about 40-50 gifts, so I sought out a big-batch recipe and followed those proportions.) The combination I came up with melded a couple recipes and included star anise, dried orange and lemon peels, broken cinnamon sticks, whole allspice berries, cloves, cardamom pods and some chopped crystallized ginger. Once you shop for your spices and get your orange or lemon peels dried, dump it all into a bowl, stir it up and take a big whiff.

Mulling Spice Mix // high plains thrifterAfter that, I divvied the yummy-smelling spice mixture up by the heaping 1/4-cup full into  muslin sachets. I found the sachets at my co-op for 15 cents a pop, but you can also get them in bulk here. Then I popped each sachet into a 3 x 3-inch white paper box found (on sale!) at The Container Store. Each box got topped with a sticker featuring directions on how to use the spices, a cute template I found here on 30 Pounds of Apples. (I had no idea craft-paper sticker paper was a thing!)

mulling spice kit // high plains thrifter

Then came my favorite part…making them cute! At first I thought about painting each box, an idea my boyfriend deemed “too much.” (He was, as usual, 100-percent right!) I decided instead to put my bags of thrifted pompoms to use and threaded them with a yarn needed onto leftover yarn. I go nuts if I have to do the same thing over and over and over, so I was happy to decorate each of these in a unique way. I think they turned out darling! Start to finish, including printing the labels, assembling the boxes, making the spice mix and decorating, it took about three episodes of McMillian & Wife (so about three-and-a-half hours). Not too shabby when you consider I now have 40+ gifts ready to go! Combined with my homemade Apple-Cinnamon Jameson, I have just about everyone on my list covered. (Just in the nick of time!)

finished kitsAre you finishing up your handmade holiday projects this weekend or am I the only one who waited ’til the last minute? Either way, I hope your pre-Christmas weekend is absolutely fabulous!

xo,

Meghan

christmas gift wrapping with goodwill goods

Gift-Wrapping with Goodwill // high plains thrifter

They say presentation is everything, and when it comes to Christmas gift wrapping, that old adage rings especially true. Instead of looking at wrapping presents as a chore, I like to think of it as an extension of the gift-giving ritual…an opportunity to put even a little more love into the gift, in addition to flexing a little creative muscle.

When the holidays start creeping on the horizon, I make a point to look for wrapping supplies during each and every trip to the thrift-store. There’s always an abundance of fun stuff to play with (in both the craft section and holiday aisles), and by shopping second-hand, I know that I’m not only saving money, but that my gift-giving presentations are going to be one-of-a-kind. To bulk up your wrapping stash on a dime, keep your eyes open for…

BASICS

Wrapping paper: I have a soft spot for vintage paper, but most thrift stores will also have brand new rolls in stock. (Also keep on the lookout for old maps or mags, both of which make for great wrapping paper!)

Boxes: Craft-paper, plain or blinged-out, decorative gift boxes, you’ll find it all.

Gift bags: Good to have on hand, always. I like to my eyes open for wine bags, as I’m frequently toting bottles to dinner parties and it feels more special when presented in a bag.

Jars: Perfect for edible treats, reusable jars are a staple in my gift-wrapping routine.

Ribbon: Fabric, metallic, raffia, paper, yarn, vintage…pick up a few different kinds so you can mix, match and layer.

Fabric: My go-to for wrapping odd-sized presents.

EXTRAS

Ornaments: Fabulous present-toppers and can also be a memorable part of the present.

Jingle bells: Cute to look at, easy to attach and oh-so-very festive!

Tinsel garlands: A glittery stand-in for ribbon.

Bows: Big or small, bows add a sweet finishing touch. I look for multi-packs of the twist-tie velvet bows, as they attach to gifts quickly and easily.

Doilies: Any size and any color!

Pom-poms

Gift tags

Rubber stamps

In need of a some visual inspiration? Here are a few ideas for presentations that’ll make your packages stand out under the tree, using materials thrifted at area Goodwill stores!

From cocoa to cookie mix, who can resist a tasty treat packaged up in an adorable jar? The addition of jingle bells, tied on with twine, takes this patterned canning jar from everyday ho-hum to stocking-ready in mere minutes.

Gift-Wrapping with Goodwill // high plains thrifter

Layered gifts, like this mix for oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies, look lovely in tall jars. A Christmas-light ornament, homemade pom-pom and candy-cane colored washi-tape tagged card add a home-y touch.

Gift-Wrapping with Goodwill // high plains thrifter

Goodwill is stocked with many holiday themed jars and tins too. All this baby needed was a curlicued ribbon to make it pop.

Gift-Wrapping with Goodwill // high plains thrifter

Brown craft-paper boxes are blank slates when it comes to packaging. I used craft glue to affix red, green and white pom-poms (another craft section find) to the small box on the right, while the larger one got topped with vintage ribbon and a bottle-brush tree, clipped in place with a glittery mini clothespin. So easy!

Gift-Wrapping with Goodwill // high plains thrifter

Hate wrapping paper? Switch things up and wrap a few presents in fabric this year! I used a vintage scarf and tinsel garland to doll up the package on the left. (Recipients can choose to wear or display the scarf, depending on their style.) On the right, a bit of scrap fabric, edged with pinking shears, tied shut with vintage ribbon (and more ornaments!) secures this package.

Gift-Wrapping with Goodwill // high plains thrifter

When I found some plain, white, flat-packed gift boxes, I knew they had big potential. I embellished the box on the right with gold star stickers, and then followed this tutorial from Mineco for the wrapping, using tinsel-trimmings and yellow gold cellophane, for a suspended confetti kind of look. Fun right?

Gift-Wrapping with Goodwill // high plains thrifter

Bells and whistles aside, sometimes a roll or two of festive wrapping paper is all you need to get the job done. I was so charmed by the vintage cookie and Santa papers, I snatched them up in October! The brown packages are grocery bags turned inside out, finished off with a paper doily, velvet bow and vintage ribbon. Affordable, easy and oh-so-pretty!

Photos by Julia McMahon // LB Jeffries

Photos by: Julia McMahon // LB Jeffries Photography

Have you hit the thrift for wrapping supplies? If you haven’t before, I hope you’re feeling inspired to give it a try now! For more pretty gift-wrapping inspiration, head on over to my Pretty Packaging pin-board, where I save my favorite ideas for Christmas and beyond.

xoxo,

Meghan

A version of this post first appeared on the Goodwill / Easter Seals Minnesota blog.

how to: remove red lipstick stains from clothing

tumblr_lzuuf2GRrJ1rq17yxo1_500As someone who considers herself having pretty good luck, I sometimes find myself completely and dramatically devastated when that aforementioned luck runs out. Take last month for example, when I loaded my washing machine plumb-full of vintage dresses, beloved cream tights and my go-everywhere denim jacket, which, unbeknownst to me, had a tube of bright red lipstick tucked in the right pocket. It wasn’t until I pulled the load out of the hot dryer (!) that I noticed everything was pink and streaked, spotted and mottled with oily red splotches. Quelle horreur, n’est-ce pas? (French for holy fucking shit*.) The mere sight of my beloved pieces of vintage in a ruined state sent me into a tizzy, an emotion reinforced by article after article proclaiming red lipstick one of the most devilish stains to get out. (Something about the combination of heavy pigments and grease…)

Ever the optimist, I went to work immediately, experimenting with different methods recommended online. First I tried Spray ‘n’ Wash. Then I massaged Dawn dish soap on dress after dress. When that didn’t work, I sprayed the spots with hair spray, dabbing them desperately in between bouts with a towel. I washed everything again (and then again). But those stains? They didn’t budge. Not even a smidge. And so I gave up.

For an entire week, I mulled over my dumbness, considered ordering new cream tights and felt all-around silly to be so sad over wrecked dresses. I’d have to throw everything out, I thought. Refusing to let go of my pretties without one last attempt, I turned to my old stand-by, Oxiclean. I filled up my bath tub a third of the way with cold water, swirled in two big scoops of the magical powder and added my clothes. I pushed everything ’round for a bit, making sure it was all submerged and, with a hope and a prayer, let it stew for an entire afternoon.

By the time I checked in on things, the water was a murky reddish-brown and as I pulled the clothes out of the water, I couldn’t spot any streaks. I immediately, and, if I’m honest, gleefully, ran the soaked clothes through the wash and at the end of the cycle, found nary a trace of pink or single red splotch. My abiding love of Oxiclean was reinforced, and my feelings out luckl-essness vanished without a trace. Lessons learned? One: Check (then double-check) your pockets before loading the laundry. Two: When facing serious stains, always try Oxiclean first.

xoxo,

Meghan

P.S. Some other how-tos I’ve written you might find useful!

How to: Get Out Stains
How to: Remove Grease Pencil Markings
How to: Clean Vintage Luggage

Photo c/o: Dress for Victory

holiday how-to: quick-fix praline bars

Here’s a typical story from my life: Earlier this month I celebrated my 30th birthday party with a cookie swap at my favorite bar. The party was starting in half-an-hour, and, of course, I hadn’t had time to bake a single cookie. I knew it would be OK for me to skip the swap, but I still wanted to contribute a little something sweet. Into my brain, like a saving grace, popped this recipe…a holiday favorite of my Grandma Mary. The simple ingredients and unfussy proportions make it an easy one to recall by heart, and before I knew it, I was on my way out the door, tin of cookies in hand, with a minute or two to spare.

Before I share her recipe, please know one thing: No one’s going to “ooh” and “ahh” over how these bars look. They’re not showy, they’re simple. But whatever they lack in looks, they make up for (ten-fold) in taste. I figured I’d share the recipe with you this week, in case you too find yourself in a pinch and need to whip up something for a holiday party or potluck at the last minute.

grahambars

Grandma Mary’s Praline Bars

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

24 graham crackers (roughly two packs from an average-size box)
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. butter
1/2 t. vanilla
1 c. chopped pecans (or walnuts)

HOW TO MAKE

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Arrange graham crackers on a foil-lined jelly roll pan.

3. Heat brown sugar and butter to boiling in a saucepan. Boil 1 minute, stirring constantly; remove from heat and quickly stir in the vanilla.

3. Working fast, spread the caramelized sugar on top of the crackers, as evenly as possible.

4. Sprinkle with chopped pecans.

5. Bake for 10 or so minutes, or until the caramel starts to bubble. Watch ’em carefully because they can scorch from just a minute or two of over-baking.

6. Let them cool and then break into squares or pieces.

This recipe doubles like a dream, which you might as well do because they take literally 15 minutes start-to-finish and you will want to gobble them all up as soon as they are cool.

xoxo,

Meghan

how to: thrift for records

This past July, my forever-long wish to own a stereo was granted. And ever since, I’ve been obsessed with hunting for records. Like anything else, looking for records at thrift stores, garage and estate sales can be a crap shoot. And an overwhelming one at that! Here are some super basic things I keep in mind when I’m out and about.

Before you you get your heart set on a specific record, check the condition of it first. See deep scratches, scuff marks, chips, cracks or gouges? Skip it. And be sure to inspect both sides too!

Make sure the record isn’t warped. (Warped records = distorted sound.) The easiest way to check is to hold the record up at eye level.

This is a total no-brainer, but while you have the record out, make sure that it matches the jacket. How sad would it be to go home thinking you’d found a rare Kitty Wells record, only to discover some crappy Billy Joel album inside.

Keep a running list of what you’re looking for. I have a friend who keeps her record wish list on Pinterest, I personally keep a running list in my notes on my phone. Either way, just like thrifting for clothes, I find it helpful to keep tabs of what I’m hunting for.

Take a chance! If you come across an intriguing cover, artist or song, and the record’s in good shape, where’s the harm in taking it home for a listen? I picked “Mustang Jazz,” a recording of the Southern Methodist University Marching Band out of a $1 bin at a record fair last month and it pumps me up every time I listen to it!

And last but not least, it’s OK to thrift records just because you like the cover art! Inspired by this Easy Record Cover Art DIY I spotted over the summer, I painted over a pin-up-y instrumental album cover. It sits on my vanity now and I love looking at it when I get ready each morning.

Some other good resources for learning more about thrifting records:
Thrift Store Vinyl: “Listening to used records so you don’t have to.”
The Thrift Store Record Collector: “Collecting records the cheap way.”
How to Clean Old Records

Do you have any tips for thrifting records you want to share? If so, let us hear ’em down below in comments!

xoxo,

Meghan