The $10 Thrifting Challenge

What kind of outfit can you get from a thrift store on just a little amount of money? And just how far will that money go? Let’s find out together. And if you’d like to play along, too, and share your findings, I think we could all have quite a lot of fun with this!

So here’s the deal. I’m always talking about the great sorts of things you can get at thrift stores. Now I’m going to put my money where my big ol’ mouth is. I’m going to set aside a whopping $10 and I’m going to go thrift a complete outfit with it, and see what I can find-- then report back here. This is a teensy bit risky, of course, because thrifting has a certain amount of serendipity to it-- and that gal Serendipity has one dilly of a sense of humor. The main donation coming into the thrifts lately might just be surplus sleeveless novelty T’s supporting Huey’s Hog Haulin’ and Embroidery. White patent leather loafers mebbe. Or fluorescent green bicycle shorts from 1990...

And frankly, I just wouldn’t want you to have to look at that.

So okay, risk is part of the challenge. But really, the outfit SHOULD be something one would actually want to wear. Outside. Without, say, making small children weep. Or folks call the cops. (Unless, of course, that’s your usual goal in choosing attire, in which case, cool-- Go for it. Just know The Thrift Shop Romantic is not responsible for making amends with your boss, neighbors or, say, sending bail).

Now by way of rules. when I say complete outfit, I mean either:
  • A dress
  • A top (shirt/sweater)
  • Bottom (slacks, jeans or skirt)

  • Footwear
  • Purse/jacket/hat/scarf /jewelry (optional, depending on how far the ol’ money goes)

Other guidelines:
  • Items must actually look like they go together. The Baglady Chic look, while entertaining, is not valid at this time unless-- again, you’re a bit eclectic normally. Be yourself.
  • No previously thrifted items may be used. Just because it was thrifted last week, or five years ago, does not count.
  • And please, don’t ask me about thrifted undergarments. I have no plans to thrift socks and unmentionables so, please folks, let’s keep them unmentioned, ‘kay?

Now-- what date is it currently? The week of February 26-- okay. In case anybody else wants to try this for themselves, let’s say I report back here by March 19. This means anybody who wants to submit stories or photos of their finds to me, please do it by Saturday, March 17 (St. Paddy’s Day) so I have time to include it. (Those who are late to the table do not get fruitcup.) You can email me a description of what you uncovered, the total cost, even a low-res JPG file. And I’ll do the same with my finds.

Can’t ya just hear the metaphorical Mission:Impossible music playing in the background?

This article will self-destruct in...


(See you next week. :-) )

Updated 3/05/07: A Special Word to Those Nifty Folks Participating in the Challenge:

I’ve spoken online to a few folks personally, but for anyone I haven’t gotten a chance to talk to who’s trying The $10 Thrifting Challenge, first of all-- it’s so great to have you aboard-- you guys are so cool! Secondly, as I’ve told everybody else, please don’t stress about this, this is supposed to be fun and not angsty. So while I appreciate everybody’s remarkable conscientiousness about trying to conform perfectly to the rules-- to steal a phrase from the Pirate Code, “they’re more like guidelines, anyway.” So by all means, share whatever you do find, whether it goes over the $10 or not. Whether you’re missing shoes or have no pants (not to get too personal, of course), please tell me about about your successes AND your difficulties. We’re all learning here. It’ll just be interesting for everybody to see what can, and what CAN’T, be done while thrifting on such a low set budget. And do know that I’m challenged, too, on this. I’ve found some great stuff so far, but nothing that quite meets the criteria head-to-toe. So no worries, gang! I’m tickled to death to have you involved, no matter what the result.

And now on to the initial post:

Noteworthy Decorating with Vintage Sheet Music

It may not be music to everyone’s ears, but sheet music from the 1900-1920 era gets a reprise at my house as cheap and unique wall-decor.

Sheet music then was, of course, a vital part of an evening’s entertainment. But even when ol’ Wooster and his chums weren’t gathered around the piano for a jolly round of songs, the music books themselves were designed to be as attractive as they were functional. Often, smiling from the covers, were the the soft-hued faces of actors, actresses and musicians renowned at the time. Other times, sheet music showcased elaborate and colorful illustrations which ranged from the transporting and almost ethereal designs you see here to sturdy expressions of war-time patriotism.

Today vintage sheet music is available at flea markets and antique malls for just a few dollars each, and if you see a stack of it, it might just be worth a rummage for something in harmony with YOUR vintage style. Most pieces of loose sheet music will fit nicely in a standard 11X14 frame, with a little bit of border. But I’ve also managed to find a number of pieces of sheet music that were already in appropriate period-style frames.

Like this gal-- my first sheet music purchase-- already cut to fit a turn-of-the-century gilded frame. I liked in particular that vintage coral color, the composition, and the almost gothic quality to the lady in the photo.

This little number here I framed myself. It hangs in my office/guest room. It was a little bit smaller than the frame, so I put some Shabby Chic scrapbooking paper behind it.

This fun deco darlin’ was also already framed. And in case you were wondering, a “Will O’The Wisp” is apparently a giant disembodied head, sort of like the Great and Powerful Oz only with a bob haircut-- which came to spread roses and soap suds to people who did their laundry at a local fountain...

Okay, I dunno. Was worth a shot, anyway.

And, lastly, as we keep that sudsy theme going, “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.”

I am. Really.

And if any of you have stopped by the About Your Hostess page on this site, you probably do recognize this little lady. But -- surprise!-- it’s not actually me. (Who am I kidding? My hair never looks that good)...

In small print on the front it says “Posed especially by Miss June Caprice, famous Albert Cappelani screen star.” A quick IMDB search indicates that Miss Caprice was a silent screen character actress, and in the 20s was used by the Coca-Cola Company as a calendar model. Dig those strategically-placed bubbles! (Now, I DO actually walk around with those, it’s very slimming. It’ll be all the rage in a year or so, you’ll see.)


Anyway-- I’ve had a lot of fun searching through stacks of music and uncovering a few favorites. So if you’re looking for an inexpensive way to put a little rhythm into a room, some well-chosen sheet music might just hit the right note-- and at a low cost-- for you, too.

And maybe I’ll see you next week-- when we lay the groundwork for one very thrifty Mission.. And see just who is up to accepting it!... (Insert mysterious music here.)

Queen of Tarts

Nope, not referring to my moral outlook by that title...

I’m talking about the melt-in-your-mouth, raspberry-filled heart-shaped pastries that are a perfect treat at Valentine’s Day. I bake up a batch and share them with the coworkers who so stalwartly endure the TPS reports and Dunder-Mifflinisms of modern office life all year. And this year, I thought I would share this easy recipe with you nice people.

Here’s what you’ll need:
  • 1 jar raspberry or strawberry jam
  • 4-inch heart-shaped tart pans (you can do this with muffin tins or any other tart pan, but for Valentine’s Day, the hearts just seem more festive. Also, the bakeware is just cute.)
Ingredients for Cookie Tart Pastry:
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup margarine or butter, softened
  • 1 egg

Just to give you a sense of perspective, each batch o’ dough makes about two large tarts. (So, yes, to make them en masse, this involves a bit of work-- which is why I only do it a max of once a year; my oven really SHOULD bear a magnet that reads, “I’d Rather Be Crafting”)


Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease tart pans lightly with margarine. Mix all ingredients for Cookie Tart Pastry until dough forms. Press firmly, evenly and thickly against bottom and side of tart pan (If the dough is too thin, it will be hard to remove the baked item from the pan and it’ll, um, break your heart. Poke with fork thoroughly to prevent dough from puffing.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until light brown; cool. Remove from tart pan carefully. Fill with raspberry jam and enjoy!

PS-- I got my tart pans at TJ Maxx and Marshalls, though many kitchen stores will have them.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody!

When Good Crafts Go Bad

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again... Someone famous once said that. Probably director Terry Gilliam after “Don Quixote” fell apart.

But as anyone who crafts will tell you, there are the craft projects that turn out nicely, maybe even better than expected. And then there are... well... the sorts of projects I’ll be showing you today.

My hope is that others will benefit from my crafting and artistic mishaps, and avoid these particular errors themselves. And for those who don’t currently craft, or who have always wanted to try a particular craft and are afraid of the consequences, I hope you’ll see that there are folks like me out here crafting-- happy, forging ahead, undaunted-- who are COMPLETELY clueless sometimes. And so there’s nothing to fear and everything to learn by taking some time and giving it a shot.

Will there be mess? Yes, unquestionably! Ugliness? Like Medusa on a bad hair day! Poor planning? Like roadwork in spring! But we laugh it off and carry on. When it works, it’s all worth it. Every bit of it.

And here we go.

The Mad Mosaic Window
In the movie Spinal Tap, one character marvels that there’s “such a fine line between stupid and clever.” And this, I fear, trods on that line.

I was looking for an inexpensive way to make myself a stained glass style window to sit in my dining room picture window. So I bought an interesting and cheap old window at an architectural salvage place. Then I started gluing. This has bits of a broken table lamp in it. Flat marbles from a floral display. Stained glass. And a few extra lamp crystals I happened to have lying around.

And WOW does it look it! Especially in person.

The funny thing was, no matter how many hours I spent gluing on these darned pieces of glass, I still wasn’t filling up the space. It’s as if the more I would add to it, the more the clear space was expanding like the universe itself. And the lamp bits? No matter how small the lamp glass was, it still wouldn’t lay flat. So from the other side, you can totally see all the glue I had to add, just to get things to stick.

I do like the colors. And as you can see, the light does go nicely through it, highlighting the glass and the, er, crystalline globs of glue. So this window remains in my basement-- far, far from unsuspecting guests-- until I can either think of a way to correct it, or, well, until I’m a very old lady and have to move into assisted living.

The Pepto Bismol Globe Shade

I have my great-aunt’s pink Victorian oil lamp with yellow flowers. It came to me missing its globe shade. Seeking to restore my beloved relative’s antique possession, one day I had the bright idea that I would paint a globe shade to match it. So I found a clear glass shade, got myself some glass paint in the proper shade of pink, read the instructions, followed them precisely, and began to paint.

What I did not realize was that glass paint is not really meant to be brushed on to cover large surfaces. And if used in that manner, it will never be, say, EVEN. Or DRY. So the more paint I added, the more streaky, drippy flat and uneven the shade actually began to look. It was like someone spilled a bottle of Pepto and left it. To repair the situation, I thought I could even it out by spraying it with a clear frosted glass spray.

And then it began to crackle. So instead of the makings of a restored Victorian lamp, I had a globe shade with eczema.

This globe now sits in the basement where it can chat with the window about misplaced intentions.

Future Thrift Store Art
The rose. Artists and poets have been inspired by roses for centuries. And if roses actually looked the way I currently paint roses, I really do believe a lot less poetry would have been written on the whole.

I am close-ish. But I have yet to learn what I’m fully doing wrong. I tend to get lost, somehow, in petals and shadowing. And while the composition itself is usually not too bad, and they are in fact identifiable as roses, the execution always ends up looking either muddy or cartoony or both. This one below, this one with its black, brown and 70s red has a color scheme that reminds me of Johnny Cash at a Harley Davidson convention.

And the one here below...

... on the surface it doesn’t seem too bad. But somewhere along the way I was apparently a little bit negligent on stems. One... two... three... four flower heads. One... two... three... no, just three... stems? Well, one is... hiding. Sure, hiding. Or one stem goes to two flowers. Hard to say which, really. Perhaps it’s a bit of MC Escher’s influence.

Needless to say, I am unwilling to forgo my rose obsession just because of a few deformed flowers. So I figure eventually if I keep at it, something will click, and I’ll finally paint a rose worth displaying outside of (you guessed it) the basement. I think I’m getting there.

Then there was my art class “Moody Blue Pepper Among Monochrome Artichoke and Eggplant.” It symbolizes the isolation that individuals feel when tossed into an urban, hustle bustle society and...

Actually, I just wanted to try out my Pthalo Blue.

Anyway, those are just a few of my artistic and creative oopsies within the last year or so. I hope you either got a chuckle, got inspired to try something you might not have otherwise, or felt a little consolation on a past errant project of your own.

And next week? I will share with you the recipe for one very sweet Valentines treat. See you then!