If you’ve been sewing for a while, chances are you’ve amassed a fair number of garments in your time. Many of these will no doubt have gone on to be much loved and plenty worn, but there are often garments lurking in the back of the wardrobe or the bottom of the ‘refashion’ pile that, for one reason or another, never quite hit the mark.
What do we do with these unloved creations? I, for one, have added plenty of not-quite-hitting-the-mark me-mades to our family’s charity shop pile. Until fairly recently, I’d done so with little thought to the consequences: what actually happens to these garments when they reach the charity shop?
I’d reasoned they were well-made, neatly finished and, therefore, a pre-loved treasure for the right shopper. After all, when you’ve passed over a garment because the colour doesn’t quite suit you, or the fabric was a bit itchy, or the hem a bit too short, surely it would be madness for all that hard work to end up shredded in the fabric recycling bin?
A few conversations on Instagram alerted me to the fact that my view of these garments having inherent value might not be shared by the charity shops charged with selling them on. In fact, some online pundits were claiming that charity shops would not resell handmade clothing and sending your makes there was tantamount to chucking them in the bin.
Now, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s not to believe everything you read on the internet. So I decided to get the final word on the subject from three major charity shops to deliver a definitive guide to passing on unwanted makes. Read on for the sewists’ rough guide to second hand giving – and buying…
It turns out that giving to charity shops is possible, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind when preparing garments for resale. Oxfam’s Emma Fabian says: ‘Oxfam does accept handmade and hand-knitted clothing. However, there are strict rules on what we can and can’t sell due to safety standards.’
This is particularly the case for children’s clothing – for example, there should be no cords or drawstrings in the hood and neck area or small parts or loosely sewn-on notions on clothing for children under 36 months.
Fire risk is a big deal for charity shops, so, for example, Oxfam won’t sell nightwear without a bright red KEEP AWAY FROM FIRE label. Nightwear for children made from synthetic fabrics can’t be sold at all because there is a risk these garments may have been washed over 50 degrees, and this means they could be less flame retardant. Similarly, fancy dress costumes (classed as toys) must have a CE mark and a fire label.
For the most part, when it comes to adult clothing, so long as the clothes are well-made, you will still be able to donate them to most charity shops.
The key, Bernie Fennerty of Scope advises, is that the garments are of adequate quality for resale: ‘We would like people to donate items that they would be happy to buy in our charity shops and wear themselves. This includes finished and neat seams, hems, buttonholes, working and neatly applied zips, no holes or frayed edges.’
For most charity shops, you don’t need to sew in washing instructions or sizing labels unless they are a potential fire or safety risk, as outlined above – though if you do include labels, it is helpful to staff sorting through donations.
This isn’t, however, the case for all charity shops. Sarah Marshall, Head of Retail Service at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: ‘We are always grateful when people consider donating to the BHF. However, when it comes to homemade clothing, we may not always be able to accept these items. The BHF follows Trading Standards regulations, which means that any clothes donated to us needs to be labelled with the fabric composition and care instructions for us to re-sell them.’
For home sewists, this is a bit confusing, given most of us will have bought vintage at some point or other from a charity shop – most of which is homemade from yesteryear.
For this reason, it’s always worth enquiring in your local shop before donating or take a look around and get a feel for the type of donations on sale.
Scope, for example, says sewing in fabric care or sizing labels into garments donated via their stores ‘would not make a difference as we would send all (quality) homemade outfits to our shops that have a selection of vintage clothes’.
Fennerty explains: ‘As a rule, we do not sell homemade goods in our core shops. However, where we have a specialist vintage section, we would sell handmade clothes, as the customers here are looking for unique items which handmade items offer so well.’
As always, this depends on the quality of the homemade item. But this isn’t the end of the road for your donation to Scope. Fennerty explains: ‘If the quality was not up to our customers’ exacting standards, we would have to pass to our local recycling teams. This means everything donated to our charity shops generates income for Scope, ensuring the charity can continue to provide vital services that support disabled people and their families.’
TOP TIPS FOR DONATING - Look around your local charity shop to get a feel for the items sold - Ask staff in your local shop what they can accept - Donate items that are in a wearable condition with a neat finish - Seek out charity shops with a specialist vintage section - Check fancy-dress and sleepwear meets fire safety measures - Ask staff if they can recycle garments that don’t meet the sales standard
Some charity shops are a treasure trove for creative makers, particularly if you’re into sewing or knitting. Finding sewing notions – old patterns (often used, so check the contents carefully before purchasing), thread (check it hasn’t perished with a gentle tug!), needles, buttons, oddments, and often plenty of knitting needles and wool if that floats your boat too.
When it comes to fabric, charity shops sometimes come up trumps with old remnants, vintage curtains and duvet covers, and other surprising finds that lucky makers showcase on their Instagram feeds.
When it comes to clothing, the pickings can be even richer; sometimes, vintage or second-hand clothing is exquisite and interesting enough to warrant a place in a handmade wardrobe.
More often than not, garments will need to be adjusted for that perfect fit we come to expect when we begin to craft our own garments. And, if we see a gorgeous fabric on the rail, we can always strip the garment down and use the fabric to make something perfectly unique for ourselves.
Of course, thrifting takes time and dedication – something many of us are short of or might rather spend behind the machine creating for ourselves. Still, the fact charity shops are somewhere we can let go of our creations while also furnishing the nest with something for a future make is a definite bonus and one that, for me, makes a trip into town worth the effort.
A version of this article first appeared in issue 108 of Love Sewing magazine.
Have you donated your makes to your local charity shop or thrift store? What happened? Please leave a comment below – I’d love to hear fellow makers’ experiences passing on their creations.