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Confessions of a City Sewing Scavenger

It has often been said that the streets of New York City are paved with gold. While that hasn’t been my experience, I can testify that the city’s sidewalks are a treasure trove of free sewing supplies: discarded sewing machines, dress forms, fabric, and more.

Of course, some neighborhoods are better than others. I am fortunate to live in the vicinity of the Garment District, Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), and the High School of Fashion Industries.

Below are some of my many finds over the last decade or so. These are strictly items I’ve salvaged off the street—or could have salvaged if I’d been so inclined. Sadly, I have all but run out of space for more things sewing-related. A scavenger needs room to grow.

Discarded, worn, and torn dress form left at the curb with the garbage
While I left this forlorn-looking dress form behind, I did harvest the metal finial, which was missing from a dress form I already owned. Score!

Orphaned sewing machines

On the first day of the new year, I stumbled upon a sewing machine in the trash outside a neighboring apartment building. I can easily pass by discarded books (after checking their titles, of course), secondhand clothing, and assorted bric-a-brac, but I am unable to leave behind a sewing machine.

Saving a Brother

This one turned out to be a Brother machine of relatively recent vintage, model VX-1140. Sometimes it’s obvious why someone has discarded a machine. It has a broken pedal or burnt-out motor, for example. Sometimes it’s not so obvious. I’ve found machines with the wrong bobbin in the bobbin case, which could have caused problems: Might this have been the reason?  I think I know why this Brother got tossed. See if you agree.

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  1. User avater
    tinker4u | | #1

    I’m love finding discarded treasures. When I was getting ready to move from Austin I found a great place to take the craft items that I didn’t want anymore. The store was Austin Creative Reuse and it was a delight! I found a lot of beautiful fabric, sewing notions and patterns there that I packed up and bought with me to my new house. I’ve included photos of one of my makes from a pattern and fabric I bought there. Also the dress form came from there.

  2. User avater
    Peter_Lappin | | #2

    What a wonderful Miyake coat -- thanks for sharing it!

  3. user-6894301 | | #3

    Makes me want to move there! But guess I find enough at resale shops
    Thanks, nice read

  4. user-7737877 | | #4

    Last year when my electric Bernina started misbehaving one garment after an expensive clean and recondition, I opened my grandma's 1916 White treadle machine and with the help of its manual cleaned and oiled it. My husband ordered a leather belt online and using Youtube instructions for stitching it into a circle, he gifted me a new belt to replace what had rotted out years ago. I threaded Grandma's machine and began sewing. I had forgotten how quiet this machine is, and what beautiful stitches it makes. It doesn't zigzag but it does have wonderful add-ons for making pleats, gathering, and creating all kinds of other lovely touches. I'll never sew electrically again.

  5. bamababe12 | | #5

    One Sunday afternoon a few years ago, my husband found an abandoned sewing box on the side of the road, destined for trash. He brought it home. Inside I found countless pins and needles, as well as two pairs of scissors (sheers and pinking), a pattern tracing wheel with transfer chalk, and at least 40 spools of thread on wooden spools. I had both scissors sharpened as a gift for my daughter. I use the pattern tracing wheel from time to time. And I've used many of the spools of thread. Trash to treasure!

  6. heatherjqld | | #6

    So interesting to read your article, Peter, and see how you in New York can find sewing equipment and supplies. Here in semi-rural Australia we have op shops and garage sales but never anything on the street so thank you for including so many photos.

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