Felt It: As I showed last fall with a sweater into felted purse post you can find a colorful wool sweater, felt it, and end up with great felted materials to craft with. Green Kitchen's son used a similar idea to suggest his mom make a Sweater Apron. Check out her photo-tutorial. Betz White makes charming wonderful designs with these sweaters.
Reknit it: With new yarn for a sweater costing somewhere between $25 and $150 dollars (depending on size, material, and pattern), it's always nice to know that you can visit the thrift store, find a great sweater hanging on the rack for $2-5 dollars and simply recycle the yarn. Even better if it's a white, cream or neutral colors that you can die to your dream color. Andrade wrote this fabulous tutorial on thrifting yarn to get you started. Her initial advice is:
The key is to concentrate on quality so you'll be happy with the yarn after it has been unravelled and washed. Think of all the sweaters people receive as gifts that are never worn because they're too hot or the wrong color or the wrong size -- sometimes those sweaters end up at the Goodwill.
Things I look for when sweater shopping:
*) serged seams (avoid!)
*) fiber content and quality
*) color/dyeing potential
Check for buttons on shirts/jackets/vests; I've found some fabulous sets of buttons on items for $1-3! These are buttons that may sell retail for $1 or more each! Wool shirts are perfect for making gorgeous stuffed teddy-bears.
Elsewhere: Many shops will have yarn, fabric, notion supplies stocked somewhere. Plus consider equipment: a blender for paper making, pasta machine for polymer clay.
What supplies/equipment have you found at a local thrift shop?
As part of my (ahem) research, I recently two local salvage shops in the bay area: Urban Ore and Ohmega Salvage. If you live in a smaller, rural area these might not be as easy for you to find.. but search out similar businesses wherever you live. Both were formed with the idea of keeping reuseble materials out of the landfills. Urban Ore is a lot more eclectic in it's offerings; Ohmega Salvage sticks strongly with architectural materials.
But what did I find? You can check out the set of photos that documented the day. An easy source of glass for any type of project, plus lots of tile (whole squares, broken bits and shaped pieces) for mosaic work. Stair spindles that can be quickly turned into candle sticks, plus the evidence of standard art supplies and notions.
Don't forget to look for inspiration when you're then. I spotted this gorgeous bracelet and realized it was safety pins and beads with wire holding it into a bracelet form.
I haven't made it to the East Bay Depot for Creative Re-use since they moved to Oakland. No excuses.. simply no time. But for any avid crafter, this type of store is the place to find.
So you don't live in the East Bay? What are you to do? Homework. There is an avid thrifting community in Portland, Or. that occasionally publishes a brochure detailing shops. I'll bet that similar groups thrive in many urban communities. If you live in a smaller rural area there are still likely places you can find. I used to live in an Ohio county that had more horses than people. I still knew where 3-4 great thrifty stores could be found.
What I'm getting at here: This isn't like going a big box store with a shopping list. What you can do: learn the resources you have in your region (don't limit yourself to your neighborhood, stretch out to resources within a couple hours). Visit them a few them and get a feel for what you might find. Eliminate the places that don't look like they would help you much, but the ones with great potential? Visit them often. Get to know the staff and let them know what you're interested in. Leave a card if you can; managers love to know who to call when they suddenly receive entire rolls of unprimed canvas and 100 tubes of acrylic paints.
I also blog at: Deb's Daily Distractions and BlogHer on Mondays and Saturdays.