With our love of crafting and sewing, we can’t shop the flea market without rummaging through stacks of fabrics and bowls of buttons. Vintage materials like Victorian trims and etched Art Deco buttons inspire us and add character to our creations.
It seems every flea market we visit has sewing sundries aplenty, so whether you live in Hoboken or Honolulu, take a trip to your local flea market and stock up on irresistible sewing collectibles.
One of our favorite flea market finds is an old sewing box, a crafter’s treasure chest. Any time we spot one we can’t wait to take a peek at the goodies inside. Jennifer once found a classic wicker sewing basket for only $20 that included a pair of antique embroidery scissors and a carved needle case. Kitty bought an accordion sewing box for only $15 that had so many wooden spools of thread, she filled an apothecary jar with them as a playful home accent for her studio. Prices vary depending on the material and age of the case, but it could be a real steal if it’s loaded with oceans of notions.
We are always collecting vintage glass buttons to make bracelets and necklaces. To tell if a button is glass, hold it up to your cheek. It should feel colder to the touch than plastic. We also look for glitzy rhinestone buttons to use on fancy throw pillows. For those, we use a magnifying glass to be sure no stones are missing. Sets of carded buttons are ideal for sewing projects where you need matching buttons. While you can easily find pretty buttons in the $1 to $5 price range, we’ve seen buttons that cost over $250—each!
If you come across a velvet button with a detailed brass overlay, you may have found an antique perfume button. In the mid 1800s, perfumes were oil based and if worn on the skin could stain fabric. To protect her clothing, a lady would dab her jasmine or rose scent on a perfume button instead. Folklore has it that during the Civil War, a wife would send her husband off with one of her scented buttons to remind him of her.
Old-fashioned sewing machines are easy to find at the flea market, but you might want to save your money for an ultra-cute child’s version. In the early 1900s, girls learned to sew doll clothes on small sewing machines that worked just like their mothers’ full-sized models. Children’s Singers from the 1910s and 20s have a hand-crank wheel and are made of heavy cast-iron. Expect to pay $100 to $200 for a fully functioning one. If you’re a quilter looking for a small portable, keep an eye out for a Singer Featherweight instead. They can cost twice as much, but they’re easier to tote than cast-iron.
If you like to sew, you probably dream of having a dressmaker’s dummy. Even if you never use it to pin together clothing, a dress form makes for great décor in your sewing room. We found a full-length pinnable dress form with a wrought iron base and wheels for $300, quite a deal for such a large piece. If you are lucky enough to find a dress form that might be your size, use a tape measure to compare your measurements with the dummy’s. And if it isn’t your size, get it anyway! You can use it as a display for purses, necklaces, or brooches. Instant shabby chic.