Thrifting in Your Polymer Clay Studio

Making the Most of Your Polymer Clay Studio, a collaboration series from The Blue Bottle Tree and Kater's Acres.This month I teamed up with Katie from Kater’s Acres to bring you a series on Making the Most of Your Polymer Clay Studio. We covered making the most of your studio, making room for a studio, productivity in the studio, and now for the final week I’m talking about thrifting in your polymer clay studio. I’ll give ideas, places you can go to find good materials, and what sorts of things to be on the lookout for.

I grew up in a very frugal household. My mother would squeeze the last bit of good from any package of anything and I very rarely received anything new as a child. When I was very little I just accepted it as the way things were. But as a teen I rebelled and resented the fact that all the other kids had new things. So when I got out on my own I took great pleasure in paying full price for things and tossing out bottles of shampoo when they were merely mostly empty. And I promptly got my little irresponsible self into debt. As an adult I’ve had my fair share of financially flush and lean times both, and maybe this should be a tip of the hat to my parents, but there’s nothing quite so sweet as realizing that you have money left over at the end of the month. My early years of frugal training have served me very well over the years. So when it came time for me to build my own studio, it came at a time when our income level was, shall we say, microscopic. I just didn’t have the money to spend on it. And honestly, I still don’t. But I’ve never let the lack of money stand in the way of having functionality. You’d be amazed at what you can find out there for next to nothing. And that’s all thrifting is. Using thrifty sources to meet your needs while stretching your money much further.

Then there’s the whole subject of reclaim, reuse and recycle. Why buy something new when there are lots of things out there just waiting to find a new home in your studio? I cringe when I think of how much useful furniture, equipment, and supplies ends up in the waste stream when there are people who could use it and would be thrilled to have it.

Sources of Thrifted Materials

With the recent worldwide economic downturn and the growing awareness of recycling, there’s never been a better time to find sources of used, second-hand, and thrifted materials. Here in the US midwest, the number of flea markets and thrift stores has jumped exponentially. No matter where you are, there are generally ways to find inexpensive used materials and supplies. And every item that you buy for a cut-rate price is one less thing that you have to pay full price for. And it’s that much more money that you free up for the fun things like polymer clay and other supplies! Here are some of the ideas that we have here.  You may have to get creative to find similar outlets in your area, but this will give you an idea of what to look for.

Building Supply Reclaim Stores

Here in the US we have this wonderful resource called the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. I didn’t go there for years, assuming it had something to do with building houses for charity. I was very wrong. People and companies donate their surplus new, used and spare building supplies and furniture, which ReStore then sells to the public. So you can find everything from sheetrock and flooring to lamps, couches, office furniture, doors, and nuts and bolts. Everything. It is my number one go-to source for anything our house needs. But that also means it’s a great source for ceramic tiles, glass work surfaces, mirrors, wood, picture frames, and even odd things like copper tubing. It’s also a prime source for old kitchen cabinets. See…when people remodel their kitchen, they take the old cabinets to ReStore. Where YOU can buy them for your studio. Add some formica countertop and you have a perfect workbench! For cheap. One time I even found a salesman’s case of sample pieces of Corian countertop material. I have no idea what I’m going to do with them, but wow. Aren’t they neat?

You never know what you're going to find at a thrift shop. I found this salesman's box of Corian samples for $5. I have no idea what I'm going to do with them, but aren't they cool?

Charity Shops

Goodwill, Salvation Army, Disabled American Veterans, and of course many churches and charities run thrift shops. Overseas you can find Oxfam and British Heart Foundation thrift shops, to name a couple that I’ve shopped in. (Yes, I shop in thrift shops when I’m in the UK as well.) These shops sell mostly clothes, but you can usually find picture frames, bowls, storage boxes, shelving units, baskets, and costume jewelry that you can take apart and re-use the beads. And all that clothing? It’s a great resource for silk and wool fiber once you know what you’re looking for.

Flea Markets and Junk Shops

These are usually for-profit and not run by charities, and sometimes that means the prices are a bit too steep. But it can also mean that they’ll have nicer quality items, depending on where they find their stock. These are a great source of old wooden boxes, printer’s trays, interesting photographic props, craft show booth accessories, and yes, furniture. And check out the used appliances, too.

Garage Sales and Car Boot Sales

Garage sales are an excellent source of materials and supplies for your craft studio. Read more at The Blue Bottle Tree.
Image by David LaMorte.

In the US, they’re called garage or yard sales. Churches often have them and they’re called rummage sales. In the UK they’re called car boot sales (what a strange term to my American ears). It’s where people bring out their junk and have a sale. You can pick up anything, and I do mean anything at these places. I have seen photographic equipment, high-end knitting needle sets, wool yarn, ceramic kilns, magnifying lamps, and enough bags, boxes, and shelves to fill a small stadium. Yes, I realize that most of these sales are filled with children’s clothing and old books. But keep looking. Trust me on this one. You really truly never know what you’ll find. And sometimes it’s jaw-dropping. It’s common for people to get into a hobby, buy a large amount of equipment and supplies, then lose interest. Often they just want the stuff gone. So if you happen to be standing there when someone is selling off their entire polymer clay stash and rubber stamp collection, make sure you have a couple of $10 bills. Ask me how I know. 😀  Always, always stop at garage sales. Always.

Curb Picking

People take their unwanted items to the curb with their trash, to be picked up by the trash truck on trash day. Around here people will often set aside the still-usable items for others to take. It’s sort of common knowledge that if it’s at the curb then it’s up for grabs. Sometimes people will even post a “Free” sign on it. It’s a great way to find shelving, desks, small tables, and for some reason…wood. I’ve put lots of things out on my curb and within an hour someone has usually snapped it up.

Dumpster Diving

Okay, I’m not very good at this one. It just seems so…well…embarrassing. But I just need to get over it! If you see something in a dumpster that you want, why not take it? It’s destined for the landfill anyway, right? And no, not all dumpsters are the garbage-laden ones in alleys. Remember that anyone doing demolition, remodeling, or even just moving house often rents a large dumpster. Now I should mention, of course, that you need to be careful and look out for broken glass, nails, and anything hazardous. But still…have a look inside when you walk past one. You never know.


I don’t know, is this common elsewhere, too? Around here it’s common to have an auction when they sell an old farm or when someone dies and leaves a house full of stuff. It’s often a full-day event to wait until the thing you want comes up to the auctioneer. But if you’re persistent and diligent you can find some truly amazing things. Like pottery kilns, tools, furniture, specialized equipment, and supplies.

Actual Examples of Thrifting in My Studio

My desk was curb picked. The cushion for my chair was from Goodwill. The corkboard came from a garage sale. My dad found my glass grinder at an auction and a different auction brought two 5-gallon buckets full of scrap stained glass. My cozy red chair came from Salvation Army (and it’s an IKEA chair). The lamps are from garage sales and a flea market. My glass work surface is from ReStore, as was a huge roll of Formica. ReStore also keeps me stocked with ceramic tiles. Then there’s my food processor from Salvation Army (great for chopping crumbly clay). The list goes on and on. Rulers, a tripod, rolls of paper, mirror tiles, baking pans, an easel, artist’s supplies, and even this neat pen holder that my mom found at a garage sale recently.

Garage sales are a great place to find office and craft supplies. I found this rotating pen holder for a mere 50 cents.

Then there are the appliances! I’ve found toaster ovens, food processors, heating pads, an electric griddle (for working with wax). And if you see a Scumbuster or a child’s rock tumbler, they’re known for being exceedingly helpful with sanding your polymer clay. And yes, the holy grail of polymer clay thrifting…I’ve even found a pasta machine. (And can you believe that I didn’t buy it? Still kicking myself for that one.)

You can use a food chopper to chop and soften polymer clay. Make sure to clean it thoroughly afterward, though, because the chemicals in the clay will eat the plastic of the bowl otherwise.

I hope this gets your juices flowing and makes you start thinking about finding alternative sources for materials and supplies that you use in your craft studio. I have found that it helps to make a list of the things I’m looking for. When you’re shopping in these places it’s easy to become visually overwhelmed with all that you see and it’s easy to forget why you’re there. Make sure you carry cash, too, because most places won’t take plastic. And mostly, have fun!

Looking for more thrifting ideas? Polymer clay jewelry artist Tammie Everly has a regular feature on her blog called Thrifting Thursdays. There she shows how she uses thrifted items in her studio, her jewelry, and her craft table displays. Have a look at her fun ideas.

Thank You

A huge thanks to Katie for inviting me to join her in bringing you this studio series. She’s wonderful to work with, beyond a doubt. And it’s great that we’ve been able to introduce our readers to each other’s blogs. I hope you all have found it helpful. And an even bigger thanks to all of YOU. I’ve been thrilled with all the comments and sharing of fantastic ideas. I’ve learned a lot. As always, I find that our best inspiration is each other. Thank you for being part of that!

In case  you missed it, here are the previous articles in our Making the Most of Your Polymer Clay Studio series. Enjoy!

And don’t miss Katie’s version of today’s article where she talks about all the great things that she’s found and reclaimed for HER studio. That girl puts me to shame, I swear. Wow. Go see what I mean. Talk to you later!

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