Turning thrift finds into treasures with a little creativity
by Marsha Kay Seff
Jan 03, 2013 | 2495 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mary Willmont shows off a shawl, scarf and necklace she made from thrift-store finds. 
                                                                                                                                            Photos by Marsha Kay Seff I Beach & Bay Press
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While some people gravitate toward shiny new things, Mary Willmont prefers to turn gently used stuff into golden treasures.

The longtime South Mission Beach homeowner, temporarily living in Point Loma, has been shopping the thrift stores since she was a kid.

Even as a young mother, before “green” was the thing, she’d scout the alleys with her children. She said the best time for finding useful throwaways was June after the college students left their apartments to return home.

“For me, it wasn’t trash-picking, but treasure hunting,” said Willmont, a former elementary-school teacher who became a stay-at-home mom. “… I never could afford to buy the things I liked, so I made them.”

Now at 77, Willmont can’t seem to break the habit of searching for goodies and re-purposing them. To help support her addiction, she started selling many of her finds at local craft fairs, but still keeps a closetful for herself.

Among her latest offerings at her Reincarnations booth are cashmere shawls. For seven years, she’s been fashioning them out of secondhand men’s and women’s large and extra-large sweaters, which she opens at the seams and sews back together in rectangles, with openings for the head. The ribbed bottoms become collars; the opened sleeves part of the fabric of the garments. She makes the fringe with yarn she wraps around CD covers, “which either come from the thrifts or are going to the thrifts.”

For the last year, Willmont has also been collecting men’s silk ties, which she turns into one-of-a kind neck scarves.

“I have a really good eye for composition, she said, explaining that she uses two ties for each scarf, blending color and design. She drapes and tucks the fabric, pinning everything in place until she gets the shape she wants.

“My eye knows when it’s at its best and that’s when I stop,” she said.

Even old eyeglasses are a source of inspiration and design for Willmont. She twists and turns the metal into intricate shapes, then adds beads with more wire to end up with sculptural pendants and earrings.

Under Willmont’s crafty eye, a skirt that doesn’t fit but couldn’t be resisted becomes a shawl she simply throws over her head. Sometimes, she tucks the waist inside and sews it down; other times, she adds a jeweled belt.

“I look at something and think what can I do to make it useful again,” Willmont said. “Thrift stores are a treasure trove for creative people or people with expensive tastes and minimal budgets, especially if they have a sewing background.”

In the past, she has turned jeans and fur into funky hats, and leather and fur finds into purses.

It’s the hunt that keeps her haunting the thrifts. At this point in her life, “It has nothing to do with need. It’s so much fun to walk through a row of sweaters and find the color.”

She said gray, black, red, blue, pink and white are relatively easy to come by. The trick is procuring a purple, orange or apple-green cashmere for an average price of $6.

Though Willmont said she enjoys sharing her work at the fairs, she’s not getting rich from them. She figures her average take for the day is about $200. But, then, making money isn’t her primary objective. Shopping and creating are. And the shows are a good way “to get rid of extra stuff.”

For more information, contact Willmont at mtwillmont@gmail.com.

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