If you love crafting, or know someone who does, or even just want to amass a collection of supplies to keep on hand but don’t want to spend a lot of money, I have good news for you. Thrift stores are treasure troves of abandoned craft supplies, forgotten specialty art items, and overflowing with unwanted items from the junk drawer. I’ve compiled a list of the best craft and art items that are frequently and easily found secondhand. I have come across these over and over over my thrifting travels, from yard and estate sales to thrift stores, and without much trouble, you will, too. While you probably won’t come across all of these all at once, a few trips out should yield a decent thrift haul.
THE BEST CRAFT SUPPLIES TO LOOK FOR WHILE THRIFTING
Get quality stuff for pennies with these frequently-found items.
Sequins & Glitter: Finding sequins and glitter at thrift stores and especially, yard and estate sales, is both a blessing and a curse. Aside from the difficult clean-up, they are great things to find while thrifting because they make art projects extra special, and my daughter personally cannot get enough of that sparkly stuff. Although I’ve spotted them both at thrift stores, I seem to come across them most often at yard and estate sales, probably because people probably throw them out rather than haul them to a donation center, but will bring them out if the sale is at home. I have had people give bags of them to Isobel for free, whether they were charmed by her or simply desperate to get rid of them, I’ll never know. But I love having both of them on hand to give a craft that something extra.
Pencils: I’m going to go full-blown curmudgeon on this topic and complain that they just don’t make pencils like they used to. I’m sure this is true in a literal sense, but I think it’s true also in a matter of quality. If you find a collection of pencils from ten or twenty years ago or more, jump on it. They are superior in every way. (Now is the point in my life where I realize I have strong opinions about pencils. Life is full of wonder!) Color pencils are also dumped en masse at thrift stores and I either grab them by the handful or just select a few colors, depending on our craft box’s need.
Watercolors: Watercolors are the safest bet when it comes to paints in a thrift store. No matter their age they can be revived with a splash of water and a flick of the brush. They never get (too) old.
Crayons: You can find crayons by the bag full and in varying condition while thrifting. Sometimes they can be in great, almost new condition, and sometimes you’ll find a colorful bag of wax stumps. Both have their uses! The stumps are perfect for crafts that require crayon bits or shavings. I am personally stashing away crayon nubs in order to melt and make new crayons. We go through crayons at an alarming rate in this house, so I pick them up, especially if they are in good condition, whenever I see them.
Construction & Specialty Paper: I have a theory that whenever you find a large stack of construction paper in the thrift store it’s because a grade school teacher just earned his or her retired wings. In addition to reams of construction paper I’ve also found a lot of specialty paper, particularly scrap booking paper.
Canvases: Okay, you might find a nice blank canvas once in a blue moon while thrifting, but that doesn’t mean you are entirely out of luck. If you want a canvas to paint on for practice, or to give to a child, or to add a monster to, you are in luck. Every thrift store I’ve ever been to has a wall or a corner or some space filled with super cheap terrible paintings that, for only a few bucks, could be painted over and given a new lease on life. You can get some really large canvases for pennies this way, and hey, it comes with a frame, too!
Doilies: Although you can easily find crocheted doilies at thrift stores, I’m actually referring to paper doilies. I am not sure why I always find them while thrifting–maybe leftovers from a restaurant or someone’s fancy lunch?–but they are there all the time. Usually the packages aren’t full but they are cheap cheap cheap, and my daughter L-O-V-E-S them. She likes to use them for Valentine cards.
Yarn: Chances are you aren’t going to find hand-spun merino wool in a thrift store, though you never know if you are hitting up a hardcore knitter’s yard sale while they are trying to de-stash. Most often you will come across the synthetic stuff they sell at the big box craft store, which is great for kid craft projects, beginners, and this kind of activity.
Fabric Scraps: You can certainly find significant yardage at a thrift store on occasion, but I can almost always spot a bag of scraps and fabric remnants. Great for quilters or patchwork crafts or making ridiculous doll clothing. All kinds of uses, really. Super fun.
Sea Shells: The wide popularity of beachy-decor means you can frequently find bowls and bags of shells, ripe for the crafty pickings.
Beads: We’ve found all sorts of fun beads, from tiny perfect seed beads to large, chunky wooden ones. Old necklaces are also great to cannibalize for parts.
Scrapbooking Supplies: Scrapbooking paper, stickers, and embellishments are abundant in thrift stores and especially yard sales where it seems someone has over bought and needs to rid themselves of the excess. And that stuff ain’t cheap.
Scissors: I don’t quite find them every time I go thrifting, but I’ve found them in such number and in many different kinds I wanted to include them here. I’ve found sewing shears, tiny embroidery scissors, kids’ metal safety scissors, and sharp kitchen kinds. Good scissors can be expensive, and the vintage ones in good condition are worth their weight in gold. Check for rust, how smoothly they open and close, and sharpness.
Rubber Stamps: These can also be pricey in stores and are super fun. I have some cute vintage ones but more often I find new ones that have probably been donated in a fit of decluttering. Isobel really loves stamping. It’s good, messy fun.
Incomplete Vintage Craft Projects: I love finding these! Usually it will be contained in a plastic bag and come with all the things you need to finish the craft. I found a fantastic pair of scissors in a bag for an embroidery project. Often these projects will be super cheap because they are already in some stage of completion. They are a fab find even if you have no interest in completing the project because you can cannibalize the parts. I particularly love finding half-completed macrame and embroidery.
Paint Brushes: We do a lot of painting over here, and use a lot of different kind of paints. I like finding the cheap plastic brushes for the baby but I’ve also found really nice, unused horsehair brushes for me.
Fake Flowers: Fake flowers have a ton of crafty uses and stores are positively littered with them. I like the plastic vintage kind from the 60s, while Isobel prefers anything pink or rose-shaped.
Buttons: Buttons are super fun to use in crafts, and I’m always on the look out for vintage buttons to add to my collection.
Classroom Stuff: In addition to the plethora of construction paper and sets of thirty safety scissors, I often see other items in thrift stores that had to have come from the classroom. I purchased one of those old pull-down class room maps at a yard sale years ago (haven’t found a spot for it yet!), but I’ve seen things like transparencies, worksheets, plastic shapes, and other fun stuff.
CRAFT-RELATED THRIFT STORE FINDS
Not craft supplies per se, but stuff that will enhance your thrifted crafting experience.
Aprons: I often see kids craft aprons while thrifting, and I found one I use just for crafts there, too. Isobel’s is pink and white gingham and covers the front, back and most of the sides. (You can see it peeking out in the photo above.) It’s adjustable and has saved her wardrobe as this kid has only craft mode: messy.
Tablecloths: I bought a couple plastic-covered tablecloths at a thrift store specifically to use for covering the table during painting or any craft involving glitter. When we done I can take it outside and hose it off and dry it in the sun.
Place Mats: I grew up with an endless rotation of plastic place mats. They aren’t fashionable anymore, which means you can find really awesome vintage ones over-populating thrift stores. They are wipe-able and cheap, and as such perfect for messy activities that don’t need full table coverage, such as play dough and markers.
Craft Books: In addition to supplies, you can find craft instruction and inspiration in the many craft books found while thrifting. My personal favorite are the the vintage paper crafts books–I have found some dating as far back as the 40s!–but there are so many different wonderful kinds of craft books to choose from. From general arts and crafts projects, like parties and kids arts and crafts to books on a specific topic including crewel patterns, crafting, needle work, and sewing, there are so many craft books languishing in dusty boxes in the back of a thrift store that could use a good home. Most of the time I like to keep them on hand for inspiration, but sometimes Isobel and I will use the books to plan future projects. This is what people did before Pinterest, and I love that these old projects look new to me as they haven’t become over-saturated by being on the internet. And books, even hardback books, are typically among the cheapest items in a book store, even in national chains like Goodwill.
Craft Supply Organization: I turned to thrift stores to find organization for all my thrift store finds. It’s a problem that solved itself!
THRIFT STORE CRAFT GAMBLES
Sometimes you can get great deals on these, but they also come with a certain amount of risk. Buyer beware!
Stamp Pads: On the one hand, stamp pads are great because they are refillable. On the other hand, if you were planning on doing a project with your new stamps as soon as you got home, finding out your new stamp pad is bone-dry is a bummer.
Coloring Books: I haven’t had much luck on the vintage coloring book front, and though we have found cheap, mostly unused coloring books while thrifting, I personally can’t see the point now that we do this.
Pens: Cool vintage pens are often empty vintage pens. (Though, if you find a fantastic one, an ink refill could work nicely.)
Stickers: New stickers aren’t much of a gamble, but on more than one occasion Isobel and I have been burned by old stickers that have long run out of adhesive.
Paint: All paint, aside from watercolors, is a buyer beware item. Frequently the paint is dried beyond resuscitation or the chemicals have started to separate. There are always exceptions to this rule, but be suspicious.
Tape: See the problem with stickers.
Felt-tip Pens and Markers: Between those that leak and those that have dried up, it’s often not worth the trouble.