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Is it possible to add already created attributes to already created simple products? And then is it possible to add those simple products to an already created configurable product? Or is it a one-way street with configurable products & their attributes?

My client has a category of 175 products that they would like to compile into one big configurable product. The products essentially all have the same content & names...just different sizes, materials, sku's, etc. (this is how the category was laid out on the previous system before the database was imported into Magento) I'd prefer not to have to recreate all these simple products via the configurable product, but I haven't seen much discussion about this so I thought I'd ask.

They're currently set up with CE 1.7.0.2

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yes this is possible.
All you need to do is to add the attributes to the attribute sets if they are not already there.
Then the new attributes will be available for the simple products.
As for inserting your new attribute as configurable, you can try to add it directly in the database in the table catalog_product_super_attribute but please back-up your db first.
After adding it to the table mentioned above you should have it available in the configurable products edit page in the 'Associated products' tab. If you have it there you should be able to add the simple products that have values for that attribute as associated products to the configurable one.

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