I am making new, durable objects out of something we think of as worthless trash while transforming it in such a way that most people I have come across don’t even know that these were once plastic bags. But, reflecting back over my long history with plarn, I sometimes wonder, “is it worth it?”
To say that crocheting with plastic bags is labor intensive is an understatement quite frankly. If you are unfamiliar with the process allow me to break it down for you.
First, I collect the plastic grocery sacks. Simple right?
That is step one, and already I have hit my first obstacle because I do not have the opportunity to procure bags in the normal fashion. I’m not saying that I don’t accumulate plastic bags because I am a canvas-bag-toting-saint. I am saying that my husband works at a Trader Joe’s and does all of our grocery shopping. He should use reusable bags exclusively but he doesn’t. Instead he usually uses the paper bags that Trader Joe’s give out (and reuses them over and over until they wear out). In fact, I didn’t know that TJs even had a plastic bag option until Jon prof read this post. But I digress.
So where do I get all my plastic bags you wonder? A couple of places. First, I have a number of friends and family members who save up their bags and give them to me. This is how I get the majority of my bags. But since most of my closest friends and family members try to use reusable market bags whenever possible (which is a good thing!) it can take quite a long time to accumulate the quantity of bags that is necessary to create the products that I make.
The other way that I obtain bags is a little more tricky. I go to super markets and take the bags that other people bring for recycling. Yes, you heard me correctly; I steal plastic bags. Now here I will rant a bit because this bothers me. Why should I be made to feel like a criminal for taking something that nobody wants (plastic bags) and recycling it? Once, I went to a local grocery store (the Giant Eagle on W 117th, Cleveland) and I wanted some used bags. My husband was with me and for some reason he decided that he wanted to actually ask the manager if it would be all right if I take the bags. To our surprise his answer was NO, it was not all right! At this point I told him why I wanted the bags and his response was, “well how am I to know for sure what you will do with the bags? For all I know you could take them and throw them in the lake!” I kid you not, that is what he said. Then I went to another local super market (Marc’s in Lakewood, OH). The first time I went I asked the person at the customer service counter if I could take their recycled bags and was relieved when the man said “of course.” I did this on a couple of occasions until one day I went in and the bin where the bag are returned was bolted shut! I now only resort to “stealing” bags when I am particularly desperate for a certain color, or my supply is non-existent.
The next step is sorting the bags. Above is a particularly good haul of plastic bags that my mom and brother collected over several months and gave to me all at one time. Each bag is checked for cleanness and sorted by color. Below I have made small bundles of like-colored bags, which breaks them into more manageable amounts when I go to make them into plarn.
After I have at least 30 or so bags of one color I’m ready to make a ball of plarn, which involves cutting each bag, one at a time, and looping the individual pieces together, as shown below. For a more detailed explanation of this process you may want to read my tutorial on how to make plarn.
Wow, that was a lot of work! But wait, I haven’t even “made” anything yet!
Next comes the fun part, crocheting the ubiquitous grocery bags into handbags, durable messenger bags, baskets, and cute little owls that sit in your home and make you happy. This is the part that reminds me of the classic children’s story, Rumplestiltskin. Instead of turning straw into gold I am transforming trash into…
some lovely purses…
a chevron messenger bag…
and cute owl decorations.
I enjoy coming up with different crocheted designs and finding old purses past their prime to take apart and use their zippers, buckles and handles.
But what about the question that I pose in the title of this post; is plarn a labor of love?
This is something that I have been thinking about more and more in the last few months following my participation in the Last Minute Market. I had a wonderful time at the show. It was the largest show that I have ever done to date and it was also the first time that I showcased ONLY my plarn items (as opposed to a hodge-podge of upcycled items). The lowest price point at my table was $25. To me this was all such a big risk. What would people think? Would I even sell enough to cover my table fee? Three hours into the eight-hour show without a single sale I was beginning to have serious doubts. But I didn’t give up. The entire day I stood next to my table and engaged each and every person who walked by and gave my work the slightest side-ways glance. I greeted them and asked them things like, “do you know what these are made of?” motioning toward my table. To my surprise, most people couldn’t guess that everything on my table was made from plastic grocery bags.
That’s when I would bring them over to my table and show them the poster below as I briefly explained the process. As I did so I could hear the excitement in my voice about how I developed my technique over the past seven and a half years, and how when I started I barely knew how to crochet at all!
Inevitably they would come to the same conclusion and ask the same question, which were, “this must take you a long time!” and “how many bags does it take to make one of these?”
Though I do my best to estimate how much time it takes me to make one of my purses and how many bags I use, the truth is that it is impossible to calculate. Okay, maybe it’s not technically impossible, but it’s not the way I want to spend my time, making plarn and crocheting take long enough as it is!
However, what I suspect is at the root of their questions and comments is this, “is it really worth your time to do this?” Excellent question, and one that I’m trying to figure out for myself. It’s a question that a lot of craftspeople face, which is, ‘can I really charge what I would need to charge to pay for my time’ (because let’s face it, in my case that is all you are really paying for since the materials are mostly free).
The answer is…
No, I could never really charge enough for the individual items that I create to make my time worth it. Yet I still keep making them. I make them because it really is a labor of love; it’s something that I need to do. I need to make these things with my hands. I need to share them with other people. I need to photograph them and write about them and talk to other people about them. I need them to leave my home and live their own lives with other people. I need them to be made out of trash, because it is the act of making something out of nothing that is attractive to me. Plarn gives me an avenue to design and invent while appealing to my sensibilities toward the environment. And now that I’m a mother, I want to pass on the ideals about reusing, recycling and resourcefulness to my daughter.
If you have liked this article I invite you to follow zween on Facebook. You may also like to check out these previous blog posts that I have written about plarn specifically: