Crocheting with plastic bags; a six year journey

Crocheting with plastic bags.  It’s not a new phenomenon; people have been doing it for years.  Of course I didn’t know that when I started crocheting with plastic grocery bags in the Fall of 2005, following my last year of college.  I didn’t have a computer or regular access to the internet, and I had never heard of anyone doing it.  I even looked around on the internet searching  for other people who were doing it after I had started, but at that time not as many people wrote craft blogs (heck, I didn’t even know what a blog was in 2005) and I didn’t find anyone.

So why did I start suddenly crocheting with plastic bags?  Back in 2005 I was living in a new and unfamiliar city (Atlanta, GA), had a lot of time on my hands, but not a lot of money.  Up until that point I had only crocheted with copper wire, which was the center of my college thesis project.  About a month or so after moving to Atlanta, my husband and I had amassed what I thought was an enormous amount of plastic bags from the nearby Publix and Kroger grocery stores.  Being the eco-conscious person that I am, this really bothered me and I wanted to do something about it.  And, to be perfectly honest, I also wanted to start making things again and this seemed like an endless source of free material.

Ironically, my first bag made with what is now known as “plarn” (plastic yarn) was actually knit instead of crocheted.  I had a pair of really big knitting needles and thought I’d give it a try, making the entire project in flat garder stitch which I later sewed together with more plarn.  I don’t even have a picture of this monstrosity (I didn’t own a digital camera until September, 2006) but trust me, it was a train wreck.  I do remember being extremely proud of it at the time though, and I saw that my “bag made of bags” had potential after receiving several positive comments, sometimes even from strangers on the train.

After that first project I abandoned my knitting needles and picked up my crochet hook.  My first couple of totes were crocheted in the round and meant to be re-useable shopping bags.

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I soon decided that I wanted to get a little more adventurous and made a messenger-style bag.  The arrows that this bag features are my very first attempts at tapestry crochet!  I had no idea how to do tapestry crochet; hadn’t seen it on-line, in a book, and I certainly hadn’t been shown in person.  All I remember is that it took me a very long time to figure out, and I’m 100% sure that this is a bastardized version of tapestry crochet (I later learned the technique from a very old needle craft book while in the Peace Corps).

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After testing out my bags by actually using them, I realized that I didn’t like the crochet plastic bag handles.  I didn’t like how they felt in my hand or on my shoulder.  Plus, if the stitches were loose at all they would get stretched out and look sad.  That’s when I made my way over to the local fabric store and bought some ready-made purse handles.  I wasn’t completely satisfied with this solution however.  I felt very limited as to my selection and most of the time I thought that the handles looked cheep and didn’t completely fit with the bags.

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In May of 2006 my husband finished school in Atlanta and we moved back to Ohio and our jobs as caricature artists.  That Fall I was invited to the Cleveland Institute of Art to teach a class on crocheting with recycled materials and taught the students about plarn.  Eventually I learned about the technique of making the plarn by connecting loops of the plastic bags together instead of cutting them into flat strips and knotting them with a square knot.  I picked up crocheting with plastic bags again that Winter and even did a photo shoot (which is why I have any pictures of those early bags at all), but I never got back into like I had the year before in Atlanta; until about a week ago.

Starting a new era of plastic bag making

After making the decision to shift my business focus to making objects from recycled materials, I decided that it was time to get those plastic bags out of storage (believe it or not, I still had a small stash of bags left over from my time in Atlanta!) and see what I could do.  My abilities and technique have come a long way since 2005/2006 when I made those first bags.

To solve my handle problem I decided that a good solution would be to cannibalize the handles of old purses.  The two larger bags below feature the handles and closures from two separate purses that were too stained and worn to be used, so that means they are still 100% recycled.  The small, round purse with the long strap also has a recycled purse zipper, but the handle is made of new yarn.  The yarn has better drape than a plarn version and feels better for wearing, especially if it rubs up against the neck area while wearing across the chest.

In addition to making bags from bags, I want to experiment with other products.  My first experiment was the crochet owl shown at the top of this post.  But wait!  It’s not just any old owl!  It’s a weeble-wobble owl!  Weighed with heavy metal chain (recycled) on the bottom and stuffed with plastic bag scraps on top this owl weebles and wobbles and only sometimes falls down!

Do you crochet with plastic bags?  Have any suggestions about what I should make next?  I’d love to hear your comments to this post!

*This post was just added to Made By You Mondays over on Skip to my Lou!

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19 Comments

Filed under Just For Fun

19 responses to “Crocheting with plastic bags; a six year journey

  1. Nancy

    They look great, Em, I am still using the one you gave to me, well one of several plarn bags. You can take the bags back to most stores, where they send them back to be re-made into plastic bags, or whatever they recycle them into. p.s. I have a large supply that you may have.

  2. These are the most attractive crocheted plastic bags I have ever seen! They look like you got them from a store. A lady I used to work with made lots of bags this way. It is so fun! I love the owl too! So creative!

  3. This is the first time I hear of crocheting with plastic, and I am just so impressed with your creative ways of using it. The owl is absolutely adorable… so clever… Did you try making place mats, coasters… just few ideas that come to mind? I just joined your Facebook page today as well, very inspirational…. Thanks for sharing!
    Sunchi.

    • Thank you Sunchi for joining my Facebook page and for the constructive comments! I have thought about making coasters, but I haven’t actually made any yet. When I first started using the plastic bags 6 years ago I actually thought that plastic bags were on their way out. I thought more places would adopt the ways of California and Ireland and start putting a tax on the bags, making them less abundant. Though I know many more people now who really make an effort to use reuseable bags than I did six years ago, there are plenty who still don’t, and even among the people who try not to use them they are still forgetful many times and accept them. I’m really hoping to not be able to make these anymore due to the fact that plastic bags will not exist as they do now. But maybe that is just wishful thinking.

    • Lisa

      I’m having a hard time trying to locate the owl to purchase. Is it available? And how much?

  4. Cody-Simply HomeMade

    These are incredible!! Very beautiful bags and loving the owl!! This is something I’ve been meaning to do but haven’t …yet!
    (I saw you on Skip to my Lou)
    http://cody-simplyhomemade.blogspot.com/

    • Thank you so much for the kind words! You should definitely give it a try if you have a stash of plastic bags that you need to do something with! Thank you for stopping over from Skip to my Lou. I have many other similar posts that combine making with story telling that you might find interesting as well as some tutorials, and I post pretty regularly so I hope that you stop by again to see what is going on at zween from time to time.

  5. I’ve only just started to learn how to crochet – I am curious to know how you did it with plastic bags! I am also wondering if you have a pattern for the owl -he is awesome.

    • First of all, let me just say that I LOVE your name, the littlest crafter. Lets just say it’s a bit of a joke between me and my husband and I promise it’s not even dirty.

      Anyway, I should tell you that there are many crochet tutorials out their, including ones that specify crocheting with plastic bags (which would have been helpful when I was starting). If you can wait a day or so, I’ll probably be coming out with one tomorrow.

      As for the owl, I had the pattern in my head then as an afterthought decided to see if something similar existed and found this one on Ravelry (http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/owls-two-ways-knit). One thing that I’ve learned from this process is that if I have an idea about something, especially something on the simpler side, chances are that someone else has thought of it already.

      My purse designs are 100% original and each one is unique. I like to think of my owl as an original idea as well (especially the combination of making it a weeble wobble and in plarn).

  6. Those bags are just amazing! I love every single one! I’ve crochet with plastic bags before and now I’m looking for some inspirations for a new project. I think about making a bag that would be good and big and strong enough to take to use as a bag for groceries…

  7. What handsome bags! I’m just now starting to get into plarn. How did I miss it all these years? I work hard at not accumulating plastic bags so now I’m scavenging for bags! You can see my early attempts with plarn at http://www.minkasstudio.blogspot.com/2012/06/crocheted-bags.html which includes a link to a video of a woman using her sewing machine to spin plarn! Very cool stuff….but your bags and owl are among the best I’ve seen. Having a supply of good colors is nice ….and a good eye for design is rare.

    • Mindy, I’m so happy that you enjoyed my post and have discovered the wonders of plarn! I see that you are making some pretty handsome bowls yourself and are experimenting with different techniques. Good for you! Keep it up!

  8. I can so totally relate to your blog. thinking noone knows. I am truely going to venture out in this endeavor.

  9. Ever since stumbling across and item or 2 made of plastic grocery bags on Pinterest I have had it in my mind that this is what I want for my bathroom wastebasket. I have NO idea whatsoever where to start but plan to just jump right in soon and give it a try. Your work encourages me. :0)

    I want to encourage you to make all the “original” handbags you can and sell them. They look absolutely amazing! I think my fav. is the one with the leather handle. I can imagine my teen and her friends going crazy over how cool they are AND they are recycling to boot!

    I smell a side business here. Go for it! You’ve got it goin’ on!

    Mimi Peggy

  10. Mitzi

    I would like to make one of these owls that you were talking about. Would you tell us how you made it? Maybe a pattern too?

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