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.
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).
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.
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!