Upcycle Unwanted Plastic Bags Into Works of Art

By Bobi Wood

If you’ve shopped or worked a shift at BFC recently, you know that plastic bags are no longer accepted for reuse. The Co-op wishes to promote personal responsibility for plastics use. The entire state of California adopted a tax on plastic bags long ago, and many people started carrying their own reusable bags as a result. So removing the choice of plastic bags has been proven to work. But what to do with the bags you already have? Make them into durable, cool, one of a kind household items.

I first learned about plarn and its ability to be woven, knitted, or crocheted when reading about a church group that gathered to crochet ground clothes which were donated to the homeless as a base layer upon which to lay their sleeping bags. For years, I had been telling myself that there had to be something you could do with the things to make the world a more beautiful place—but I could never figure out what. Some more research showed that there are many artists and craftspeople working in the medium of plarn, short for plastic yarn.

(Note: because you’re going to be both making the yarn (which involves cutting up and tying together the bags to form plastic yarn) and crocheting it, don’t expect to be done with the rug in one session. However, if you do already know how to crochet, you can make a small (cat yoga mat size) rug in one session if you have already made your plarn balls.)

I dutifully read the directions on a couple of websites, but they were way too complicated for me, and the directions I share below are what I believe to be the fastest way to turn the mass of plastic bags into something you can really use, gift, and decorate with.

Good times to work on your plarn rug project?

When you’re snowed in. Late night insomnia attacks. When you need to let your aggressions out. When you need a repetitive activity to self-calm. When you want to feel better about the possibility of meaningful change. When you’re having a long conversation on the phone. When you’re bored. After a stressful day at work.

HOW TO MAKE PLARN AND START YOUR RUG

MATERIALS: You need a crochet hook (medium to large), a pair of scissors, and your pile of plastic bags.

1. Just as if you were going to Kon-Mari your clothing collection, the first step is to pull out all of your plastic bags to see just what you have got. If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a lot of bags.

2. Separate the bags into piles by colors. You’ll likely have mostly white or grey bags, with some tan and black bags thrown in. When you look closely at your bags, you’ll notice that bright colors are rarer.

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3. Take a pair of scissors and cut the bags into strips. I cut mine into strips around 1” to 2” long.

4. Tie the strips together, knotting them at the ends. You can either create individual colored balls of plarn (e.g., one grey, one blue, one white) or once you have assembled your strips, tie them together to create a color mix (which is what I did in the psychedelic eyeball rug pictured). I like to be surprised by what emerges as the color blocks form during crocheting.

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5. Start wrapping the plarn around your fingers. Rotate the mass of plarn to achieve a ball shape. This is the same motion as winding up Christmas tree lights or winding up a hose, but on a smaller scale.

6. Tie a loop at the end of the string.

7. Your crochet hook goes through the loop, grabs the string, and pulls it through. Hooray! You’ve started your rug!

8. There are many internet tutorials out there on all sorts of crochet stitches and styles, like this one. There are also loads of tutorials on You tube. For me, the fun is in figuring it out myself.

INDOOR-OUTDOOR HANGING PLANT HOLDERS or SHOPPING TOTES

To make something that will be droopy and hang down, like a plant holder or a shopping bag, you will need to add more stitches before you hook back onto the next loop. As you keep going, experiment and have fun. You’re likely to think up new ways to crochet simply to relieve the monotony of crocheting in a circle. The medium of crochet is very forgiving. In addition, plarn is also a forgiving medium. The plastic yarn will easily shape to however you want it.

Please note that there are techniques which will give your plarn projects an infinitely more “finished”/upscale/store bought look. I find I prefer the rustic feel of the way I cut unevenly and leave the tied pieces on the rug.

Enjoy, and remember—the earth will appreciate your creating something from all that plastic, instead of it ending up in the ocean or a landfill!

CommunitySabrina Katz