Turn plastic bags into yarn – get recycling!

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Ok folks, at last I’m gonna share the techniques that I picked up from my recent workshop with the KCG (Knitting & Crochet Guild UK). The workshop was run by Marjorie Needham and Winifred Shelton – Marjorie doing the teaching bit. Now, the techniques taught weren’t all Marjorie’s own… she’d picked a few things up along the way, added her own ingredients and presented her ideas of the best way to cut these little rascals up and work with them. Oh, and I do remember some folk at the workshop needing some tips re-explained after the demo, so I’m gonna try and make this as clear as I can without making you feel like a 2-year-old πŸ˜‰

 

You will need

A variety of old knitting needles or crochet hooks (swatch dear, swatch)

Loads of plastic bags

Scissors

Paper clips

 

Initial tips

Now, I said ‘old knitting needles etc.’, ‘cos I found that some of the ink on the bags can rub off, so you don’t wanna ruin your best birch needles!

Some carrier bags carry a ‘bio…..’ sign/symbol. It’s cool that finally manufacturers are thinking about the planet and making plastic stuff that bio-degrades, but for this purpose it ain’t much help… your knitted/woven/crocheted items will start to disintegrate within 3 years. So let those bags do their stuff and save this project for the serious polluters.

You can use just about any plastic bag – bin liners, food bags… just use your judgement and make a swatch. Try giving the potential strips a bit of a tug when still in carrier bag mode – see if they tear easy or seem fairly strong.

Mega sticks aren’t necessary – I’ve started my sample on 4mm (US 6) needles, after cutting the strips just under 2 centimetres (about 3/4 inch). Marjorie showed us a hat she’d made from strips 4 centimetres (about 1.5 inches) wide on 5mm (US 8) needles (it was pretty cool). This stuff curls and twists up – it’ll surprise you – so unless you want a loose, open surface, stay with yer average pins.

Paper clips will seriously help you cut straight lines and give you an even yarn.

Dinky scissors or your best embroidery snips won’t be much help – mid to large sized kitchen or paper shears will be just fine.

This is by far the quickest method of cutting up the bags into long, continuous strips. You can do it a bit like you’d peel an orange, on the diagonal, but practice this method and you’ll find it a whole lot quicker. (Yeah!)

Post edit: Aye up, Sharon… good question, about why you’d wanna do this… and what you’d make from it all. Allotment/shopping bags, bath/door mats, and perhaps something for someone with a fetish for black rubber (think bin bags….) Anyone else tried making something different with this stuff? Must admit though, not sure I’m feeling inclined to finish my sample. It just ain’t wool.

If anyone else shares any tips with me, or I think of any more, I’ll add them. Otherwise, here we go…

 

The photo shoot (get cutting, baby)

1) Lay the bag out nice and flat, smoothing out any creases, paying particular attention to those side gussets.
2) Cut off the handles and the sealed bottom edge. Leave the sides sealed and folded – you’ll sort them out next.
3) Next up, open out the gussetted sides, lay the bag and smooth out any creases, with the folded edges top and bottom, cut/open edges to your side. Take the bottom and fold it up to about an 1.5inches/4 centimetres from the top, smooth again.
4) Fold the bottom edge again, up to the same point….
5) And again…. 3 folds in total should do it. Now get those paper clips ready.
6) You only need the paper clips to stop the plastic skidding around whilst you cut the strips. Trim up the edges, and decide how wide you’d like the strips to be. I cut mine to about 2 centimetres (3/4 inch) wide, and I’m knitting them on 4mm (US 6) needles – not too tight or too loose. Majory would recommend 3 or 4 centimetres (1.25 to 1.5 inches), but it’s down to personal preference. If you go too thin, they’re likely to rip easy.
7) When you start to cut the strips, don’t cut all the way to the edge! Snip to just beyond where you’ve folded to – leave that top 1.5 inch/4 centimetres as it is. Cut the same width strips all the way along. When you’re done, take the paper clips off and shake it all free.
8) It should look a bit like this, with the strips still joined at the bottom.
9) Now, starting at the outside edge, make a diagonal cut across to the next strip edge (bit tricky to put into words, this manoeuvre – hope the picture is clear!)
10) Keep going all the way across, making those diagonal cuts, which will turn this little lot into one long strip.
11) Now all you gotta do is wind it all into balls – and you’re off! As you probably guessed, the balls get a touch springy and tend to unwind, making a bit of a mess.
12) If you look close enough, you can see how dirty my needles got just from a few rows… yep, that’s all I managed, a few rows. I’m a busy soul, y’know…. it will be finished… I don’t believe in UFOs.

13) You’re now ready to knit!

Support

As always, if you have a question about this technique or need some help with it, leave a comment below! I’m afraid I’m unable to offer help via email or private message, but you’re welcome to post in our forum.

 

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10 Comments

  1. zoetegoed

    You should see al those colored bags I am collecting and cutting up for the same goal.
    Have you seen the -with bags-knitted umbrella on the internet? I can’t recall where I saw it..it was a contest.

    Reply
  2. Sharon

    I’ve heard about this carrier bag knitting malarky before, but my first question has to be ‘Why’? Is it to make waterproof hats or something?

    Reply
  3. Mary-Lou

    that diagonal cut is really nifty! – wonder if my girls are still young enough for me to get away with knitting the Sweet Bag Mac from “Wild Knitting” …!

    Reply
  4. Knitarooney

    You are a star posting up these instructions ! Love ur blog – am a regular reader (though have not caught the CW bug yet like everyone else on UKHK – I will resist – too much xmas knitting to do!!) – now where is my carrier bags stash……………..!

    Reply
  5. Woolly Wormhead

    Hey Sharon…in answer to ‘why’? I kinda wondered that at first to, although it seemed a quirky idea, to try something different. It’s ideal for allotment bags, bath mats… anywhere water goes and wool can’t? Mind, we did start discussing taking knitting into the fetishistic realms with black bin liners…;)

    Reply
  6. ra

    love it, as a compulsive collector of just about everything (including plastic bags) I KNEW I would be vindicated and that there would be a reason for keeping them, and here it is.

    Reply
  7. katie

    Hi, I know I’m a complete dork, but I can’t seem to get the bag-cutting part of the instructions. How do you get the bag to cut up in a single long piece? I’m hung up at the ‘cut on the diagonal’ step. I’ve got about 50,000 bags clogging up my kitchen and would really like to put them to use!
    Thanks!
    Katie

    Reply
  8. Woolly Wormhead

    Hi Katie,

    Blogger won’t let me reply to comments via email and your address isn’t visible, so if you drop me a mail at whiteroomsouth@yahoo.co.uk I’ll help you out further!

    Just to double check – you didn’t cut the sides of the bags before folding, did you? Once you’ve done the cutting after folding – leaving that short edge, you should be able to cut the diagonals from there.

    Do email if you need more help. πŸ™‚

    Reply
  9. aykayem

    Crocheting with cut up plastic bags can be quite a lot of fun πŸ˜‰
    … and it is not quite as hard on the hands as crocheting with wire (yes – been there done that one too … I even have plans to eventually crochet something with computer network cable … once I decide what to crochet with it, that is … it will have to be something more “arty farty” than useful (although I might be able to make a basket or something that I can use as well πŸ˜‰ … but when I do that I probably won’t actually use a hook to crochet with – I might just use my finger as a crochet hook.
    I actually made a plastic bag crochet hat, bag, shoes and skirt last year … and I modelled it in a fashion parade! … no I am not a fashion model … the fashion parade was part of the textile exhibition that I made the stuff for … they have one every year. (this year I made and modelled a couple of crochet shawls)
    It was about time I stuck something on my poor neglected blog – so I just put a photo of my plastic bag crochet hat/shoes/bag/skirt on there (and wrote some stuff too πŸ˜‰ It is at http://aykayem.blogspot.com/2006/09/er-more-later-eventually.html

    I wouldn’t mind doing some more plastic bag crochet one day … the cheap no-name black garbage bags are actually quite soft to work with, and I could probably make some more interesting bags and/or footwear … hmmm … maybe some knee high boots or something …
    by the way … I know how to do that fancy cutting thing to get a long strip, but I didn’t do it that way … I did all the stuff like trimming off the funny gusset bit at the bottom and folding the bag, but instead of doing that cut at an angle bit I just cut right across the bag so I had a whole pile of circles of plastic … then I looped them together as I needed them (if you want to know how to loop the rings together, just ask some kid how they loop a pile of rubber bands together to make a sling shot or whatever πŸ˜‰ That way I could chage colours where I wanted (the supermarket bags were a variety of pale colours – some where white but some were greyish and blueish and greenish – and I wanted to mix them all up as I went) also the clear bags were quite small and even if I had cut them each into one long strip I would have still had to do a lot of fiddly joins.
    I have seen some quite nice crochet and/or knitted bags made out of plastic bags … a number of years ago there was a craze for a while, for people to cut up the bags that loaves of bread come in, and crochet bags out of that … but that was back when things like macrame and caftans and fondue and platform shoes and flared pants were in fashion … oh hang on … most of those things have come back IN … eek!
    Andrea,
    disorganised “downunder” (in Australia)
    … who has several bags of plastic bags hiding around the place waiting until I get around to doing some more plastic bag crochet!
    (and there is even one lot under my desk at work … it has been there for about 2 years now! … I must have thought I was going to actually get a long enough lunch break to get bored enough to start cutting them up at work?!!!?!!)

    Reply

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