DIY Grocery Bags | Paper or Plastic?
I think every kitchen in America has a huge, rustling pile of used plastic grocery bags waiting to be recycled, or taken out for a walk with the dog, or simply thrown away when they threaten to overwhelm your cabinet space.
This project will turn a nuisance waste item into a valuable craft material. The polyethylene plastic from which these bags are made can actually fuse to itself when pressed with a standard iron, creating a ﬂexible, tough, non-fraying, washable sheet that you can use as you would canvas or felt. You can trim it with a rotary cutter or scissors, and even stitch it together with your sewing machine.
Since I started working with this material, I’ve found myself collecting shopping bags with interesting colors or patterns, and even eyeing the bag-recycling bins at the front of my local grocery store. It’s great to turn something so problematic into something pretty and useful. Once you master this technique, you’ll be able to use this material not only for totes, but for other projects, too, such as baby bibs, rain hats, or lunch bags. The sky’s the limit!
Here’s How to Make a Tote
STEP 1: Prepare a work surface for ironing by laying down a bath towel and spreading your cotton fabric out on top of it. If you can, pin the edges of the fabric directly to the table with pushpins so that it will stay put as you work (not essential, but helpful).
STEP 2: To prep the plastic bags for use, ﬂatten them out; then trim off the handles and the seam at the bottom, creating a rectangle. Turn them inside-out so that any printing is now on the interior. Smooth the bags flat.
STEP 3: Lay one piece of kraft paper down; then stack 3 bags on top, for a total of 6 layers of plastic. Place another piece of paper on top of your stack; this protects the iron and your work surface. Make sure that the plastic doesn’t overhang the paper on any side, or it will stick to your iron.
STEP 4: In a well-ventilated area, preheat your iron to the medium-low to medium range. You may need to experiment some here: If the iron is too hot, the plastic will melt away and you’ll get little holes; if it’s too cool, the plastic won’t melt properly. Plan to do some test swatches to find the right temperature.
STEP 5: Iron the plastic stack, starting in the center and working your way to the outer edge. Keep the iron moving in small circles, moving slowly across the surface. It will take a few minutes for the plastic to melt, and you’ll notice that it shrinks and puckers slightly. Turn the whole stack over and do the same on the other side. Keep ironing it on both sides until the plastic is ﬂat and fused together. Now you have a plastic laminate that you can use to make all sorts of crafts. Repeat with 12 of the remaining plastic bags (you’ll end up with 5 pieces of laminate “fabric”).
NOTE: To make your tote even prettier, you can take plastic bags in contrasting colors and cut decorative shapes out of them. Simply place the shapes in an arrangement you like onto the full sheet you just made, and repeat the ironing process. I cut out circles in two different sizes from brightly colored bags and fused them to my laminates to create the totes photographed here.
STEP 6: Now you’ll use your cardboard patterns as guides for trimming the laminates. The 12×11-inch piece corresponds to the front and back of the tote; cut out two of these. The 6×11-inch pieces are for the sides; cut out two of these. The 12×6-inch piece is for the bottom of the tote; cut out one.
STEP 7: Using a 3/8-inch seam allowance and a long stitch length, sew one side panel to the front panel, right sides together. (Try to avoid pinning the laminate; pin holes won’t self-heal the way they do with a woven fabric, and you’ll end up with lots of tiny holes in your ﬁnished piece. I stitched without pins. But if you feel you need to use them, try to pin within the stitch line so that the holes are covered by thread.) Next, stitch the back panel to the other side panel, again with right sides together. Then stitch the two pieces to each other to create a square.
STEP 8: Hem the top of the tote by turning a 3/4-inch band of laminate under (toward the outside or “wrong” side), and stitch into place.
STEP 9: Now make the straps: Trim the remaining 6 bags as in step 2 to create 3 two-ply rectangles. Now slice each bag vertically so that you end up with 6 wide, one-ply sheets. Take 3 of these sheets and use a pushpin to tack them at one end (the long way) to a board. Then braid them together all the way down. When you’re done, stitch the ends of the braid to keep it from unraveling. Repeat with the 3 remaining sheets. Now you have two straps.
STEP 10: Measure and trim each braid to a 24-inch length. Stitch the ends in place.