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.