I really do try to avoid them, politely declining at grocery stores and opting to bring my own. But no matter how hard I try, my drawer of disposable plastic shopping bags runneth over. While the bags make great garbage can liners, I wanted to find a use for the totes that was a bit more permanent. Lucky for me, I found the answer in a workshop held by London-based Jennifer Pirtle, who founded the craft activity workshop, The Make Lounge, earlier this year. One recent Saturday morning, she showed me and some other eager recyclers how to turn our cast-off plastic bags into a stylish reusable tote. Follow these instructions to turn your unwanted plastic into a handy dandy shopping sack.
- Plastic bags (at least 8 of them, the thinner and more colorful, the better)
- Iron & ironing board
- Parchment paper
- Craft knife and straight edge ruler or block of wood
Flatten the bag, and cut off the handles and bottom seam. Do the same to five other plastic bags.
Cut along the shortest side of the bag, and open out so that you are left with six large, plastic rectangles
Sandwich three of these rectangle sheets between two pieces of parchment paper and place on an ironing board. (Note: Never iron directly onto plastic, as it will ruin your iron and could set something on fire.) Using a medium-hot iron placed on the no-steam setting, iron the sheets together to make one 3-ply sheet (make it thicker if you want by adding additional layers of plastic). Keep the iron moving, and the plastic will slowly fuse together. Iron both sides. Do the same to the other three bags so that you end up with two pieces of plastic 'fabric' of roughly the same size (the plastic may shrink a little when melting together). Be sure to open the window to avoid smelling any fumes.
If you’d like you bag to have a pattern, cut out a design from different colored plastic bags and iron it on top of the plastic “fabric” panels. Place the design under a translucent plastic sheet for the best results. Remember to do this under a piece of parchment paper, same as in Step 3.
To make handles for the bag, do exactly what you did in Step 1, but using only two bags per handle (you’ll only need to trim off the tops and bottoms and open out four plastic bags.) Fold two sheets of plastic into the desired width of and the handle, and place between parchment paper in order to fuse together by ironing. Do the same with the other two sheets of plastic.
You should now have two rectangles of fabric and two long handles. Decide how large you want your bag to be, and cut off any excess 'fabric' from the larger panels using a craft knife. Stitch across the four edges of each large panel of plastic using the zigzag setting of your sewing machine.
Stitch both ends of one handle to one panel, attaching them to what will be the inside of your tote Repeat with the other panel. Now, pin both panels on top of each other, and stitch around the outer three edges to form one sack (leave the edge with the handles unstitched to form the opening of the tote).
Now, show off your eco style by bringing the bag with you next time you go shopping.
Story by Giovanna Dunmall. Illustrations by Lindsay Kurz. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in October 2008.