Of all the items that I have worked with while recycling, the one that has offered me the greatest versatility without requiring additional cosmetic or support materials is definitely the lowly plastic shopping bag. Fused together with other bags and sewn into shapes, or cut into strips and crocheted, the finished product is always remarkable! One of the most useful home applications I have made with these bags is in forming baskets. Whether the need is for bins in a home office, a laundry basket, or even a bed for a newborn, this article will demonstrate how to meet that need for free.
My basic method of creating with the plastic bags is to make “plarn,” or plastic yarn, which I then crochet into the shape I desire. Instructions on how to do this can be found here. This basic method is how my small and large baskets were created. If you have never learned to crochet, it is a fairly simple skill, and there are some great tutorials on YouTube. I recommend starting out with yarn at first since it is a little easier to work with than the plastic if you are learning to crochet for the first time. For those who have some experience with crochet, go ahead and work with the plarn. Pick a crocheted basket pattern that you like and work it in plarn instead of yarn. Better yet, make up your own! The Internet has many good instructional sites for crochet.
Baskets made by the methods described in the paragraph above are generally flexible and, to some degree, will conform to the shape of what is placed into them. To form a stiffer basket that is sturdy enough for carrying garden vegetables or a load of laundry, another method is required which employs crocheting over a core material, typically something like rope or cord. In this case, I was able to come up with a way of making the core material out of more bags. This method does require a large number of bags. Fortunately, these things seem to multiply in the back of the cabinet or drawer in which they are stored, so having a number of them is not normally a problem! All the same, you may want to have some friends saving their bags for you. I recommend that the bags you use for the core material and the bags you use for your plarn be the same color. The core material can be seen in places through the outside covering.
To make the plastic “rope” for the core I had to find a way to join the bags. As with making basic plarn, I flattened the bags out and folded them over lengthwise, but this time I only folded them over once. Starting on the folded center about two inches from the bottom of the bag, I made a cut parallel to the bottom seam straight across to just past where I could see the edge of the pleats inside the bag. Being sure to cut the pleated section as well, I turned the scissors and made a perpendicular cut down through the bottom seam. I discarded the rectangular-shaped piece that I had removed. In essence, I had created a second set of smaller “handles” at the bottom of the bag which could be interlocked in the same way as the loops I had created earlier. When the core bags are connected together, they create much bigger knots than the plarn loops do. To keep them from showing up in the finished product, and to make a nice-sized rope, I began by joining three bags together. I folded them over about two-thirds of the way down the middle bag in such as way as to have the knots offset. The point of this was to bury the knot and handle portion of two joined bags in the fullness of plastic in the center of the bag next to it.
Instead of working in rows, this kind of basket requires that it be worked in a spiral, which can be started as a circle or an oval. Since I needed to make another laundry basket, I chose to begin with a circle. Starting with my ball of plarn and a size K hook, I crocheted a chain of about five stitches.
Then I put one single crochet stitch into the second chain from the hook and into the next two chains. I crocheted three single crochets into the last chain. This turned the work so that the next several stitches would be worked into the bottom of my foundational chain stitches. It was here that I joined the bags that formed the core.
To connect the core bags, I pulled the loop left on my hook up a little to lengthen it and wrapped the joined section of the bags (with the knot offset) around it as shown in the photo at left. (To make the next several steps easier to see, I have used contrasting color core bags.)
I twisted the core material into a rope. The following single crochet stitches were stitched over this core rope. I added stitches as needed to accommodate the increased size of the circle as it spiraled around and added bags to the core rope as I came to the handle sections of the bags. I was not overly concerned with the number of stitches I used as long as the shape continued in the direction I wanted it to go.
In the photo to the left, I am beginning to make another curve.
I used a laundry basket that I liked to guide the shape of the one that I was making. After the base of the new basket fit just inside my guide basket, I allowed the core material to run out and tapered the stitches down to complete the circle shape. Then, without cutting the plarn and stitching in the top loops only (see photo for clarification), I made four single crochet stitches and reattached the core rope material. (The photo shows the core material wrapped around the post of the single crochet to the left of the small hole.) Continuing to work in the top loop only, I made one single crochet over the core material into every stitch all the way around the base until I came back to my first stitch along the side. Here I began stitching into the top of my previous stitches, once again working through both loops of the stitch instead of one.
The sides of the basket were simply a matter of increasing to match the sides of my guide basket. To keep the increases evenly spaced, I added an extra stitch about every five or six stitches every couple of rows. I tried to crochet to the outside of the previous row somewhat so that the core material would be slightly longer each round. When I reached the place where one more round would reach the top of my guide basket, I noted where the basket would need to end and marked it with a twist tie. Then I decided where to form the handles. Handles can be made in numerous ways, but I find that the simplest is to make a series of single crochets over the core material only until the desired size is reached, then to rejoin to the basket so that the handle sits up in the air. I generally put three or four stitches in on both sides of where the handle joins to the basket to reinforce those areas. When I approached the place I had marked to end the spiral, I stopped adding in bags for the core rope. This allowed the core material to gradually reduce down to the handles of a single bag until I ran out of core material and made a couple of single crochets with just the plarn. To finish my basket off, I also worked a crab stitch along the top edge, but this was decorative and not necessary to the functioning of the basket.
My finished basket is a very serviceable laundry basket which stacks neatly inside the store-bought one. This same basket could also serve very well for collecting produce from the garden. The natural holes provided by the stitches would allow for the vegetables to be sprayed off with the hose, and the dirt and water to drain away before being transferred to the kitchen. To further demonstrate the uses of this material I have also successfully used this method of crochet to produce a very sturdy Moses basket out of plastic shopping bags. This is a little heavier (and possibly more sturdy) than Moses baskets made out of grasses and with the sides covered in a cloth lining, the baby need never come into contact with the plastic.
The thought that stayed with me while I worked on this project is that baskets and bins are visible demonstrations of the blessings of God. Baskets are not needed unless there is something to put into them! We only need baskets when God has blessed us in a material way. I am reminded of the incident recorded in all four gospels where Christ fed over five thousand people from five loaves and two fish. John’s gospel records that, “when they were filled, he [Christ] said unto his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost’. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments…” John 6:12-13b. After everyone had stuffed himself full and could not eat anything else, there remained enough food to fill twelve whole baskets! In the same way, our need for baskets, storage units, and organizers is a tangible testimony to God’s blessing in our lives. It is required so that the overflow of His bounty to us will not “be lost”! As you look around your home today and notice all the baskets and bins filled with His “good gifts” to you, pause to remember the Giver and offer Him your praise and thanks.