Plastic Bags

My library teamed up with the local Zonta Club to celebrate International Women’s Day with our own totally-not-a-Maker-Faire-because-that’s-trademarked-or-something Maker Madness event. I had a table at the event that focused on plarn.  You know, plastic yarn–cutting up old plastic bags and reusing them for whatever fiber craft you’re feeling that day.  I put out a call for my co-workers to bring in plastic bags for me and WOW did I end up with a mountain of plastic bags in my office.

For me, as for so many others, the obvious path to take with plarn is crocheting. Here’s the turtle I crocheted as one of my sample items:

turtle crocheted out of old plastic bags

I also have a few bowls I’ve crocheted–one many years ago, and one the morning of the event because I’d gotten woefully behind on prepping for it.  Having only two (small!) samples didn’t seem like enough; having three (still small!) samples was at least 50% better.

Anyway I didn’t feel like trying to teach people to crochet in that setting; experience has taught me that that needs at LEAST an hour, and no one is going to stay at a single booth of a not-a-Maker-Faire for an hour.  So I taught people to do finger knitting with plarn.  I also talked up the fact that hey, plastic bags are polluting the world like crazy, and if you’re going to still use them at the store, at least have the decency to reuse them after that.  And I started telling them about all the things I’ve heard about other people using plastic bags for–embroidery, knitting, fusing them together with an iron and doing stuff with that, you name it.

Some people had heard all this before, but others were blown away by the mere concept.  So that’s one reason I’m writing all of this down.  The other reason, of course, is that even with all the people I taught to finger knit, I think I used less than a quarter of the plastic bag mountain that is now in my office.

So search of inspiration to kill off Mount Plastic Bag, here are some cool things I’ve come across online that reuse plastic bags in interesting ways:

  1. Knitting plarn into garments (not meant for actual wear, but still, holy crap these are amazing).  I will never be that good.
  2. Crocheting it into sea creatures.  I suddenly have feelings of inadequacy over my turtle.  I had no idea!
  3. Fusing bags together to make a raincoat. That… that is so cool.
  4. Fusing bags together to make mandalas.  I would totally hang one of those on my wall.  Do you suppose I can achieve a similar effect on my own, with my mountain of mostly white, off-white, and gray bags?  Sigh.
  5. Rolling beads out of plastic bag strips.  People combine beading and crochet, or beading and embroidery all the time… what if I used plastic-bag beads on my plastic-bag crocheting?  That could be super fun.
  6. Fusing plastic bags to make jewelry.  I’m not much of one for jewelry, but most of what I make ends up as gifts anyway…
  7. Heat-gunning plastic bags into containers.  Cool, but I’m not loving the likelihood of fumes.
  8. Wrapped plastic-bag basket.  I had actually hoped to have a basket to show off on my table, but didn’t finish it in time.  I was following(ish) instructions for a woven basket (meant to be made from willow) rather than a wrapped on, but this is equally cool!
  9. Plastic bag embroidery.  I’ve actually been wondering if I could embroider *with* plastic bags rather than on them–but maybe I could do both?  It sounds like embroidering onto fused plastic is the way to go…
  10. And of course there are all the normal projects you see everywhere–a crocheted bag made out of plastic bags, or a rug, or coasters, etc.

Anyway the moral of this story is that I need to get a move on with all these bags I’ve got right now.  There are way too many cool possibilities for me to let them gather dust.  (Even once we’ve accounted for the ones that will probably be co-opted for cleaning litter boxes.)

Returning to Tunisian Crochet

So, hey, I’m not dead.  But outside adventures aren’t something I think to write down here, so it’s taken until this chilly, pouring-down-rain weekend for me to post again.  Hum.

Anyway, it’s been a marvelous week for crocheting.  I’ve been mostly knitting for the past four years, except to teach beginner crochet at library events.  I’m tired of knitting.  I’m tired of teaching people slip knots (the necessary first step of crocheting).  But Tunisian crochet–ahhhhh, yes, Tunisian crochet is a thing I am not tired of.

I’m particularly not tired of it because it occurred to me that I could do a knit cast on for it, which is much easier than working into a long chain and hoping I manage not to twist it.  So there are benefits to returning to crochet after some years of knitting!  (It’s also occurred to me that I could use Tunisian crochet to bind off a knitting project at the end.  Given how awful my last bind off was, this revelation could prove very useful when/if I return to knitting.)

I’ve been working my way through the stitches in this Tunisian Sampler Scarf.  I’ve also been trying out cabling in Tunisian crochet, per this post.  My cables were disappointing, though.  Maybe if I did them in cotton they’d really stand out, but in the very soft acrylic I sacrificed to playing around, they were mushy and hard to see.  (No photos because it’s dark right now and I’m lazy.)

In the end, I decided that I really like the Tunisian simple stitch, so I started using actual wool and I was going to stick with just the simple stitch, but then I did that whole thing where I was like, “But hey, I could combine this with a slanted fabric stitch!”  So here’s the first few rows of that:

Three rows of Tunisian simple stitch followed by one row of Tunisian slanted fabric stitch.

And that was fine, and all.  Cooler than just simple stitch, because there’s that nice little twist every few rows.  But then I was like, “Hey… I could shift the twist from the slanted fabric stitch over so it connects neighboring columns, every few rows.  That would be cool.”  So here’s that:

A fancier combination of simple stitch and slanted fabric stitch, where I shift the slanted fabric stitch over every few rows for a nifty, interlocking effect.

And yes, that motif is old hat.  Everyone and their brother cables in that pattern.  But I’ve never done it Tunisian crochet, before, that I remember.  I quite like it.  It’s easier to see than the columns-with-a-twist, for some reason.  Must be psychological, because it’s not like there’s any extra stitch definition or anything.  Still–cool.  So that’s the stitch pattern I’m using for this project, because why not?

I want to work up to making this.  Just look at it.  Look at all those perfect, lovely, crisp stitches, combined so that they make each other look superb.

When would I wear this shawl, you ask?  Yeah, well… you know… ummm… I’d find a time, ok?  Maybe it could just live in my office or something.  My office is always cold.

Crocheting Left Handed

A few weeks ago I started running a series of crochet workshops designed to get complete newbies feeling comfortable enough to finish a very simple scarf.  I thought I was so prepared for doing this–I had supplies and helpers lined up.  I’d read up on crochet instruction online, and learned that lots of people recommend starting beginners on a pre-existing swatch, and crocheted enough swatches for everyone who signed up.

Now, I’ll grant you that starting people on a swatch is good because it provides them with an example of what single crochet will look like.  It’s easier to hold and work in than a chain is.  It lets them master something quickly and actually see some progress.

However, in a one-hour session with more students than crochet experts, we weren’t able to get anyone to the point where they were able to create their own chain and then crochet into it.  This meant that I sent everyone home without the ability to practice, unless they wanted to just keep pulling out the stitches in their swatch and doing them again.  So much for being able to see progress!  Lots of people left their swatches behind.  That, in combination with the attendance issues that have plagued these classes, has made me a swatch skeptic.

Anyway, where I really wanted to go with this post is that one thing I had utterly failed to prepare for was left-handed people.  I mean, yes, I’ve read all the suggestions about sitting facing them and having them mirror me; I’ve been told about using an actual mirror, even.  But neither of those approaches was any good for the two lefties who showed up to learn how to crochet.  They were getting thoroughly lost and confused trying.  It was no good.

My solution has been to learn to crochet left handed.  Earth shattering, right?  It’s been useful in a couple different ways, though.  For one thing, it reminded me of how wrong crocheting feels when you start out.  Nothing happens naturally.  You have to stop and consider each and every tiny little move of the hook.  The yarn snarls on your hand, or is so loose that it’s hard to grab it.  It’s hard.  

You kind of forget those things when it’s been 16 years since you learned a skill, you know?  So, yeah–empathy.

But also, being able to crochet left handed is fantastic for colorwork.  I read Carol Ventura’s More Tapestry Crochet several years ago.  She shows the differences between colorwork where you do it all right handed (or all left handed), and colorwork where you do a row right handed, a row left handed, a row right handed, and so on.  Alternating hands and thus directions makes your finished product look a lot better because now you have a right side and a wrong side.

At the time I first read More Tapestry Crochet, I looked at that suggestion to be able to switch hands with a combination of dread and awe.  Who was this woman that she could crochet with both hands?!  I would just stick to doing colorwork in the round so that I could avoid the problem.

For a lot of years, that was fine.  I got over my obsession with colorwork and moved on to other things.  (Fancier stitch combinations, better yarn, Tunisian crochet, knitting, embroidery, weaving…)  Then along came these left-handed would-be crocheters to remind me that I still have a ton to learn.

Well fine then, universe.  If these people can come to my class and learn to crochet when most of them are older than I am, surely I can teach myself to crochet with my off hand.

And I have!  I’ve spent a couple hours at this point doing really plain single and double crochet with my left hand.  Yesterday, I moved on to trying colorwork with alternating hands.  Here’s the practice I did, where I started off trying a pattern entirely right handed (the lower bracket), and then restarted the pattern alternating hands (the higher bracket).

the thing I practiced by crocheting

Yes, the colors are awful for colorwork like this, where it isn’t large chunks of each color.  This is a useful reminder to me that more contrast is better!  Still, I think it’s cool how much more finished the top part looks.  It actually was easier to follow the pattern when I was alternating hands, too, because it was so much easier to see what I’d done in the previous row.

So hey–trying to be more inclusive and empathetic with my students has improved my craft.  That’s pretty cool.