I try to avoid plastic grocery bags like the plague. However, no matter how hard I try, they seem to find their way into my home. Just last week, my kids got a care package from their grandmother packed full of goodies- and as a great way of recycling her plastic bags, she cushioned the contents of the box with about 500 grocery bags. It was seriously like a magic trick, they just kept coming out of that box. While I am very glad she found a use for her stash of annoying plastic bags, I now have an overabundance of them and need to do something about it.
That is why I am posting this tutorial on how to make plarn (the accepted term for plastic bags made into yarn, it would seem). While I could just save the bags and pay them forward as packing material for my Christmas packages that need to go out soon, I want to do something a little more permanent and perhaps a little more useful. My plan for my stash of plastic obscenity is to make durable, reusable shopping bags out of them. My great grandmother used to this, and the bags you can knit from "yarn" made from plastic bags are very durable and super functional. I have also seen people make little house shoes, shower mats, coasters...I think you are only limited by your imagination on this one. And perhaps heat. Don't make a pot holder out of plarn, please.
1. Collect plastic grocery bags. About 30 is a good number if you want to make a reusable shopping tote. But it all depends on the size of your plastic bags and their condition as well as the size of the tote you wish to make. Please still use the bags with holes in them, usually you can get a lot out of those bags even though they are damaged. You will see why as we go along. (You will also need a pair of scissors.)
2. Choose one of your bags and flatten it on your work surface as I have shown in the picture. Orient the bag so the handles are pointing away from you and then fold the bag in half vertically.
3. Next, turn the bag so that the folded edge is nearest to you. Think of it as putting your bag in a "landscape" orientation opposed to "portrait." Then, you will remove the handles and bottom of your bag by taking your scissors and cutting the left and right sides of your folded bag. When cutting the side with the handles, you want to make sure you cut far enough down that none of the handle loop remains on your bag. You should have a nice, solid rectangle. (Keep it folded.)
4. With the folded edge still closest to you, cut the remainder of the bag into approximately 1 inch vertical strips. You do not need to stress yourself on making each strip exactly the same size- as long as they are about the same width, you will never know the difference.
5. Take these strips you have made and open them up; they should be loops.
6. Now, all you need to do is join these loops together. Take two of the loops you have created. Close one of the loops and thread it through the opening of the other loop. Do not thread it all the way through, but stop once you have about 1/4 to 1/2 of the closed loop through the open loop. Put your hand through the portion of loop you have just threaded and then pick up the "tail" of that same loop that you left behind. Draw your hand backward, with the tail still grasped, so that you feed the tail through the threaded loop. Pull both plastic loops in opposite directions to secure the not. Don't pull so tight that you rip your plastic.
7. You will now repeat step 6, only use the last bag in your already created chain as the "open loop" for the next chain. Continue doing this until you have the length of plarn needed for your project. I like to ball mine up as I go so I don't feel like I'm drowning in plastic loops. If you run out of loops and need more plarn, just cut more plastic bags. If you have different color bags, with a little planning you can make color runs in your plarn...or even self-striping plarn. Sometimes if you have a ton of bags from the same store that are all the same color, the result can look a little like a speckled plarn. Once you have enough, though, pick up those needles or hook and have some fun.
There is, as is often the case, more than one way to tackle this knitting project. The yarn pompom finds its way on top of hats, dangling on accessories, and part of little pompom snowmen the world over. In stores, they sell plastic pompom makers, which work well and make quick word of pompoms. However, if you're like me, you may not want to make a trip out to the store to buy an obscure crafting device. You've finished your winter hat and you want to make a pompom NOW! I'm here to help. This is a step-by-step tutorial to help you create a marvelous pompom using things you likely have laying around your house. It is quick and easy, start to finish taking less than an hour, and the results look as good as any pompom created on a store-bought apparatus.
Circular object or Compass
1. The first step is to find some nice, pliable cardboard. I used an empty cereal box. I would stay away from corrugated cardboard as it might be more difficult to work with, but if it is all you have, it will work just fine.
2. Once you have tracked down your piece of cardboard, find a circular object that you can trace that is roughly the circumference of the pompom you would like to create. I found a mug in my cabinet that was the size I wanted. This is a great time to say- the pompom apparatus you create does not need to be perfect. This project is so low stress, nothing has to be worked in exactness. However, I do know some people find it less stressful to work things in exactness, so I will try to be inclusive of everyone. If you would like to make a measured size pompom, you can use a compass for this step, or even a pin and a measured piece of string to make your arc. In my efforts to demonstrate to you, gentle reader, that a lovely pompom can be created with a less than perfect pompom maker, these photographs show the less exact approach.
Using a marker, trace around half of your circular object, making an arc on your cardboard.
3. This next step can be worked freehand. (If you are the compass wielding sort, you can use your compass for this step as well.) Using your marker, you will want to give your arc some width. Draw a second arc at least a thumb width away from your first arc, but make sure you leave space between the ends of your arch. Then, draw tabs at the base of the arch you have created. These tabs will be rectangles that are slightly wider than the arch itself. There should be at least a finger width of space in the inside edge of these tabs, as well. If this is confusing, please refer to the photograph below. Your end result should look something like a rainbow sitting on bricks. As you can clearly see in the photograph, nothing in this step needs to be perfect.
4. You can cut out this arch and use it as a template, tracing three more of the shape on your cardboard. (Or you can repeat Step 3 three more times. Whichever is easier for you.) Cut out all of your shapes. You should have four funny little rainbows. Fold the tabs outward so that they are perpendicular to your arch. After all of your tabs are folded, take two of your pieces and put them together with the arches lined up and the tabs, still perpendicular, pointing away from each other. Using a small piece of tape, you can secure the ends as shown in the picture. Repeat this for the remaining two arches. You should be left with two freestanding arches.
5. Take one of your new arches in hand along with your yarn. Starting on the left side, begin winding your yarn around the arch. Work from the left to the right side of the arch, and then work back to where you started. Repeat this back and forth winding until your inner arch nearly disappears. I wanted a two-colored freckled pompom for my project, so I held two contrasting strands of yarn together as I wound my pompom. As you see how the mechanics of this pompom maker works, you can have a lot of fun with colors and make some awesome, customized pompoms that meet your specific needs.
6. Once you have completed one arch, move on to the second arch. You should now have two arches wound with your yarn.
7. Put the tabs of your two wound arches together so that your half circles come together to make a full circle. Using small pieces of tape, fasten the outer left and right edges of your tabs together, as shown in the photograph below.
8. Orient your circle of yarn so you are looking down its spine. With the opening that is created between your two arches, slide your scissors in and begin cutting around the spine. Your scissors will be cutting between the arches you secured in Step 4. You will need to snip through the tape that held these arches together-that's okay. Also, you may end up cutting some of the cardboard as you wiggle and cut your way around the circle. That's fine, too.
9. As you cut all the way around the spine of your circle, you will be able to see your pompom take life.
10. Orient your pompom so that the arches are pointing side-to-side and the diamond shaped opening is facing you. With a scrap piece of yarn, approximately a foot long, secure your pompom. You will accomplish this by sliding this yarn around the "waist" of your pompom, sliding it between your arches and all the way around your creation. You can double wrap around the pompom to make it more secure. You will feel the pompom become more structurally sound as your tighten this yarn. Secure the yarn with a double knot.
11. It is now safe to remove the cardboard! Clip any lingering pieces of tape that might still be holding things together. Now the pieces of cardboard should slide right out of your pompom. If your cardboard is in good shape, you can save them and use them for a future pompom. However, the beauty of this project is that if you snipped or bent your cardboard in the creation of your pompom, you can just throw them away and not be sad about it.
12. Once all of the cardboard is removed, you have a perfect pompom. At least it is almost perfect. Your pompom should be spherical in shape, but it might look a little wonky. You will need to give your pompom a haircut, trimming around the pompom to tidy up the shape. Like those shrubs in your front yard, your pompom will look wonderful after a good trim. Congratulations, you are now the proud owner of a custom and utterly awesome pompom!
Sometimes when you pick up that beautiful skein of yarn at the store, it can be a little overwhelming trying to decipher what the label is really telling you. It can feel like it is written in another language. In a way, it is. It is written in the language of fiber craft. I thought perhaps it would be helpful to deconstruct a common yarn label step-by-step. There is a wealth of information that can help you be more successful in your fiber adventures. Once you know what to look for, you can successfully choose a yarn for a project with confidence.
1. The brand of yarn is usually on the front of your label. This is fairly self-explanitory but useful information if you want to buy the yarn in the future. Even if you are unable to remember specifics, if you can remember the brand you can often times find your way back to a yarn. Also, the fiber content is easy to see and useful to remember. Cotton, wool or acrylic are worlds apart when it comes to uses, care, drape and feel. Usually the fiber is broken down into percentages. The examples shown here are 100% of their respective fibers, but you can have combinations. For example, something can be 70% Alpaca and 30% Rayon.
2. Beyond the brand and fiber content, things start to look a little scary. Another important tidbit would be the weight of the yarn. (Tutorial on yarn weights coming soon.) Most of the time, this information will be communicated in the form of a number, 0-7. It can often be found in a cute illustration of a yarn ball. This numbering system follows the Craft Council of America's standard system for yarn weight. The link I have provided will take you to a useful chart of numberings, yarn types and other information about yarn weight. The labels pictured here show a number 4. This means it is a medium weight yarn which includes your worsted, afghan and aran weight yarns. While one of the labels does not explicitly state the type of weight yarn it is, the other includes the information "Worsted Weight."
3. Once you know the weight of your yarn, you can start to think about the needle size you will need to obtain the gauge you want. This information is crucial if you are substituting a yarn in a pattern or you wish to draft your own pattern. Sometimes you will see a graphic of a little square that will tell you the stitch count on a single size needle for a four inch square. For example, it could say on size 8 needles, you should get 20 stitches and 24 rows in a 4x4 inch square. The labels shown here do not include that square, but the information is still there! The labels here, which I see a lot, show you how many stitches to expect in one inch. They also include a range of appropriate needle sizes. This is because every knitter is different, and your stitches may be tighter or looser than a knitter sitting next to you. So, where one knitter needs size 7 needles, another may need size 8. This is also why it is so important to swatch before you start a project where size matters.
4. Dye Lot is another important piece of this puzzle, especially if you are working on a project that requires multiple skeins of yarn (like a sweater). You can see, the color often is associated with a number, like "157W Boysenberry." Think of this as a catalogue number; Brown Sheep Company, Inc. makes this particular color, along with many others. However, within this 157W Boysenberry color, the yarns are died in batches. Makes sense, right? It would be unreasonable to think they can anticipate and dye all the yarn they will ever need in a given color at the same time. Dying yarn in batches introduces the possibility of different variables playing a role in the ultimate color of the yarn. This can lead to slight variations in the color from one batch, or dye lot, to another. This means you will want, when possible, to get all of the yarn for your project from the same dye lot to minimize the chances the yarn will be different from one skein to the next. The dye lot shown in the example above is 033. It would be awful to have half a sweater done, and then the next skein be a slightly different shade of Boysenberry. Where you wanted one cohesive piece, you may end up with a two-toned garment.
5. The last bit of information we will discuss here is the garment care. This is directly related to the type of fiber your yarn is made from. The care instructions, however, are possibly the most confusing of all the symbols you might see, since there are quite a few different ones. To help you, I found a general chart of care symbols you can reference, here. This site provides a key for all of those triangles, squares and circles that make up the hieroglyphics of yarn care. However, one of the most important things to notice is whether you need to hand wash the fiber, which is often depicted by a hand dipping in to a basin of water. If you are able to machine wash the fiber, this is depicted by a wash basin without the hand. If there are lines underneath the basin, as there are in one of the labels featured here, it means you need to use a gentle cycle. Lastly, how do you dry the fiber? If it needs to be air dried, you will see a square with either one horizontal line or three vertical lines inside. The horizontal line means to dry flat whereas the vertical lines mean to drip dry. If the square has a circle in it, like the cotton label above, you are in luck! You can throw that sucker in the dryer. Once again, if there are lines underneath it, you should use a gentle cycle.
Without muddling the issue more, I hope this was a helpful tutorial. The labels of your yarn really provide invaluable information for the success of your project. Choosing the right yarn really makes all the difference. If you are going to put the hours of sweat and tears into a project, it would be discouraging to be tripped up with the wrong yarn choice. So, walk in to a yarn store with confidence, you now speak the language of yarn labels!