How to make Plarn

Free Fiber Source!

I am not talking about dietary fiber here, I am talking about fiber for your fiber arts craft projects. The cost of yarn is going up and our effective salaries are going down in this economic boondoggle the super rich are going to preserve at all cost. But you can fight it in a small way. You can make your own plastic yarn (or plarn) out of those plastic bags you get at disgusting stores like Wal Mart. What happens to those plastic bags after they are used ONCE (to bring home that automatic nose hair clipper that doesn't work and made your nose bleed) is ugly indeed. But you can turn them into plarn, and you can turn plarn into all kinds of interesting and useful items.

Making plarn is so easy you can put your six-year-old to work doing it.

Here is what you need:

  • plastic bags, sorted according to type and color
  • scissors

Basically you fold the bags lengthwise and cut them into tubes. Then you knot the tubes together and roll 'em into a ball. There's your plarn. A picture is worth a thousand words, and for your viewing pleasure I present several below that gives you a visual step by step. Happy plarning, and look for future hubs on what you can do with this wonderful and yet oddly toxic material. The sea life in the gyre will be thanking you for keeping this crap out of their backyard.

Plarn: Visual Step by step

Click thumbnail to view full-size
garden variety plastic bagLay it flatFold Lengthwise in halfAnd again in quartersCut off and discard handlesCut off and discard buttSlice into tubesTo join, overlap loops like thisBring the other end up through, wrapping one loop around the otheryeah, you got itPull to tightenVoila, Repeat with all loops and you got yourself some plarn baby
garden variety plastic bag
garden variety plastic bag
Lay it flat
Lay it flat
Fold Lengthwise in half
Fold Lengthwise in half
And again in quarters
And again in quarters
Cut off and discard handles
Cut off and discard handles
Cut off and discard butt
Cut off and discard butt
Slice into tubes
Slice into tubes
To join, overlap loops like this
To join, overlap loops like this
Bring the other end up through, wrapping one loop around the other
Bring the other end up through, wrapping one loop around the other
yeah, you got it
yeah, you got it
Pull to tighten
Pull to tighten
Voila, Repeat with all loops and you got yourself some plarn baby
Voila, Repeat with all loops and you got yourself some plarn baby

Couple of my plarn bags

My Brown bag.  I love all the reflections in this photo
My Brown bag. I love all the reflections in this photo
My white bag.  For whatever reason, just a little stiffer
My white bag. For whatever reason, just a little stiffer

Please don't get these bags on purpose

Personally I have been trying for about five years to use reusable bags when I go shopping, and also, answer "no" to the question "Do you want a bag?" whenever it is asked, unless I just can't possibly make it out of the shop without one and I forgot mine. For the past two years I have been doing much better at it. So I still try not to cause these bags to be used in the first place. However, not to worry. You'll get plenty. I get them from my family members. Once friends saw my first plarn creations they gave me bags. One lady goes to Target at the end of the day and gets all the bags from returns. That's fine. Just don't USE them on purpose!!

 

Someone once suggested (rather naively) "Oh you could sell those! Etsy would LOVE them!" Well, in a word, NO, and here's why. I'm not about to tell you plarn projects don't take time. I doubt anyone would pay $600 for one of these, at least not now. And that's what it would take for me to be compensated for my time. But usually you don't feel the time. I twiddle plarn when I'm on hold, while I'm riding the bus in a car, waiting for the dentist, or watching tube or other such activities where you can't really do anything real. I only crank out maybe 3 projects a year. The more important reason I don't want to sell them is that it's something everyone should do for themself, kind of like wiping your own butt. Making plarn out of your own personal plastic deritus makes you actually think about these things and take some personal responsibility. Buying them is just another consumer transaction. You only gain true appreciation of these things if you make your own.

Do not put off starting to make plarn. Here is why. Sooner or later, plastic bags will be banned--first the crinkly wal-mart type and later the kind you get on bread. It's already happened in Ireland, and certain store chains have voluntarily discontinued them. So items made from crinkly bags will become priceless historical period pieces that you can't make any more, and may be worth lots of money. Not that it will do me much good because I'll probably be dead. But I am hoping to leave an indestructable plarn project for each of my kids so they can sell it and get lots of money.

For further reading Google "plarn" of course, or join the plarn group on Flickr and share your projects.  You can also check out my sustainability and food blog. Changing to a sustainable lifestyle is not just this one big thing you do once and for all.  It's the sum of a myriad of tiny little things one does by living one's life fully mindful of the consequences of our silly little actions.    

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Comments 17 comments

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

Hot Dorkage, interesting hub. I look forward to seeing pictures of your completed plarn projects.

The advice about not considering selling them because the price that an hourly wage would exact is too high for the market reminded me of an encounter with the Amish. A friend was visiting from Taiwan, and since we have Amish living in this area, she thought it would be nice to purchase a handmade quilt as a gift for someone back home. We visited some of the Amish, and they showed us a quilt they were working on that would soon be complete. The asking price? Close to two thousand dollars. My friend said: "But I can buy one at Wal-Mart for less than one hundred." The Amish explained that if you considered the number of hours that went into making their quilt, we would see that the price was quite reasonable.

This didn't help at all. My friend was on a budget. She couldn't buy the quilt.

It seems to me that before industrialization hourly wages (even if we control for devaluation of the dollar) were much lower, and that this whole idea of expecting to be paid for your time is highly overrated. You don't pay for the time that went into making something. You pay what it is worth to you!


hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 7 years ago from Oregon, USA Author

That's the buyer's perspective my dear Aya Katz, and completely valid, because it drives the market. Those Amish probably weren't selling too many quilts at $2000 a pop, and they probably didn't care. However from the seller's point of view, in order to do crafts for a living one has to charge a price that will bring in the equivalent of a living wage, or the artesan simply can't do it, or does it strictly as a hobby after they're done with their day job.

Believe me, as a musician, I know whereof I speak. I nearly punched a guy who said, I don't understand why you musicians are always saying you're starving. It seems like $100 for a 2 hour gig is pretty decent. Right. Those 2 hours plus 2 hours travel time plus gas, food expenses, at least 1 hour set up, soundcheck and takedown, plus another hour on the phone discussing the gig, not to mention the eight hours of rehearsal. Let's see, that works out to < $8 per hour, no bennies, and no guarantee of another one.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

Hot Dorkage, I don't disagree about your analysis of the muscian's overall wage... I'm just saying, there used to not be a Wal-Mart, and if you wanted to have a quilt, you either made it or you paid someone else. Presumably, whoever was willing to sell was not doing the math that, hey, this should pay me a decent hourly wage for my time plus benefits. In fact, back then nobody had benefits. Nobody thought they deserved benefits, and if somebody did offer to pay for their time, they didn't have to compete with a corporate employer.

When farmers sold their crops, or artisans sold their wares, they said how much they wanted for them, but they never mentioned how many hours it had taken them to come up with the product. If they had charged what people expect to be paid for their time now, nobody could have bought anything from anyone.

It seems to me that benefits and high expectations for an hourly wage are what has killed personal independence in the population at large.


hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 7 years ago from Oregon, USA Author

I never mention how many hours of prep goes into a gig. When I negotiate a price I just say I am willing to do it for $X, and I build a little bargaining down into the initial price so they feel like they got something. I try to get the highest price the market will bear. I also gauge the customer. It's very interesting, the richer the customer the *MORE* they try to screw musicians. Young couples getting married who have no money and who's families are going into hock for the wedding will pretty much pay the band's asking price. Doctor's clubs full of rich pricks who own airplanes t will try to break you down to about $20 per band member for 2 hours. I've walked away from a few of those country club thingies, these doctor's wives in their $400 new york handbags just don't have any money for musicians. Of course not. They keep it all for themselves.

People who thrived from making things may not have calculated an hourly wage, but they were thinking, OK, this is weekly market day. I have three of these things to sell. My weekly food budget is $X. If my family wants to eat I have to fetch at least $X/3 for each of these things. So I'll double the asking price and let them bargain their way down. People who sold things for desparately low prices without thinking these things did no one any favors. They are underselling their competition and they are screwing themselves, thus hurting the whole sector.

Benefits are more necessary for people making crappy hourly wages than for people who are rich. God help the poor uninsured if they get sick. If we had national health, it wouldn't be such a thing.

In the old days benefits weren't such a thing, also because a visit to the doctor or a hospitilization would not break the bank. In those days doctors were just respected members of the community who lived *IN* the community, not *OFF* the community.

When I give private music lessons I am reasonably compensated by the hour for my time, and people are willing to pay. So your theory of nobody being able to buy anything from anyone at fair market value is show down.

What difference does it make what kind of wages and bennies people expect. The situation will set them straight. There are tons of people who, are living (or trying to) on minimum wage. As long as bank CEO's and that ilk siphon money UP and pay themselves obscene amounts of money, they are taking it out of a lot of poor SOBs' mouths. That's my theory of economics.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

Hot Dorkage,

A lot of people are without jobs and are really suffering. Other people have jobs around the house that they need done, but they can't pay minimum wage plus benefits. There are people who can offer room and board to a hired hand, but not a salary and benefits. Sometimes high expectations prevent a perfectly acceptable bargain from being made.

Except for illegal immigrants, you don't see anybody going in for domestic service jobs, unless they are employed by the super-rich, who can offer the same as corporate America. Middle class Americans have no servants. They can't afford them. (But look at the middle class a century ago -- they always had help -- even when they were poor themselves.) The people who would ordinarily have served as nannies and kitchen maids are either working at Wal-Mart, or they are completley unemployed. There is no middle ground.

If it weren't for medical insurance, (private and public), doctors and hospitals wouldn't be able to charge such exorbitant prices. Every time the minimum wage goes up, supposedly to help people in the lowest earning brackets, inflation immediately brings the market value of the wage back down to the same buying level that it had before it was raised. You can't cheat the market, but you can cheat yourself.


hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 7 years ago from Oregon, USA Author

Below min gigs.... That's what teenagers and apprentices are for.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

And stay-at-home spouses, and live-in grandparents, and all the people who make the life of breadwinners a little easier! ;->


hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 7 years ago from Oregon, USA Author

livin in the past. the grandparents are all takin jobs workin at walmart as greeters now. and stay at home spouses a luxury most families can't afford.


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

Hi Hotdorkage, this is a great hub about an issue that affects us all. Much better that the plasctic bags end up as useful and decorative items, than for them to end up as landfill. I've seen a few examples of this type of work at craft fairs, and the finished results can be very eye-catching and attractive. I doubt their creators get a decent hourly rate for their efforts, but that is for the individual to decide I suppose.

I understand your comments about the hourly rate of musicians. I rarely get a sensible price for my paintings, because I must charge what the market will bear. Commissions tend to be better paid, because I can name my price, and only do the work if the price is right.


hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 7 years ago from Oregon, USA Author

I've got a dynamite plarn project in the works. It's just taking time, because to go out and buy the materials would violate my principle of this. I have to wait until the right quantities of the right colors plastic accumulate naturally. And because I make efforts to avoid taking plastic, it's VEEEERRRRRY SLOW.


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

You must post a picture of it when it's done.


2patricias profile image

2patricias 7 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

I usually take my own bags with me - some UK supermarkets give a few pence off the bill (and I am that tight with money). But yesterday I bought a few things that I hadn't planned on, and brought home a plastic bag. While storing it for future use, I noticed that it said on the side "this bag will start to decompose in 18 months". Good idea, I thought. But not so good if you were thinking of making something (like Plarn) from the bag.

Interesting Hub - thanks.


hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 7 years ago from Oregon, USA Author

Quite a few US supermarkets give you a nickel off for each bag as well. Our coop gives you a bean, which allows you to vote for the $0.05 going to an environmental cause. (Pence eh? That's right, now I remember the UK refused to give up their currency in favor of the Euro.) I have also seen those bags that advertise they will start to decompose in 18 months. I would think that the decomposition would require the presence of other rubbish, water, possibly strong sunlight, and organisms that could start to work on the plastic. And it begs the question what does it decompose into, i.e. are decomposed petroleum based by products any better for the environment than blobs of plastic? They might very well be fine, but I just don't know. But since you mention it we should get one of those bags on purpose, date it, store it in a nice dark dry place and come back and check it in 18 months. :) Lots of things that we keep for years e.g. metal implements, would decompose into rust etc. if put into a landfill.


Pamela N Red profile image

Pamela N Red 5 years ago from Oklahoma

I love these bags. I've been making my own but make the stripes go the other way which when you put heavy objects inside can make it really long. Your way would resolve this problem. Thanks.

Also, I use left over denim scraps for my handles. It makes them less scratchy. Great article.


hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 5 years ago from Oregon, USA Author

Pamela I'm not quite sure what you mean, do you mean you just knit a big wide piece then sew it up crosswise? A picture would be worth a thousand.


Pamela N Red profile image

Pamela N Red 5 years ago from Oklahoma

I know, I wish I had a picture. Yours look like your rows go horizontal instead of vertical. My bags tend to stretch in length if I put heavy items in them. I'm wondering if this would help.


hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 5 years ago from Oregon, USA Author

Yes the rows go horizontal. I do it all in one big piece.

I cast on 41 (30 for the front/back, 10 for the small side, and 1 for the corner. I do st st the whole way except reverse the corner st. Then I cast off the 10 stitches and knit the bottom (as long as the side is wide about 10 rows) then I cast te more on the other side for the other side part and go until its as big as the first side. Then I fold it up and sew it together. These stretch in all directions but more side ways than up and down.

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