Monday, 16 January 2012

Why this shopping bag was a dumb idea...

Remember back here and here in 2009, when I was weaving plastic to make a shopping bag? I did say at the time it was "like a crazy woman" and indeed, it was.

First, here's the reason why I'm talking about this project again. I finally added handles to the bag and sewed down the top hem.
Such a small thing, but there are Reasons why this project has languished for more than two years.

First, the details. I decided to use the same yarn for the handles, so I wove the straps using pencil weaving. Some people call this finger weaving, but it gets confused a lot with finger knitting, which is basically crochet without a hook.  Pencil weaving is an actual woven process and it's incredibly easy to manage. Unlike inkle loom weaving, it doesn't require anything that you don't already have in your house.

I tied about a dozen strands of yarn about 60cm long to my pencil. You can butterfly or tie up the loose ends until you need then, and that stops you getting tangled up as you go along. You need to use an even number of strands, and for this reason, a lot of instructions suggest cutting double lengths and attaching them to the pencil with a clove hitch in the centre of the length. Take the first strand on the right and weave it under and over the adjacent strands until you reach the other side. Repeat this process. As you go, you'll realise that the pencil is actually on the diagonal. Keep weaving until your strand is long enough or you run out of yarn. Tie all the strands together firmly, with an overhand knot. Slide the loops from the pencil and tie an overhand knot at that end.

You can make all different patterns using this method, just as you can with inkle loom weaving. I knew my weaving would be folded over, so there wasn't a lot of point in making complex patterns that wouldn't be visible. Here are the woven straps:
The handles I wove had one problem. As it's a diagonal weave, the handles stretched when I put tension on them. That's not entirely desirable in a handle on a bag that will hold heavy stuff, like shopping, so I knew I had to back them or support them in some way. I took some cord straps that I'd saved from another shopping bag. They were rather like short shoe laces. I machine stitched across the ends of the weaving, so it wouldn't unravel, folded the finger weaving around the cords and stitched it in place with blanket stitch, using the same yarn as the weaving.
Then I machine stitched the handles to the inside of the bag, at the same time as sewing the top hem down. Then I hand stitched both sides of the handles to the bag, for extra strength.

OK, so why was this a dumb idea?

Well, this kind of weaving works just fine with supermarket bags, which are soft and a little stretchy. The green plastic from cherry packaging that I used in one layer of the weaving worked fine, as it was soft and made a good woven fabric with the yarn warp. The other plastic, from the shopping bags from chain stores that we don't tend to reuse as bags, were too stiff to weave nicely and had incredibly sharp edges, when cut.

The result was a weave that doesn't have much structural integrity. Oh, and hands ripped to ribbons by the sharp edges! They really aren't suitable for this kind of project, which is frustrating. Part of the purpose of the project was to reuse plastic materials like this that normally get thrown out and this clearly isn't the way to do that.

I went ahead and assembled the bag anyway, but I probably ought to have stitched the weaving to the lining and then made the bag, as the lining is the main thing giving the bag some strength. I suspect that the plastic will cut the yarn warp threads fairly quickly, once the bag starts being used. I've already mentioned the stretchy handles, though that was easy to remedy and used other recycled materials. But I wouldn't say the bag is a huge success. So it languished in my workroom for all this time, since it hardly seemed worthwhile finishing it. It's finished because I just want to clear stuff like this out of my workroom, and out of my head!

However, it is finished.