November 24, 2008

Tips for avoiding the plastic torture bag

Honduran plastic bags bagThe Torture bag,

I call this my torture bag as it was pure torture making it. I swear that I'm not exaggerating. If I wasn't so stubborn, I would have never finished this bag. After crocheting for about an hour, my hands and fingers would ache so badly. I measured the height about every inch asking myself, is it done yet?

This plastic is heavy and even though I cut it half the width (1" [2.5 cm.]) of the flimsier bags, it was still too thick. Since I had already cut all the plastic in advance (not following my tip below), I was stuck completing the bag with this same size plarn. Thankfully, El Jefe gave me some fabulous hand and finger massages to try to ease the pain.

Originally I thought that the yellow and white flimsy grocery bags were a little painful to crochet. After doing the orange bag, I realized that those flimsy bags were much easier.

I'll give you my patterns in future article. In the meantime, I thought I would pass on some tips so you won't jump into the project and make the same mistakes that I did.
Here are some tips that I can recommend to you after doing this:

General plastic tips

When using two types of bags that are almost the same color, but not quite, I'd suggest alternating the strips in a random manner as you make the balls of plarn. Making several rows of one shade and then several rows of another slightly different shade or opacity will be noticeable − unless that is the look you are going for. Even white is not always the same white as shown in the photo below.

Different plastic bagsStick to one thickness of plastic if you can. The size and thickness of the stitch will vary with the weight of the plastic, even if the strips are cut to the same size. You might be able to adjust for a heavier plastic by cutting it slightly narrower. Or try mixing the two weights of plastic together randomly as mentioned above.

The unused parts of the plastic bags can be used to stuff toys or outdoor cushions. If the pieces are stuffed into a plastic bag before stuffing the object, it will be semi-waterproof.

Preparing and cutting the plarn

If the bags are really dirty (like fast food ooze or a fried chicken smell), wash them first and hang to dry. Once the strips are crocheted, any gunk in the bag will be sealed up inside the stitch − not nice. Otherwise, I didn't bother to wash them.

Cutting the plarnWhen preparing to cut, lay the bag flat, smooth it from the bottom seam up to squeeze out the air, and fold it neatly. This is just to make your cutting easier and more accurate. Any wrinkles in the bag will not be noticeable in the finished project.

plastic yarn stripsThere are three basic ways to cut and join the plarn (plastic yarn). They each have their advantages and all can be tedious. (Cuesta!) I have so many step by step photos of the plarn preparation that I will include them in a separate article tomorrow.

One good idea is to prepare part of the plarn, work on your project until your hands get sore, then give them a break while you prepare more plarn.

Cut the strips according to the thickness of the plastic and the size of your hook. For example, using an N hook (9 mm.), I cut the normal flimsy, handled grocery bags to about 2" wide (5 cm.). The heavier orange and white standard Honduran bags and heavy department store bags were cut about 1" wide (2.5 cm.). You may cut thinner strips if you will be using a smaller hook. I've started another one using the heavyweight bags and I'm using single 1/2" (1.25 cm.) strips, not doubled − MUCH easier to crochet and the bags go much further! The end product is much more flexible as well. I'm going to experiment with that because I used a ton of bags!

Snip to mark cutsThe measurements of the strips don't have to be exact. I put a ruler, or even better, a yardstick, on top of the folded bag and snipped a short cut to mark the spots. I then picked up the folded bag to cut the folded strips apart. When cutting 1" pieces, I made a snip every two inches and eyeballed the middle of the snips for the 1" cut. I did the same thing for 1/2" pieces.

When using the square knot method of making the plarn, keep the knot loose. You may find that the two sides of the loop don't line up after you crochet it. Loosen the knot, adjust the two sides and pull the knot firmly in the center of the two sides just before you crochet it.

If you have to tie a knot with tails (least desirable method), leave about 1-2" on both ends to be crocheted in. Shorter ends seem to pop loose and stick out.

Crocheting the plastic

Crocheting with plastic takes a lot more effort than with more smooth and flexible yarn. After an hour or two at a time, my hands were tired and achy! Make an effort to relax your hands and try to keep an even, but loose tension in your stitches. Don't make your stitches too tight. When picking up the project after a break, make sure that your tension is the same as the last time or you'll end up with a different size.

Scrub your hook with a plastic scrubby and wash your hands every hour or so if you find that the paint or dye is rubbing off. The paint on some bags rubs off and your hook won't glide easily after awhile. Washing the hook will make a huge difference in the ease with which you can crochet. (Paiz bags were the worst.)

Many patterns call for using a half-double crochet stitch. I found it difficult and tedious to pull three loops through so I used a single crochet stitch. That may be because I generally crochet tight stitches. Half-double crochet stitches seemed an extra effort and extra use of material without much difference in the look or size of the project. Experiment with a small swatch of both stitches to see which is easier for you.

If you have to pull out some stitches, do it slowly, helping each stitch come loose with both hands. If you pull too hard, you may weaken or even tear the plastic strips. Once it is crocheted, though, it is very tough.

Tips for the really anal like me:

Plastic bag stashTo save storage space and organize your stash, lay 10 similar colored bags together and smooth them out into a neat stack. Fold the stack lengthwise in thirds, snip off the handles, if any, and smooth them again from the bottom up to squeeze out the air. Fold in half and stack the various colored bundles vertically in a shopping bag. You'll be amazed at how much less space they take up. It also saves a lot of time when looking for a certain color or "taking inventory" of how much of each color you have.

I roll the plarn into balls of 10 bags so that I have a better idea of how many bags that I will need for future reference on future projects.

Making plarn from plastic bagsKeep in mind that the color will be intensified when the plastic is scrunched up in the stitches. You can see the effect in this photo by comparing the color of the bag with the color of the crocheted project.

Most important of all to avoid the torture bag, before you cut up all of your bags, do a practice swatch of at least 4" square (5 cm.) with the size hook, width of plarn, and stitch pattern that you plan to use. You may find that you want to adjust to a different size hook or thinner plarn. It's tough to change the plarn if you've already cut it. I really regret not doing this on my "torture bag."

3 methods of cutting the plastic yarn

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