Up-Cycled Plastics

Thursday, Feb 13, 2020


Yesterday I spent about 2 hours writing up some things I hoped could/would be edited down to a blog piece about the bag making. The bag making is upcycling disposable plastics. I make totes and wine bags using this waste. I’ve sold a few with the proceeds going to either Friends of the Library or BECA (a scholarship fund here in Baja). It’s not much, $10 here and $50 there that’s been donated to these causes, but every little bit helps.


Every little bit is not just in dollars or the good those dollars may do. It’s also in the disposable plastics NOT going into landfills. These days a huge percentage of what we buy for day to day use is packaged in eco-UNfriendly plastics, plastics that fail to give back to the earth in positive ways.


The idea is not my own. PBS television is the source. Two women sorting through plastic packaging, cutting tops and bottoms off various bags, slicing them open, wiping down what had been the interior sides–the residual shimmers of sugar, crusty remains from dried cherries, oily granules from dog kibble bags, barky remains of potting soil–then cutting them into strips for “log cabin” quilting. I’ve made many log cabin quilts; my interest in the program went up several notches.


Interest soared when I realized they would be “foundation” quilting the plastics. Foundation quilting is a process wherein a piece or strip of fabric is placed right side up on a much larger piece of fabric (size depends upon project at hand); then a second strip of fabric is placed over the first, right sides together, and stitched in place. The second strip is then opened out, pressed down, and a third strip is aligned over the last one, right sides facing, and stitched into place, pressed open, etc. and so on. (An internet search should include photos of this process.)


My foundation quilting experience is limited to the years when I made shabby chic lampshades. Circa 2002, I cruised thrift shops and garage sales, buying lamps in terrible shape with missing or stained and irreparably damaged shades; I bought a book on How To Make Lampshades; I cut a single piece of strong (usually Egyptian cotton) fabric as the “foundation” piece in the shape needed for the shade infrastructure and began sewing down each strip of old lace or vintage embroidery work to the foundation, pressing the additions’ seams each time.


The wondrous thing about the upcycling of plastics via foundation quilting is that no opening out and ironing is required! Each strip or rectangle of plastic is top-stitched down directly overlaying (by a quarter to half inch) the previous section. Watching the PBS program, I knew I had to try my hand at making a tote bag in the manner they demonstrated.


Two foundation pieces were cut from old cotton sheets, about 20″ x 24″ in size. An image was found amid the gathered plastics (flower, cat, dog, fish, something of interest and perhaps 2″ x 3-4″ large) and placed near the center of one foundation piece. Because they were building the log cabin pattern, a short strip of contrasting color was sewn down the right side of the center piece, trimmed to the same height as the center piece, upper and lower threads snipped, and the foundation 1/4 turned. Then the next strip was added along the bottom edge, covering the end of first added strip and the center piece. Threads were cut; the foundation turned; the third strip overlaid the bottom strip and the left side of the center piece. And the process continued, building out the “logs” of the cabin until all of the foundation had been patterned with plastics. (Again, YouTube and the internet will have tutorials on log cabin quilting should you want to give this a go.)


After both foundation pieces had been sewn over with plastics, they were squared up. Some squaring up is needed (I’ve found) because sewing the strips of plastic tends to shrink the foundation pieces in not always the same way. Once squared/evened up, the pieces are placed as a pattern over material to be cut for lining. Two pieces of lining are cut to size of foundation quilted pieces.


I can’t recall if the PBS seamstresses sewed pockets into their tote bags but I do. The time to add a pocket is before the lining pieces are sewn together. My first choice for pockets is the one cut from old jeans; other times I make one up from the lining fabric or contrasting fabric–all materials upcycled from where they once lived.


Three sides of the foundation quilted pieces are sewn together; then three sides of the lining are sewn together. Box pleats are sewn on the bottom corners of each unit; excesses trimmed to a half inch. The foundation unit is turned inside out; the lining unit is not. Instead, the lining unit is dropped inside the foundation-quilted unit; upper edges are brought agreement; binding is cut to length and width desired, attached to upper edges and one side is sewn in place. This process is like sewing on waistbands, one side at a time. The straps or handles are cut to whatever the desired length may be–over the shoulder length, or hand held–then sewn. These need to be of sturdy material. When I use lighter weight materials, I double or even quadruple the layers. Attach the straps. Again, double and triple stitch the straps in place. Maybe sew a decorative button or two near the strap ends; maybe throw some rustic embroidery cross stitches along the visible edge of the binding.


Today I’ve spent a thousand words describing bags made from trash. I haven’t done a very good job with my words. That’s a bummer. On the up side: my reading audience, while small, is treasured. No Harm No Foul. What I’ve managed to clumsily share may find someone out there who sews, has knowledge of box pleats, foundation and log cabin quilting, has a hate on (like I do) of disposable plastics and the damage done to the environment–such a person might upcycle some plastics. Right?



P.S. When I figure out how to include an image, I will.

750words Feb 11 2015 ~ The Dress Form

Once upon a time there was a dress form made of wandering leaves cut from tin and rigid iron which stood near the window and waited. Rusted bronze in color, the form wore a narrow belt of hammered tin and a pendant in the shape of a clock that opened and could hold a paper cutout heart or a picture of someone dear, or both, along with a lock of hair and a button from a favorite shirt.

The form was headless. Its bottom edge was where a woman’s legs ended once they went all the way up. Crossbars ran from one side of the bottom edge of the form to the other. Where the bars crossed, they rested upon a hollow iron column almost the size of a vacuum cleaner wand. The column supported the form and stood vertical and straight with four curvilinear legs which ended in curly-ques on the floor and kept the form from tilting or tipping over when the weight of the sun slapped it with day’s flat palm of light.

All day long the form waited, tin leaves never wilting, tin belt without a pucker or sag. Its shoulders kept very good posture through every disappointment, every new mote of dust that settled atop the rounded surfaces of rigid iron, plus all the tickling shifts of light as day walked up the sky and over the roof of the casa where the form was kept.

Because the form was headless, it could not sigh. Air was immobile, did not move outward or inward, was simply there, within the form, surrounding the form, and, because the form was skinless, it could be seen through from all sides—the leaves twining its back like a visible echo of the leaves twining its front. In essence, it was as empty as the clock-shaped pendant worn about its neck: a hollow chamber made of vertical spines held in line by the hammered belt and the absent hands of an artisan who once upon a time sculpted the form of an invisible woman.

The form’s patience was endless as it waited through the morning light, the afternoon shade, the deeper shades of evening, the dark balmy nights pin-pricked by stars and an indecisive moon which showed itself incrementally only to hide itself in the same manner. All the form wanted was to be used. To be useful. To carry the weight of a shawl or a shirt or a dress. A summer scarf woven of chiffon and light as a feather would have pleased the form. Was it asking so very much to sense such a scarf’s supple softness draping its posture-perfect shoulders, the drape of its length running the length of its meandering leaves, perhaps the finely rolled narrow hem of one end tossed casually around its headless neck? These, or any one of these sensations, would’ve brought comfort to the form.

But the form’s mistress, who once crafted sundry items the form could support, no longer busied herself with such things. Rather than a crafter of textiles, its mistress had given over such industry to become a crafter of words. The click of knitting needles had been replaced by the tickety-tick of the keyboard, the construction of syllables ricocheting about the room where the form waited, and the plumes of smoke rising from the numerous cigarettes the form’s mistress smoked during her frenzied attempts to shape words into stories.

If the form owned a head for worry and angst, for whining and winges about its plight of existence, it might have expressed by thought or a tilted angle of its stand the injustice of being left idle, the unfairness of words chained together which could not be worn, the waste of her mistress’s imagination on airy nothings. What were words, anyway? What made them so important? They couldn’t be fitted over the form, couldn’t be straight-pinned into pleasant and pleasing designs, couldn’t decorate the form’s elegant vining of tin leaves, the meandering ways of pressed metals. If the form owned a head capable of emotions, it would be vexed.

As it is, the form doesn’t own any such head. It doesn’t own legs—only a stiffly elegant four-footed stand. It can’t run away. Can’t show its displeasure in regard to being unused, ignored, left by a window to gather dust and sun in the morning, pinpricks of light by night. It might think, if it could, how fine it would be if stories and poems were semi-solid things—items woven from silk and wool, from bamboo fibers and flax—articles woven with structure and beauty, their endings evenly hemmed with perfectly spaced similes, their beginnings draped and tossed lightly about this waiting form’s headless neck.