Thursday, March 20, 2008

Plarn, deconstructed

I've mentioned plarn (PLAstic yaRN) before but neglected to define the term. It's yarn of a sort made from cut-up plastic grocery bags. I didn't invent the idea or coin the term but I'm more than happy to leap on the bandwagon. My guess it's related to the old-school super-frugal practice of crocheting things from plastic bread bags. I have vague memories of seeing doormats made from Wonder Bread bags. Stylin'!

The best use of plarn, as I see it, is for crocheting market bags. Ya gotta admit, making grocery bags from grocery bags is kind of a neat recursive concept. I think of them as "metabags".

I've made three metabags now, and although the shine is starting to dull a bit, I might have one or two left in me. Or maybe it'll be an annual project*. It's turned into a love/hate thing, for sure.

It's fairly labor intensive, with most of the time going into making the plarn. That kind if irritates me, the Queen of the Short Attention Span. It also generates a bit of a mess, what with all the cutting, and of course I started hoarding bags and that got completely out of hand**.

Small inconveniences aside, it's still a shiny enough concept to keep me coming back for more.

Even though my metabag gets lots of interest at the grocery store, there's no way I could (or would want to) make money selling them (see labor intensive discussion above) so I thought I'd share lessons learned so y'all can roll your own.

Here is my preferred method for making plarn. Me being me, I had to research and experiment and fuss to see whether there's a more efficient method. There isn't. Trust me: the loop method is the best I've found. Plarn is going to take time to make, period. I tried cutting each bag into one long strip, but then you have to tie them all together and there are all those knots and short ends sticking out of the final product. We hates it!

The fun part for me is creating the shape. I made my first two metabags by combining elements from a couple of plarn market bag patterns I found online.

My original one, stretched all to hell. Note the knots and ends all sticking out.

Now I try to duplicate any cool bag shape that strikes my fancy. The one below was modeled on this shape.

The "grocery pod" model, a particularly pleasing shape. Not sure how functional -- I need to check with the recipient -- but look how sleek! No nasssty endses sticking out.

For my next shape, I'm going to try to reproduce the original plastic grocery bag shape, complete with some sort of gusset if I can figure out how to make that work.

One safety tip: these things g-r-o-w. My original one has now stretched to the point where it's too heavy to carry when fully loaded with groceries. And the straps are crazy long. I used a fisherman-net-type stitch for the second edition (not pictured) and it stretched way too much in the vertical direction, making it a very long, practically unusable tube unless you deliver a small paper route or need to carry a lot of baguettes around. So if the one you're making*** looks too shallow and the straps too short, have faith. This, too, shall pass. As with the female form, gravity will have its way in the end.

Another caveat is that crocheting plarn is not the least bit gentle on the wrists and hands. If you have carpal tunnel issues or arthritis, this might not be the best medium to work in.

And, for the love of whatever, do not tell people that you'll take all of their plastic grocery bags!

Eventually I want to write up some directions to post on my free patterns page. We'll see how that pans out. In the meantime, here's a pattern to get you started.

You think I've spent a lot of time and mental energy on plarn and metabags? Don't get me monologuing on soapmaking. Or knitting. Or baking. Mr. B's witnessed it. It's scary.

* If you're on my gift list, be forewarned: you may well end up with one eventually.

** Any knitter with a stash knows what I mean. My name is Liz and I'm a recovering fiberaholic.

*** And I'm betting if you've ever held a crochet hook, you will be making one.


  1. Hey, those are cool! I feel much better now. When I first read the word "plarn" I read it as "plam"...and then I wondered whether it was an illegal substance or some kind of goop my 6 year old would make.

    I feel MUCH better now -- and more knowledgeable!

  2. Your post is hilarious. I love your writing style. I found you searching for plarn and I'm so glad that I did. I had my own plarnification just recently. You can read about it on my blog here:

  3. Great blog! I'm just starting my first metagrocerybag, and I have a suggestion for those who find it hard on the ol' hands and also get fidgety about the plarn-making mess: Don't make a ball of plarn!
    I cut one bag at a time. I get about 15loops from each bag, and I add them one at a time to my work. So I only have a tiny pile of messy loops at any given time. Gives the hands a rest from knitting, and it makes it easy to choose colors to make patterns. When I get a little bored with stopping the work every 4 or 5 stitches, I string a number of loops instead of just one. Also helps if the plarn tears while you're working - there's only one knot to undo to throw the bum out!

  4. Hi,

    We ran across your plarn "grocery pod" and love it!

    Do you have a pattern for it yet?
    If so could you let us know where it is posted? Thanks, Beth

  5. Beth - you know, I never did write up that pattern. I'll see if I can borrow the original back from its owner (I gifted it) and come up with a general outline for you. Give me a week or so then check the free patterns page.


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