Monday, January 14, 2013

Fusing Plastic Bags

So first off, before we get going, I'd like to thank you for joining me for Recycling with Crochet Week!  I have become so inspired by this project, and all of the possibilities, that I'm sure I'm going to incorporate more recycled elements into my future projects as well!

This first project is one that is near and dear to my heart.  My love of fusing plastic shopping bags (also sometimes called laminating) began in 2007 when I saw a market bag made out of it in CRAFT magazine.  It was love at first sight!  Of course, I had to find out everything that I possibly could about how to do it.  It was like a crafty dream come true: Take materials that come free-with-any-purchase (plastic bags),  melt them together, and you get a waterproof 'fabric' that you can make literally anything out of!  Wallets? Yes!  Bags? Yes!  Raincoat? Heck yes!

Over the years I've developed my own techniques to making fused plastic.  I've probably made a hundred bags using this technique.  The bags made from the fused plastic are sturdy and amazing.  Basically we're going to be making a homemade version of Tyvek, that super strong, super thin plastic that can be sewn like fabric.

There are only a few things that we need to get started:
An iron and ironing board
Parchment paper (it's in the baking section of the market next to the aluminum foil and wax paper)
As many plastic shopping bags as you possibly can get your hands on (seriously, this is the project for all of the split bags, holey bags, damaged bags that you've got in the recycle pile.  You can clean the really dirty bags that have food/sticky grossness on them and use them too!)

First, we need to prep the bags to get them ready for fusing.   Straighten them out so that they're smooth.  You're going to cut the handles off, and the seam at the very bottom of the bag.

**Don't throw away the bag handles and bottom seams.  You can still recycle them like a normal plastic bag.  Just keep a dedicated "Recycle" plastic bag that you can throw all your scraps into.  When it's full, take it back to the grocery store (or recycling center, Target, or anywhere else that takes plastic bags for recycling).**

This will leave you with a rectangle of plastic.  Neat, huh?  Now do it again!  And again!  Like, 15 more times!  You're going to have a giant stack of bags!

So, the ink that they use on plastic bags doesn't always fuse nicely, which is why I turn the bags inside out before I fuse them.  Open up the rectangle you just cut into a big plastic tube, and turn the bag inside out.  Smooth it out so that it's flat and straight.

Now turn the next one inside out.  But before you smooth it, open up the bottom edge of the first bag and tuck the 2nd bag inside the first bag.

Now smooth them both out, so that they're lined up and even.  Now turn a 3rd bag, and tuck it inside the 2nd bag.

This gives us 6 individual layers of plastic per each sheet of fused plastic.  You can set the stack of three bags aside and make a bunch more right now, or you can start fusing.  Yeah, I'm going to start fusing now too!

**A caution before we start:  Always fuse plastic with plenty of good ventilation, preferably near an open window.**

Heat up your iron to the polyester setting (once you get going, if your bags don't seem to be fusing, you can nudge that up to almost the cotton setting.  Any setting beyond that will make holes in your plastic)

Place a sheet of parchment paper longer than the plastic bags on the ironing board.

Put your stack of bags down on top of the parchment.

Place a second sheet of parchment paper over the top of the stack of bags.  Make sure that the parchment completely covers the part you're going to iron so that none of the plastic comes in direct contact with the iron.

Now you can iron the bags together!  Iron from the center of the bags towards the edges, using slow, smooth motions.  Don't spend more than a few seconds in any one spot.  This helps to push the air that's trapped between the layers of plastic out to the edges where it can be free to NOT turn into a giant bubble in the middle of your sheet of plastic.

This is something that may take a while to get the feel for.  If the iron is too hot, the plastic will melt too quickly and you'll get a hole.  If you don't move the iron quickly enough, the plastic will melt and you'll get a hole.  If you move the iron too quickly, the plastic won't fuse.  If the iron isn't hot enough, the plastic won't fuse.  It's like the first pancake.  The first one might not turn out very good, but it will teach you a LOT.  You'll get the hang of it.

Pretty soon you'll start turning out sheet after sheet of perfectly fused plastic, which is good, because we're going to need lots of them!

You can get really creative with the lettering on the bags too, once you've got the hang of fusing.  You can cut out the letters from the bags and use them to create your own personalized plastic sheets!  Lay the cut letters on top of the bags that are going to be fused, and place a plain bag with no lettering over the top of them (to be sure that they show through!).  Fuse the plastic the way you normally would.  Voila!

This fusing technique also works with other types of plastic too.  I fused a plastic tablecloth that we had used at 3 different parties and was no longer suitable for partying (how do they get those holes during a buffet?).  I folded it in quarters, so that there were 8 layers of plastic (it seemed thinner than the plastic bags).  It turned out really cool!

So now that you've got all the lovely sheets of fused plastic, we can turn them into something awesome!  I've got several projects, but in the spirit of trying to keep my posts from getting too huge I'm going to put them up in a different post!  Or, actually, it's several different posts... :D

See the Fused Plastic Purse HERE
See the Fused Plastic Baby Bib HERE
See the Fused Plastic Messenger Bag on 1/18/13



  1. ha! someone's been a busy-bee last night! (well, probably for a while now -- but with the post-uploading, I mean). I came to look for the cowl patterns and saw all these new posts and said to myself "hey, why didn't I get an email for any of these new posts yet?" then I saw that they were all uploaded today -- I'll get the email about them all tonight. ;)
    So glad you're sharing all this about fusing plastic and stuff -- Great projects!

    1. I have been so busy! I've got too many ideas that 6 days of Recycling with Crochet is just not enough, so I've got to triple up on the posts this week. It's going to be so much fun, but so busy. So exciting!
      xo!! ♥ETF♥

  2. THANK YOU! I have tons of plastic bags just sitting around because I keep forgetting to take them to the recycle bin. Now I don't have too YAY!!

    1. Hi squid! I hope you found a LOT of things to do with your plastic bags this week.
      xo Jaime

  3. It sells for a negative amount - you have to pay someone to haul it off for you and dispose of it with a recycling company. It is worthless as a raw material.

    1. Every supermarket in my town has a Bag Recycling box outside, so you really don't have to call someone to pick up your bag scraps. You can just take them to the store when you go to pick up groceries and drop them in the bin before you go in.

  4. Nice... but isn't it toxic to inhlae dioxin while fusing the plastic bags?

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