Lisbon and I have been busy in our free time making sleeping mats from plastic grocery bags for a charity that distributes them to the homeless. Being home from school for months and with plenty of time on her hands, Lisbon became an expert at weaving these mats. Plus, we felt happy recycling plastic bags that would normally end up in the landfills while helping someone living in the street with an nearly indestructible mat.
When I mentioned in a newsletter and on social media what we were doing, others wanted to know how to make the mats. It was a bit of trial and errors learning on our ow, but we shot some videos to help. We ran into a little snag. It was Lisbon’s first time manning the camera, and most of the footage was dizzying! Lol. And she wasn’t the only one. What I filmed was also not that great! But that’s okay. We’ll include what we can here, and also link to other clips that helped us get started, along with written instructions.
Step 1: Make a Loom
First off, you need a loom. We made ours so the opening was 2.5 feet wide and 6 feet long (from peg to peg). I say we, but I really mean my husband! Some people online make them three feet wide, that that seemed too unwieldy to carry around. We bought the wood, the metal bar for the sides, and hooks and eyelets for less than twenty dollars at Home Depot. Note that metal bars for the sides of the loom normally only come in six feet, so we should have made our loom a few inches shorter, but because we made the loom first, we ended up using two shorter bars and connecting them in the middle. So you might consider making your loom a bit shorter so you don’t have to do that.
Below is the underside of the loom. You’ll see the pegs in the topside in the videos later on.
Step 2: Prepare the Bags
Depending on the size of your loom, you’ll need to cut about 400 bags to finish a mat. This is how you’ll cut them.
As you prepare some bags, join them together in a long chain (called plarn) and roll those into a ball. The balls should be able to fit through one of your prepared bags. You will need about four to five large “plarn” balls to “load the loom.” The ball below is only a fourth of the size that you’ll need.
Weaving Plarns (Sets of Two)
The rest of the balls you will prepare in sets of two. You will use these to weave the mat, adding more sets as you need them. You can use the colors to make patterns in your mat.
Before you start cutting you might want to sort. We cut and sort as we go, and we have different piles for when we start weaving, but you might find this video from Stitching Hearts Worldwide helpful.
Step 3: Load the Loom
When we filmed this, it turned about to be one of our most dizzying videos, so we’re embedding the YouTube link to the Stitching Hearts Worldwide video we initially learned from instead. Note at the beginning that they are using the metal rod as a peg. We didn’t do that, but it might have made it easier because you have to put three layers on the ends. Our metal rod is just really close to our last peg, and it works fine. They are using Walmart bags for loading the loom, but we usually save those for the weaving because they’re thinner.
Don’t worry if you have a lot more of the bags left over after you tie off after loading the loom row. You’ll weave over it as you finish the mat. Sometimes I even use a bit of Shoe Goo to tack it down so it’s not flopping while we work.
Step 4 and 5: Weave Mat and Braid the Ends
Then you start the weave. First look at the video from Stitching Hearts Worldwide, but then look at the ones we added because they’ll save you a lot of headaches. Also, make sure you are checking both sides of the mat every few rows (especially if kids are helping you) to make sure you haven’t messed up. you should be able to see if you dropped a stitch or did something else weird. If you make a mistake that you don’t realize until you’re finish with the mat, you can usually fix it with dab of Shoe Goo.
Start at Both Sides
One of the things we couldn’t find information for when we first started weaving plastic bag sleeping mats is that you NEED to start at both sides of the mat. Because what they don’t tell you, is that you MUST start from both ends and weave inward, but there is a little trick to it because the initial lines are not the same on both sides. It’s logical when you think about it, but we had to unweave almost half a mat before we realized!
Watch this to see what is different about each side.
Finishing the Middle
The middle you might find tricky, but basically, you’ll need to combined the two strands together. I like to do that at the end before I finish the last row, usually pulling one through another loop. Tie if you need to. To get the mat uniform, you might need to go back up on the same line of weave. Just experiment to see what looks good. Then you take a bit of Shoe Goo and glue the last bit. It’s always good to knot where it looks good, and then weave the rest of the back through and glue it. That way there is a double safety against unraveling.
In one of the videos above, you can see how to finish the ends of the mat. After weaving the end bag through, I also like to glue the end for additional security before tucking it out of sight.
Step 6: Make a Carry Rope
To make the rope to carry the bag, we followed the video below. However, we used the same size bags that we do for the weaving so they’re thicker and stronger. Just prepare about eighteen bags like you did for the weave and then hook them together.
Picture of Our Rope
Step 7: Make a pillow
The pillow are about 20 inches wide by 12 inches tall. Any nice material will do for base, but cotton or a cotton blend will proabably be the most comfortable. When you cut it out, leave a enough room for a seam. Leave two or three inches opening. Then use the extra bag pieces you have left over from the mat and stuff them through the opening you left. Hand-stitch the opening closed. Easy peasy, even for someone like me who doesn’t sew.
Here is a PDF from the same organization who did the loading loom video above with written instructions. I didn’t find these until long after we made our mats, so ours are a bit different.
Also, make sure you stuff the corners first with the bags. Below is a video showing how, but she aren’t using plastic bags for the fill, which is what we do to use more of the bags. They will also last a long time in the outdoors.
Now Go Make Mats
That’s it! Start saving your bags from the landfill and turn them into something useful. You can contact your local homeless shelter to find a way to distribute them. Happy weaving!
If you have any tips or project you like to do, I’d love to hear about them.
Text and Photo Copyright 2020 Teyla Rachel Branton
Video Copyright by the individual creators/embedded from YouTube
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