DIY

Crochet a Rug Out of Plastic Bags

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Recycle plastic bread bags into a unique rug.
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Simple crochet stitches are easy to learn.

Click on the Image Library to see the illustrated figures referred to in the article.

Making something pretty and useful with your own hands
brings out a feeling of pride and accomplishment . . .
especially when that new item is constructed of “trash”
that would otherwise have been thrown away. Additionally,
in this day of inflated prices, it’s a real discovery to
find a worthwhile craft material that doesn’t cost a cent.
And finally, it’s always satisfying to find a
way–however small–to solve the mounting
problems of waste disposal.

I find that I can blend an interesting home craft with a
small attack on both inflation and today’s pollution
problem by recycling throwaway bread wrappers into soft,
cushiony, crocheted rugs. The finished floor coverings are
ideal for protecting the bathroom floor by the tub or under
the sink and are just as good for other uses, both in and
outside the house. My husband, for instance, made off with
one of my four-foot circular throws before I ever had a
chance to spread it in front of the kitchen sink (I’d made
the rug just for that spot, too). The mat, he says, is
perfect for lying on when he works under the car and it has
now become a permanent part of his equipment.

There’s nothing complicated about preparing the bread
wrappers for crocheting. Start at the open end of each
empty bag and cut a continuous spiral–about an inch
wide–around and around the sack until you reach the
part that’s glued together on the other end (this small
remaining piece is all the waste you’ll have to throw
away). The beginning and end of each strip should taper to
a point (Fig. 1).

One tool–a single metal crochet hook of the size used
for rug yarn–is the only equipment you’ll need to
turn even the biggest stack of wrapper spirals into durable
and colorful floor coverings. Do make sure that hook is
metal, though, because plastic ones have a tendency to
stick to the wrappers.

Start with a Bread Bag

Your first step in making a bread wrapper rug of any size
will be to fold one of the inch-wide strips right down the
middle so that it’s only one half inch wide (the finished
floor covering will be more colorful if you turn the
printed side of the plastic out). Next lay the crochet hook
down and pass the end of the ribbon under and around the
widest part of the hook’s handle or shaft and securely tie
the strip with a double knot. (NOTE: the ribbon is not
actually tied to the shaft . . . instead, the
handle is used as a “spacer” around which the beginning
loop of your rug’s chain stitch is formed and
knotted.)

Once you’ve tied the first loop into the end of your first
plastic strip, pick up the crochet hook in your right hand,
hold the dangling plastic ribbon in your left and slide the
newly formed loop down the shank of the tool until the ring
is about an inch from the hooked end of your tool. Catch
the ribbon of plastic with the instrument’s crook and pull
the strip through the knotted ring (thereby forming a
second loop). Slide the crochet hook forward for another
bite of ribbon and pull it back to form loop number three.
The continuing series of interconnected slipknots you’re
making is called a chain stitch (Fig. 3) and you can extend
the procession indefinitely . . . or until you come to the
end of your first plastic string.

When you’ve crocheted to within a few inches of the end of
your “yarn”, open the folded plastic flat, place the end of
a new strip over it (with an overlap of about three
inches), fold the two ribbons together and continue with
the chain stitch. This way, there won’t be any knots in
your finished work.

Crocheting a Slip Stitch

The second stitch you’ll need to know how to make (and it’s
just as easy to learn as the first) to assemble a bread
wrapper rug is known as the slipstitch
(Fig. 4). This one is made by passing the hook through a
previously formed stitch (while maintaining the loop that’s
already on the needle) before hooking a fresh section of
ribbon and pulling it through both old loops to
form a single new one. You’ll use this slip stitch to do
things like fasten together two ends of a section of chain
stitching.

The only other stitch you’ll need to master for your rug
making is called the single crochet (Fig. 5). For
the first half of this one you’ll dirt the loop on your
needle up the shank until it’s out of the way. Then you’ll
pick up a formed stitch before hooking a fresh bite of
ribbon which is pulled only through the formed stitch
and not through the loop being maintained on the needle’s
shaft.
(At this point–Fig. 5c–you’ll have
two loops–the brand new one and the one you started
with–on tire shank of the needle.) The single crochet
stitch is then finished by pulling a fresh section of
ribbon through both the loops on the needle . . .
to make a single new loop (Fig. 5e). As you add row on row
to your rugs, you’ll find this stitch almost as important
as the basic chain stitch.

To start a round rug, chain stitch five times–making
sure you don’t pull the loops too tight–and slip
stitch the ends of the chain together to form a ring. Now,
reaching through the center of the circle (instead
of through any of the individual five stitches) for the
first half of each and reaching outside the circle for the
second half of each . . . form enough single crochet
stitches-usually about ten-to reach completely around the
ring.

Don’t stop forming single crochet stitches once you’ve
completed the circuit. Make the next one through the top
(see Fig. 2 for an explanation of the “top” and “bottom” of
a stitch) of the slip stitch used to join the ring and
continue on around the circle, hooking–as you
go–a new row of single crochet stitches into the row
you’ve just laid down.

You’ll have to increase the number of single crochet
stitches in this new round by putting two into every other
stitch or so of the row inside. (No hard and fast rule can
be made for increasing but, in general, when you find
yourself reaching with the hook for the next loop . . .
it’s time to add a stitch.) Continue around the developing
rug for another few rows and then lay the piece of work on
a flat surface. If its edge curves up like the sides of a
bowl, you’re not increasing enough. If the edge ruffles,
you’re increasing too much. In either case, pull the
stitches out until the rug lies flat and try again. It pays
to check often.

Finish Your Rug

Continue working around the expanding perimeter until your
rug is as large as you want and–leaving five or six
inches of the plastic strip hanging free–end your
crocheting with a couple of slip stitches. Pull the
remaining ribbon through the last loop and use the crochet
hook to work the tail in and out of stitches in the
previous row until the strip is used up and none is left
dangling.

Before beginning an oval floor covering, you must determine
the site you want the finished product to be. Remember
that–since you’ll be working around the center (as
with a round rug)–you’ll be adding an inch of length
for every additional inch of width the piece grows (and
vice versa) . . . so you must determine the proportions of
the finished rug before you begin.

The chain with which you start an oval design should be as
long as the difference between the length and width of the
completed piece. That is, if you want a rug 48 inches long
and 30 inches wide, the starting chain should be 18 inches
in length (48 minus 30).

To make the throw just described, crochet a chain 18 inches
long, add three additional chain stitches (for the first
turn), turn and single crochet back (using the top of the
18-inch length of chain stitches as a base). Continue
making single crochet stitches right on around the end of
the series of chain stitches (increase as necessary going
around the turn) and proceed to build the rug outward just
as you would crochet a round design. Increase enough on the
ends to keep the rug flat and smooth and do stagger the
increase stitches to keep the shape oval (adding the extra
stitches at the same points on each round will produce
square corners). Finish as you would finish a round design.

A square or rectangular rug is made a little differently
(by working back and forth instead of round and round).
Begin such a design with a series of chain stitches as long
as the desired width of the finished work . . . then chain
three more times, turn and single crochet the next row
using the top of the chain stitches as a base. When you
reach the end of the line of single crochet stitches, chain
three times, turn (the other way this time), add another
row of single crochet stitches, chain three times, turn the
way you turned the first time, etc. Continue this
back-and-forth pattern until the rug is as long as you want
it.

It’s a good idea, when making a squared-off rug, to stop at
the end of the first single crochet row and count all the
stitches in that tier (but not the three chains at either
end). Then, as you continue to work, check occasionally to
make sure you’re not increasing or decreasing the number of
stitches you add each time across.

You can wash and spin dry your bread wrapper rugs in the
washing machine, but never put them in a dryer. Hang the
damp pieces over a line instead.

Once you’ve had the satisfaction of creating one of these
colorful pieces, remind yourself again that you obtained
the raw materials for the handiwork absolutely free . . .
and that your recycling efforts have helped limit air,
water and land pollution just a tiny bit. That will
probably lead you to wonder why–when recycling works
so well with so little effort on a small scale-big
business, government and labor can’t make it work on a
large scale. Why is that?