Saturday, April 2, 2011

a work in progress

In February I learned that they were starting a group at my church who would take plastic shopping bags and turn them into sleeping mats to be given to homeless people.  Apparently this is a real thing that people do. I was intrigued and thought I'd like to help, but I missed the first few meetings of the group for one reason or another.  My friend Lacey had been attending, so I checked with her to make sure that latecomers were welcome and went to my first meeting about three weeks ago. 

Here's what I learned and what I've been working on (with varying degrees of success) ever since:
First you need a plastic shopping bag (No, those aren't my hands.  Shane was my helper for this photo shoot.)  Straightening and flattening ensue.
This is a Dollar General Store bag from my favorite Dollar General in Clinton, Kentucky.  Once it's flattened, you fold in half.
And in half again (or into fourths).  You can do this without the folding, but I think it makes it easier to do the cutting that's coming up.
Trim off the bottom seams.
And trim off the top, making a straight cut under the handles.
Then you fold in half the other way and cut.
And fold in half again and cut.
 This gives you four loops from each bag.  You tie the loops together the same way you tie rubberbands together.

If you do that with lots and lots and lots of bags, it turns into plarn (plastic yarn--catchy, huh?) and you use the plarn to crochet the mat.  Here's the ball of plarn I'm working right now.
For the record, that is my giant hand I'm using for scale.

I left that first meeting with a smallish ball of plarn (not the one pictured here), the most giant crochet hook in the world and the rough idea of how to create a mat.  I didn't bother to tell anyone just how long it had been since my moma had taught me to crochet.  I was confident in the internet's ability to reteach me anything I needed to know about crochet, and I was not disappointed.

I watched a video or two about the single crochet stitch, and I went for it.  Chaining was the only thing I really remembered about crochet from that fourteen year old lesson, so I started with confidence.  And honestly, it was simple.
That's the chain and the giant crochet hook.

I had a bit of a hard time feeling confident that I was placing my stitches in the right holes for that first row, but when I got to the end, it looked mostly uniform, so I flipped it and trudged on.
 Once you get past the tricky (for me anyway) first row it's soothingly repetitive--unless you're me, and you realize three days (and several rows later) that you've been routinely skipping one stitch each row so you're should-be-rectangular mat is well on its way to becoming a triangle.  Anyone familiar with my knitting history will not be shocked that I had to take out all my progress and start over multiple times before I figured out what I was doing wrong.  Now it's all smooth, blurrily-photographed sailing.

 Here's what it looked like on Monday (when I first started using the giant ball of plarn that my moma and Shane and Michelle helped me make.

And here's what it looks like currently (with my favorite brown flip-flop used as scale).  Without measuring, I think it's dangerously close to half-way.  See the two yellow stripes in the center?  The slightly shorter one on the left is where I was on Monday, so I've gotten a braggable amount done this week, if I do say so myself.
I didn't realize until yesterday that it's grown a bit wider as I've progressed.  I'm not adding stitches (because I count periodically now to make sure I've got the right number), but I have a problem maintaining constant tension.  That's the reason I quit crocheting all those years ago when my moma taught me.  Oh, well.  I don't think it's too bad, and maybe I can keep it under control.

And that giant ball of plarn?  Here's what it looks like now:

It takes a lot of bags to make a mat, obviously.  But so far my lovely family and friends have kept me well-supplied, and I think I'll eventually have so many of them trained to make plarn that I won't have to worry about ever running out.  I'll try to remember to take a picture of the finished product for you.

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