Plarn. PL astic y ARN. See what I did there?
I’m a little late to the party, I know. Apparently, plarn has been a thing for a long time. I know because I found Eco-Friendly Knits Using Recycled Plastic Bags by Emily Blades, published in way back in 2010. I’d dabbled with twine and string over the years, and I’d made some shoulder bags out of discarded tee-shirts. But plarn? Never ‘ad it, Mr Fawlty.
I was very excited to discover plarn. I’ve been a successful hoarder of plastic bags over the years. They’ve been stashed in cupboards, down the sides of wardrobes, even under small tables, so plarn was music to my ears. But…bearing in mind that I’d had to track down a second-hand copy of the book as it’s now out of print, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to find that I had gradually recycled my bag stash as bin liners over the years too. I realised that I had only a very few flimsy blue and white or pink and white striped bags of the corner shop variety, the ideal bag for a beginner being easy-going and easy to work with. The rest of my depleted stash were thicker, and apparently more difficult to deal with (and mostly orange), and tracked my gradual move to the Bag for Life, a tougher individual altogether and not for the faint-hearted plarn knitter.
This super little book offers 20 projects ranging from drinks coasters and phone covers to jewellery (yes! jewellery), waste paper bins and a shopping bag (now that’s clever). The instructions to make plarn were clear, they couldn’t be clearer, but I still had to watch a video to see how to make it. It’s just a method of cutting a plastic bag so it becomes one complete strip, which you can then wind up as you would a ball of your average yarn.
The advice about cutting a thicker, 4 cm to be exact, strip of the flimsy bags was good to heed; if you don’t, you’ll find the plarn just stretches away to a thin plastic thread.
So what to make? That was easy. A new phone cover of many colours was just what I needed and the pattern was simple enough. A few rows of ribbing then stocking stitch the rest of the way, changing colour at will. You’re even told in the ‘instructions’ how many bags you’ll need to make each project ?
The information I’d read online did point out that knitting with plarn is not easy. Too right. The flimsy bags were pretty easy to manage but when I had to change to charity bags which seemed of similar density, they proved trickier to manoeuvre on my needles. There was a lot more thrusting and pushing and pulling required than with the blue and whites and my index fingers became quite sore. When I had to move to a slightly tougher bag, I cut it into thinner strips to make allowances for the plastic but that required an even more physical knitting action.
When I had knitted the appropriate number of rows for the pattern, the knitted piece was definitely on the small side so I adapted and extended and eventually the correct length was achieved…but the width was wildly variable in places, no doubt due to the change in plarn type.
This was never going to cut it as a phone cover to be proud of so I just kept knitting until it was long enough and wide enough to cut into four coasters.
Now it was time for the ironing process. With my precious knitted plarn sheet sandwiched between a large folded piece of greaseproof paper, I moved a hot iron, on its hottest setting, over the work, for about 30 seconds, then turned the whole package over and repeated on the other side, leaving all well alone for about 15 minutes for it to cool down before peeling off the paper. A flat, tough sheet of plarn was the result, ready for shaping.
I cut the sheet into four squares and drew round…well, a coaster I already have, on each of the four squares to make these beauties. Unique and individual, these coasters are great for outdoor use and easy to keep clean.
Six bags were used to make these coasters, that’s 5 flimsies, (one dark blue, one light blue, three orange) and two halves of two those large charity bags, which give the speckled effect.
And so for my next project – a pair of earrings. I have a pink plastic carrier bag that was destined to be a bin liner. I rescued a red bag that was being wasted as a drawer liner and, while I know this isn’t the idea of recycling, I bought a roll of rubble bags which are the perfect blue. Now I just need to let my index fingers recover…