I like to figure out how to make things. Some are more rewarding than others. I think it’s great to have found a way to convert plastic bags into something new that’s much better to look at than before. Wiki says that’s “upcycling”. Each of my works is saving more than 300 of those bags from ending up in the landfill. I hope you like them.
The primary technique I use to create them is called locker hooking. It is a method of looping the material through a backing and locking it in place with yarn. As soon as I learned to do locker hooking I began to make my own designs rather than follow a pattern. Traditionally locker hooking is done with torn strips of fabric, but my first project involved plastic shopping bags as suggested in the book I bought to learn how to do it.
My first pieces were worked as rugs, but I soon began creating my own unique designs that don't really deserve to be underfoot, but displayed on the wall for others to admire.
Among the problems I wanted to overcome was the fact that most shopping bags have store branding printed on them. Newspaper sleeves, those long slim bags they come in every day, on the other hand, have very little printing on them. Consequently, I chose to use primarily newspaper sleeves to work my designs, but I often use plastic shopping bags to supplement my color palette. In Topeka, the sleeves are usually red, pink or orange and there are at least five different shades and sizes of them. The Wall Street Journal has been thrown in sleeves of different shades of light blue and often clear. The Lawrence Journal comes in bright blue sleeves; Saturday ads are thrown in lime green sleeves in one neighborhood in St. Louis.
I use latch hook canvas for the base and it generally is sold in 3.5 mesh, meaning 3.5 squares per inch. When working a piece 24” x 36”, I use practically a whole year’s worth of sleeves! I have friends more than happy to save theirs for me. One of my pieces is worked in 5 mesh (5 square per inch)……it had more than 17,000 squares to fill.
The techniques I learned from my book and on-line research led to lumps and knots where the bags were joined together. I experimented and developed a method to overlap the bags so that joins are a lot smoother and I no longer have those ugly knots on my work. It takes considerable time to prepare the canvas because I hem all the edges by hand, then paint it to coordinate with the colors I’m using when I don’t want the white canvas to show through. It takes about six weeks to complete a piece. I spend from two to four hours a day on these when I come home from my day job. It’s best not to work on them any longer than that to avoid repetitive motion injury.
All of my works have been finished with silicone sealer to lock in the stitches and give the piece stability. Originally the sealer was intended to create a non-slip surface on the backing since it was, after all, a rug. I still like to finish up with the sealer, so the piece can be hung on the wall without losing its shape.
I like to embellish using latch hook techniques so there is a bit of fluffy texture that adds interest to the piece. Lately, I’ve been adding some chain stitch embroidery for detail work.
I learned to pass time doing hand work from my mother as a child. From her I learned to embroider and crochet. She also gave me the freedom to sew my own clothes as a teenager. I owned a custom drapery business for 13 years which included interior design and custom framing. Currently, I am the Art and Environment designer for our church.
I have edited and done the design work for self-published books for several of my relatives. I enjoy bead work, cooking and gardening. My sisters and I enjoy getting together yearly to make a quilt in a day that is the door-prize at our family reunion. This was our 20th year!