A year ago, I went to the Wheeling fair and met the ladies of the local extension office. They were crocheting plastic sleeping mats that they donate to the city’s winter warm-up project. The mats, along with warm clothing, hot drinks, and blankets, are distributed to people in the area who are homeless.
I gave the ladies my info, and a few days later, I was invited (by phone!) to a meeting where they would demonstrate the process of crocheting the mats out of plastic bags. Craft Husband dropped me off at a local community center, and when I opened the door, I felt I had stepped into a bygone era. Ladies were sitting at row after row of long, decorated tables with chocolate-wrapped pumpkins sprinkled down the center. They served a snack (sandwiches, chips, coffee, and cake), talked about their previous charity project, and shared happy memories of a club member who had recently passed away. Then they had their craft lesson, and those who could crochet pulled out a hook, and those who couldn’t asked questions and cheered the others on. It was anachronistic and earnest and perfect.
I’ve been working on this mat on-and-off since then, and I have to admit it was difficult for me. I’m not great at making plarn, my hands still aren’t used to crocheting plastic, and my tension has completely changed over the past year (good news guys – I’m loosening up!) I’m glad it’s finished and will soon make someone’s nights a little better, despite the imperfections. Whether you’re sharing a crochet mat, a moment of silence, or a thick piece of sheet cake, someone in your community needs what you’re able to give.
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TIPS FOR MAKING A PLASTIC CROCHET MAT
1. Collect a Lot (a lot, a lot, a lot) of plastic bag – I didn’t believe it myself, but each mat will take hundreds and hundreds of chopped up plastic bags. I think the ones from grocery stores and gas stations were easiest to crochet, and I regret mixing in the thicker bags from clothing and book stores. (One look at those wonky sides and weird color changes, and you’ll realize that’s not the only thing I regret.)
2. Cut the bags carefully – I think 2 inches is the perfect width for the bag loops, but unfortunately, I didn’t realize that until half-way through. You should experiment a little to see what works best for you. Also, enlist a helper, if at all possible, to do the cutting and balling while you crochet away.
3. Give yourself a break – Physically, I found that crocheting plastic (especially those thick bags) did a serious number on my shoulder. Frequent breaks were totally necessary to keep my arm in working order. Please also give yourself a break mentally, especially if this is your first plarn project. There’ll be plenty of time to perfect your technique – your best is perfect for now.
4. Find instructions that work for you – I like these from First Baptist New Orleans: straight forward and easy to replicate. To make the plarn, take your pick from the videos on YouTube – just be sure you pick the 2-ply loop rather than the continuous 1-ply strip. Some organizations do offer classes, so check in your area if you learn best in person or want to meet like-minded crocheters.
5. Give it away – if possible, contact a local organization that distributes items to people who are homeless and ask if they accept sleeping mats. If you are unable to find an organization to donate to nearby, a quick google search will help you find the right recipient. Seriously, there are tons and tons of organizations, so please know that wherever you live, there is someone nearby who would love to have your handmade mat.
Please leave a comment and let me know if you will make a mat and if you have any questions about the process. I’d be happy to help any way I can.
P.S. – did you think I forgot about the giveaway? No, ma’am! The randomly selected winner of our first “Hooking for Good” giveaway is Kelly K. (who happens to be behind the awesome shop “Our Secret Treehouse“) Congratulations! Just email hijennybrown[at]gmail.com to claim your prize. If you didn’t win, you can always make your own, or check Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram Tuesday to win the next prize. It’s a pretty cool one…