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Picture of make a basket out of plastic bags
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No knitting or crochet required, just some sewing and braiding. It's not the quickest project - it'll probably take you a couple days to make one, but the results are well worth it, I think!

And I already made all the assembly mistakes so you don't have to. HURRAH!

Don't have extra plastic bags laying around? You can use t-shirts instead! Check out my instructable on making a basket out of old tshirts. :D
 
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Step 1: What you'll need:

Picture of What you'll need:
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  • sewing needles (sharps OR heavy duty will work best)
  • white thread (I chose polyester for added strength)
  • a thimble (I really recommend coin thimbles)
  • plastic bags of all types - grocery bags are easiest, but you can mix and match.
The thicker, more opaque bags will produce a thicker braid, while thin, more transparent bags will produce thinner ones. Try to get as many colors as you can - my basket is made almost entirely of white bags with very small amounts of color, and I think it would look even nicer with some full color bags mixed in.

I did lose track of how many bags I used to create this basket, but I'm guessing it was no more than 30. :)

SUPER FANCY BAGS TO LENGTH UPDATE: It took me 51 plastic bags to get 60 feet. Not too shabby. I completed my latest rope in less than 8 hours of work, too! The latest rope is picture 2.

Step 2: Cutting your bags into strips.

It is very important to cut these strips pretty wide. For most normal sized bags, it is possible to get three continuous strips about 4 inches wide. I never got out a ruler, but it's very useful to size up the side seam of the bag before you start cutting to determine how many strips you'll be able to cut.


Lay out a plastic bag, and fold in the sides as shown in picture two. Snip off the very top/handles and the very bottom. Then open the bag to its full width.

Turn the bag so a side seam is facing you, and cut up and to the right in a sweeping motion until you get at least four inches in, and then begin cutting in a straight line. When you get near the side seam, slip a hand in the bag and turn it so that the side seam is flat and you can start on the second strip.

Cut up and to the right again, mirroring the first time you did it, and then cut straight until you reach a point where you have one closed strip left. You're going to make another diagonal cut to the right, this time cutting to the very edge of the bag.

So essentially, just keep cutting towards the right and mirroring the original diagonal cut. The pictures will give you a better idea of how to do this. :)

You will need to do this to three bags to start your braid, though I suggest doing this whole process as you were a one person factory line - flatten all the bags you have, cut off the tops and bottoms, and then cut them all into strips, hanging the strips somewhere they won't get too tangled. Then begin your braiding.

Step 3: How to get braidin'

Picture of How to get braidin'
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The strip from each bag will be doubled over, and the two parts will count as one part of the braid. You will have six strands, but each will have a mate.

It is easiest to secure the looped ends of your strips over something small and sturdy, like a nail. I happened to have one sticking out of my desk. (YAY!) I assume you could also tape the ends to a table with decent results.

Once your strips are looped over the nail, make sure they're divided properly into their pairs and get braiding.

It's important to not braid too loose or too tight - too tight will make you lose all the wonderful texture and the braid will become quite small, and if your braid is too loose you'll have problems sewing it into a basket later as the foundation will be pretty floppy.


Step 4: Braiding methods.

Picture of Braiding methods.
There are two ways to do this, and one of them is undoubtedly more efficient. I'll give you both options, though... just in case you like repetition.

  1. Process only three bags at a time, resulting in one 3-4 foot length of braid. You'll fold the strips in half so the ends are even, braid them together, and then trim and sew the ends. You will end up with lots of lengths of braid that you have to sew together... so lots of extra work, and you probably won't be able to feel your fingers after. :) Not to mention it goes slowly with all the extra steps.
  2. Process tons of bags at a time by knotting new strips to the ends of the initial braid - no sewing required except for the very beginning and end of the braid. This does require more patience and a bigger work area, but goes very quick once you get the hang of it.

Step 5: The wrong way to do this.

Picture of The wrong way to do this.
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If you would like to take the hard road, do it this way:
  1. cut three bags into strips.
  2. double those strips in half, and braid as suggested in step 3.
  3. sew both ends of the finished braid closed.
  4. trim off the excess.
  5. sew together multiple braids by folding the ends in (as shown in the last picture) and sewing around the edges.
  6. repeat, repeat, repeat.
  7. curse your needle.
  8. curse your thread.
  9. curse the plastic bag gods.
  10. begin using your teeth to pull the needle through the doubled-over-already-sewn-braid-meeting-lumps.
  11. call your dentist.
  12. take a nap because you're now in Grumpytown and the WHOLE DAY IS RUINED
As you can see nothing good comes of this. Move along to a happier place by checking out the right way to do this!

Step 6: The right way, and the best way.

This will significantly cut down on your sewing time. Not only will you be a happy camper, you will be a sultan of efficiency!
(That's possibly not a real thing.)

  1. fold over three strips, so the ends are slightly off center and don't meet exactly. (you'll see why in a moment.)
  2. loop these over a nail or tape them to a surface and begin the braid.
  3. continue braiding until you near the ends of the strips.
  4. make sure your strips all end at slightly different lengths, trimming if necessary.
  5. now you'll tie on additional strips to each of the six original strands as shown in photos 3-8. if you don't do the previous step, you could wind up with all your knots in one place, which will make for an ugly braid.
  6. make sure not to pull too hard while knotting, or you could rip the bags.
  7. also make sure not to knot too many times - two knots is more than sufficient.
  8. once you have all six strands extended, match them up into their proper pairs and keep braiding, trying to tuck the recently created knots into the braid, untangling your work every once in a while.
Once you get past the first round of bag extensions, you will most likely need to find a new place to braid. As you can see in the first couple pictures, it works best to find somewhere to tie it off so that you can stand and do it comfortably. 

If you sit and try to braid, you'll find yourself being very tangled very quickly.

Once you have 20-30 feet worth of braided plastic bag, you should have enough to start your basket. Sew and trim the ends as shown in step 5.

Step 7: Starting the basket.

Picture of Starting the basket.
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Coil the rope tightly, skinny side up, until you reach a base size you're happy with. Secure this with a pin or another sewing needle. Now, pick the uglier side of the round - it'll be side you sew through to secure it.

You're going sew to four separate lines into the bottom - one vertically, one horizontally, and two diagonals going through the center.

Here's the protocol for each line:
  1. thread your needle with doubled thread, and make sure the knot at the end is quite large - otherwise it could pull through.
  2. anchor the thread at one edge by pushing through the first round, and then going back over and through it again.
  3. push your needle through every other round, pulling/keeping the thread taut as you go.
  4. once you reach the other side, make sure the thread is nice and taut, and that your base is good and flat, and then anchor the thread in the outside round and knot a few times.
Once you've finished all your lines, bend the base a bit to see how stable it is. There will be shifting, but none of the rounds should fall totally out of place. Larger bases might require additional lines... so keep that in mind!


Step 8: Building up!

Get yourself another loooooooooooong length of doubled over thread and knot it several times.

Grab the tail of the braid that you pinned into the base, and bring it up diagonally to form the bottom row of the basket. Push your needle down through the base as shown in the first picture, and then bring it over the braid and back down through the base to secure the bottom row. Do this every 1-2 inches, keeping the thread diagonal and tight and the braids upright and straight, until you're left with 3-4 inches of thread.

Then, anchor the two layers of braids together as shown in pictures 8-11, and knot on the inside of the basket as shown in the last picture.

You'll keep repeating this process until you get close to the end of the braid, or until you reach a size you like.

Step 9: Finishing the basket.

Picture of Finishing the basket.
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Keep doing those diagonal up and over stitches until you come to the end of the braid.

Then, tuck the very end of the braid behind the top row and stitch into place as shown. You can trim or fold over the end of the braid to make it look neater if you like. :)

Step 10: You're done!

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YAY!

At this point I double checked the strength of the bottom, added a few stitches through the outside two rounds for extra stability, and then decided I was finished.

Rachel also discovered that it makes an excellent head covering while I was gone from the office for a little while. :D


Step 11: Additional hints and tips:

Picture of Additional hints and tips:
  • a thimble will probably be your best friend through this project. Pushing the needle through the plastic bags can sometimes get tricky.
  • if you don't have a thimble, try to vary the fingers you use to push/pull the needle through the braids.
  • if you're not excited about the plastic bags, I'm sure braided t-shirts or other fabric would work just as well. I'm thinking about trying that next.
  • make sure that you're always pulling the thread tight when building the basket - it'll keep the braids in the right position and keep them from shifting as you add extra layers.
  • depending on how tight/loose you pull the braids as you sew, you can create curves in your basket.
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mslaynie3 months ago
Here's a quick tip for any time you're sewing something and having a rough time getting your needle into and through whatever you happen to be sewing:

Use a set of pliers to grab the back of your needle and push it into/through your item, and if you have problems pulling your needle through just grab it at the tip and pull it through with the pliers. They're convenient, and will help prevent sore fingertips!
spmckibbon10 months ago

Consider cutting the bags into sheets of plastic (I usually cut the handles off and use them later, then cut the bag down the sides to open it.) then twining them. That is to say, make them into rope/twine. This will make the coils of the basket tighter and more dense than simple braids, and very thin strips of plastic bag can even be twined into string for stitching the coils together.

Also, for a taller or wider basket, you could weave the coils around 6 sticks placed around the circumference of the basket's base.

Very cool use for plastic bags though. I made netting out of mine once I twined them up into string.

Yes, mind the «self destruct» bags! I stored something in such a bag in one of my dresser's drawer once. It was that drawer in wich I store less used items... You got one?... You know, the one at the bottom???... Well... I opened it a couple of weeks later....... The biodegradable bag had made quite a mess! And it got stuck to the item I stored inside. Biodegradable bags are much more environmentally friendly, but beware if you want to make such a project as that basket, particularly given all the work it requires!

Morliane1 year ago
Another way of joining the ends of the plastic strips is with a glue stick. It doesn't even have to be waterproof glue. Just overlap about 6 inches or so and put the glue on the edges, it will hold the strips together till braided then the braiding holds it. I have knitted little bags like this and even washed them and they didn't come apart.
foobear2 years ago
That is the most presentable looking basket out of plastic bags I've ever seen!
Scriptone2 years ago
Thank you for sharing this great idea. It helped me kick-off another way to basket I hadn't thought of. Also I recently came across a faster way to do this rather than sewing. Also a way to make the cordage without braiding!
deedzsta1012 years ago
How big and how much bags does it have to be/be made of to hold a weeks worth of recycling???
ivanclopez3 years ago
How big could you make your basket?
jessyratfink (author)  ivanclopez3 years ago
I would say maybe no bigger around or taller than a foot? The plastic bags aren't super rigid. I think you might wind up with the sides of the basket being a little droopy if it's too big!
yoyorox943 years ago
would it work using a solder iron and melting the bags together as you coil rather than sewing them all together, I would imagine that the finished product wouldn’t be as pretty on the inside, but do you think that it would work as well as the sewing does?
jessyratfink (author)  yoyorox943 years ago
Maybe - but it would be tricky to get them to melt together properly, I think. And I'm not sure what the strength would be after the plastic had melted and then cooled again.

But it's definitely worth a shot if you don't mind the fumes!
I think the soldering iron might be fine for plastic rope, but too hot for plastic(bag) yarn (or Plarn as it's sometimes called) and pose a bit of a potential fire risk. However the heat idea might be better for reducing the number of knots needed. Use a regular clothes iron (with much more controllable heat setting then most home-use soldering irons) to melt two strips of pre-braid plastic together.

(Warning do this OUTSIDE, NASTY FUMES) Sandwich one layer of parchment paper (might try other kinds but parchment can take the heat) one end of plastic, overlap the beginning of the next plastic strip & top with more parchment. Iron where the two sheets of plastic overlap to fuse them into one long piece. As far as the strength issue, the fused plastic should be a bit stronger/less flexible then regular bag, but stronger & more flexible then a knot. It would also be easier to sew through.

Might also check out knitting/crochet sights for hints on dealing with keeping long lengths from getting tangles. Most knitters tend to use "center" pull yarn balls, that are bit less likely to wander off then balls that pull from outside. This could make it simpler to braid longer strands.

( Finally, <3 <3 <3 jessyratfink!!!! Your posts are just incredible! You ROCK, Girl!!!)

miogiardino3 years ago
I have been looking for a way to recycle the plastic mesh bags that lemons,onions, etc, come in. They could be cut into strips and then braided. Also , if any type of braided material is flat enough, it can be zig-zagged together on a regular sewing machine...
Momghoti3 years ago
Great instructable! My grandma made crochet rugs out of breadbags when I was a kid.
Fair warning, though--many of the new grocery bags 'self-destruct' after a short time. I've stored things in them, went to pick them up a month or so later and they crumbled. One of my friends made a beach bag out of them and by the time she finished the bottom was breaking apart! I think the softer plastic bags, like the Target bags or department store bags, will last; the 'crunchy' ones like the Safeway bags are the crumbly ones.
Thanks for the heads up on the bags breaking down. I was thinking of making one to use for collecting eggs. Guess I'll continue my search.
thanks again.
jessyratfink (author)  Momghoti3 years ago
Ah! I had no idea. I haven't seen that happen yet with any of my bags but it's good to know. :)
Dear Jessy, I was trying to contact you through sending a private message but thought that sending a comment will be quicker. Let me introduce myself. My name is Maria Goretaya and I work as a project manager for Macmillan Publishing, Russia. At the moment I am working on a joint project together with the Russian Publishing House "Russkoe Slovo". We are doing an English course for Russian secondary schools (grades 5-9). Every unit in the textbook for grade 5 contains CLIL section. These are short texts and fact files that contain interesting facts and information about English-speaking world. Besides being informative and interesting, these sections are designed to encourage cross-cultural comparison and provide further opportunities for speaking. One of the CLIL sections is devoted to things made from recycled materials. To illustrate the text and familiarise Russian students with different things made from recycled materials I would like to ask your permission to use in our textbook your photo of the basket made out of plastic bags. Please, let me know if you would like me to provide you with any further information about our project. I am looking forward to hearing from you. Kind regards, Maria Goretaya Project manager Macmillan Russia m.goretaya@macmillan.ru
jessyratfink (author)  mariagoretaya3 years ago
Hello! I see the message now, I'll reply. :)
raviolikid3 years ago
Nice work! I do a lot of work crocheting plastic - I might see what I can do with braids. I have braided newspapers and worked with them. too. I never made a basket, though. Maybe if I need a shorter project sometime. Right now I am working with video tape to make a sculpture.

ebarr23 years ago
This is a great post!! Thank you for sharing considering how much damage plastic bags do to our eco system!! http://www.bagitmovie.com/trailer.html ~we all have to make small steps to contribute~ Namaste _/\_
lor51003 years ago
You could make a braided mit for the back porch or front. I use these for pillow stuffing.
Hello!

I absolutely love this idea! I'm a big fan of everything recycled (or upcycled) and this is a wonderful easy way to get rid of all those awful plastic bags! I decided to feature this instructable on my website, if you don't mind. Here's the link:

http://www.lescreateliers.com/Les_Createliers/Idees_Ideas/Entries/2011/11/15_Panier_en_sacs_de_plastiquePlastic_bags_basket.html

Cheers!

Marie-Eve
Thanks so much for linking! :D
julygirl3 years ago
great work jessy...... thanks!!
yoyorox943 years ago
yeah ok thanks, I had seen it done, where they had used ropes and melted them with the solder iron, i might give it a try, see how it turns out :)
wait how many bags did it take to make a small basket like the one shown in the first picture? ANSWER back quickly please
jessyratfink (author)  robomatt19993 years ago
I'd say around 30? I did not keep track the first time I did it.
borealcat3 years ago
sweet! i might try to make hanging plant baskets out of this
Great idea, and excellent work jessyratfink
I was not expecting the funny parts * te he*. After a gloomy day and internet failure this made my day.
DreMMoore3 years ago
The bags from Giant (grocery store) and Home Depot (home improvement store) in my area are two different shades of brown, so I am going to try to make a "natural" color plastic bag basket. Thanks for the inspiration!
sunshiine3 years ago
Classy looking basket Jessy. Thanks for sharing.
iceng3 years ago
Amazing reuse of a throw away by most. Nicely shaped basket.
We reuse ours, for collecting dogie output, on the garden lawn.
Great detail down to the white polyester thread that is somehow
dark in one pic :-)

A
sunshiine iceng3 years ago
We use them to collect that also. Very funny comment.
digsretro3 years ago
Also with the loops of bags, you won't have to double over each bag and worry about keeping the pairs together, each loop is already doubled. The added bonus would be that at the end of each braid you will have three loops that you can then attach another string of loops to without making any knots. Loving this project, BTW!
jessyratfink (author)  digsretro3 years ago
That's a great idea actually - I will probably try it with the next round. Thanks for sharing, I wouldn't have thought of it! :D

And thank you!
The other thing to consider is that you can do that kind of flat braiding with more than three strands. So you could do your entire upper part as one braid. It wouldn't be as easy, but it would be quite a bit stronger.
I did just that, after braiding eight strands of three strands I then flat braided it. I'm going to use these super strands to make a backpack instead of a basket. This DIY as a whole was awesome; thanks for posting.
jbussé3 years ago
from now nobody is going to trow a bag away if I know it :D
this is an awesome idea! 5 stars for this!
Shany1203 years ago
cool idea! :)
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