Instructables
No sewing necessary!
You can use an iron to fuse together grocery bags into a thick sheet of plastic.
Then you can use that plastic to make a durable, waterproof, recycled, and stylish messenger bag or purse.

I've seen some great instructables on different variations of the fused plastic-bag, and I thought I'd share the process I've been using.

I'll show you a purse I'm making as a birthday present. To make a messenger bag, you follow the same process but make the dimensions a bit larger.

This is a great bag for the new school year!

You'll need:

- a lot of thin, plastic grocery bags
- a few patterned or colorful bags for decoration
- 1 large trash bag, for the strap

- a clothes iron (my iron recently died, so you'll notice I'm using an old-school iron that normally gets used as a doorstop. But a normal iron is just fine)
- aluminum foil or parchment paper, to keep the iron from sticking to the plastic
- scissors
- pins, or an extra pair of hands
- soldering iron (optional)
- velcro (optional)
- Some free time, patience, and good music

 
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Step 1: Fusing the plastic

Your first step is to create a large, thick sheet of plastic. You'll probably want to start out by making a small practice sheet, so that you can get a feel for the process and the material.

WARNING: If at any time you see smoke or smell any fumes coming from the plastic, Stop. You're doing it very wrong. You only want to heat the plastic enough so that the layers will fuse together, and as far as I know this will not release any fumes. However, as always, you should do this in a place with decent ventilation, just in case.

I like to work on the table or the kitchen counter, with a towel covering the surface. Ironing boards are annoying to use for this because they are so narrow.

Take 2 grocery bags and cut off the handles and the seam at the bottom, so you're left with a nice rectangle. Lay the bags flat on top of each other, and sandwich them between 2 sheets of aluminum foil or parchment paper (used for cooking).

IMPORTANT: Do not touch the iron directly to the plastic. It will melt and burn and smell bad and your iron will be nasty.

You'll have to play around with the heat settings depending on how thick your sheet of plastic, but for one bag, start out on a medium or low setting. When you press down the iron, you should hear a quiet crinkling sound as the plastic contracts and fuses. If you get a lacy pattern of melted holes, the iron is too hot.

If you're using parchment paper, which is translucent, it's easy to tell where the plastic has fused and stuck to the paper.

Start out with a light pressure and don't stay in one place for too long. Wait a couple seconds for it to cool before you lift up the foil/paper, so you won't rip the melty plastic. As your sheet of plastic gets thicker, you may need to increase the heat setting on the iron.

Don't leave any air bubbles or unfused spots, or your plastic will be weak! Make sure you keep flipping the plastic over and ironing it on both sides.

Pretty nice, thank you for sharing ;)
foobear1 year ago
Best looking fused plastic bag I've seen yet
Useful for me :)
fruitkid1014 years ago
I used to do this a lot to make things. Try using wax or parchment paper as opposed to foil. It works much better. Also I found out that about eight (give or take) layers of plastic fused together was very strong. I made tons of stuff for people using these methods. IE: ipod cases, bags, and umbrella (once).
If you're supposed to peel the barrier material off, I learned the hard way that wax paper fuses to the bags on both sides, preventing more than one bag from fusing together. How did you get them to stick together?
i made this bag and let me just say it is AHMAYZING! it's a little smaller than yours but it is still very functional. the hardest part for me was trying to fuse the two long flaps. i had to get a friend to help hold it while i put the iron on it. i thank you very much for how helpful this instructable was and plan to use my bag for a long time.
meowzebub4 years ago
Really good pix!  I want to compliment you on your style sense and how well articulated it is in this bag:  The other fused bags look like a pre-school coloring book; this looks very well put together & uber-chic.
A pleasure to view; thanks!
shancre5 years ago
I hate to be critical of your instructable. I once used to make these too, until I found out the black fumes released while you iron the bags is actually carcinogenic. I guess this is really only a problem if you make a lot of bags.
emattrose (author)  shancre5 years ago
When I do this, it doesn't appear to release any fumes. Maybe you were using too much heat?
Not all fumes are visible or smell bad. Just make sure you've got fabulous ventilation, better yet, do it outdoors. Better safe than sorry. I'm no scientist, but polyvinyl anything heated up can't be good. They don't even like you using the same oven to bake Polymer Clay that you bake food in, or use the same utensils, I would think that this is just as airborne. Be careful! I've done a lot of urethanes, too, and they say they're non toxic but might cause "sensitivities"...its all pretty scary, seeing it doesn't hit you now, it hits you when you're like in your 50's.
Who are "they"? As far as I have seen, the documentation that comes with polymer clay doesn't include any recommendations on using a seperate oven. What's your source?
sculpey says it right on the box
Yes, well, the company that makes Sculpey actually sells an oven thermometer so you can make sure your home oven is the right temperature for curing sculpted objects, and I shouldn't think they expect all their users to buy an additional oven just to use for their projects (though the companies that make and sell ovens specifically for polymer clay use would probably like you to believe you should). If you check the actual wording on the Sculpey package I think you'll find it says something like "Don't use with food," which means, obviously, don't bake it with food in the oven at the same time. The only related caution on the Sculpey instructions is to ensure adequate ventilation and not to heat the clay in an oven temperature above 275 F.
Robotrix phedre5 years ago
I found the results of a study here: http://www.sculpey.com/Products/PR_ACMI.htm that indicate polymer clays are only toxic when overheated - otherwise they should be perfectly safe to use in a regular food oven.
http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art33912.asp

Then there's this from http://www.seventhgeneration.com/it-harmful-burn-plastic-bags
Do NOT Burn plastic bags! It creates one of the most toxic chemicals known: DIOXIN. PLEASE be careful NOT to take plastic bags from stores. It's easy enough to start a habit of bringing your own organic bag (not one made of polypropelene- which is plastic that looks like cloth!). Plastic NEVER biodegrades - and even if it's made into something else, eventually, it will break apart and be thrown "away" - where is away??

And I know that burnt styrofoam makes cyanide, so its better to err on the side of caution.

When I used to design giftware using Sculpey, the original stuff, we burnt it then painted it. It made it harder.

Its more important to get that 15 minutes per quarter inch of thickness at the specified temp than to overcook it. It has to change its chemical composition, and it will only morph at 275 for 15 at that thickness. More time is necessary for thicker pieces, and if there's any thinner pieces attatched, there you go.

I wonder how many pvc molecules get transferred to the air and oven walls, but none of us will really know, will we. Until its too late. Wait, I can handle the hot stuff with my asbestos gloves! Word. I'd only do the plastic outside. I have a toaster oven for my sculpey. I put it on its own pan, on a polyester foam nest,

Glass Attic, polymer clay central, polymer clay anything, if you google polymer clay safety, there's all kinds of info. That's who "they" is, and I is they as well, now, isn't i?
I think everyone agrees that caution and prevention are noble causes. No one should work carelessly, and you can't have too much ventilation. It's always good to hear different points of view. I worry, though, that your comments might scare people away from using materials that might not actually be dangerous. I'm no scienist either, but I think a statement like "poly-vinyl anything" or vague claims about not knowing what chemicals can do could confuse people.
wow...robotrix and audreyvgs., your are both great in arguments. thanks for all your information.
i've read alot of instructables and howtos on fusing plastic bags and its apparently only carcinogenic if you use high heat to release those fumes. But emattrose probably should make a bigger warning label about it.
did you have trouble combining different weights of plastics? some either won't stick completely, or they get stuck to the foil. grrrrr
emattrose (author)  subterfuging4 years ago
I have had difficulty getting those stiffer plastic shopping bags to fuse completely. The green stripes on my older bag are cut out of a Barnes & Noble shopping bag, and you can see they've started peeling up at the edges. I'd recommend sticking with those little, lightweight grocery bags.
because of this, i love you
TwinFlower5 years ago
Thanks for the instructable I was looking for a way to fuse plastic bags together for different project. Your process should work well for what I want to do. Thanks for the information.
Instead of a soldering iron, how about using a curling iron? Very cheap at the dollar store. And nice instructable! The pattern's very helpful.
emattrose (author)  bookstorebabe5 years ago
hmm... I doubt that a curling iron would be hot enough to work.
sconniebabe5 years ago
so will this wreck a clothes iron? I want to avoid my mother murdering me at all costs....
emattrose (author)  sconniebabe5 years ago
Nope. That's why you put a sheet of aluminum foil between the iron and the plastic.
Dream Maker5 years ago
Thank you for giving such easy to understand directions - I look forward to trying it!
emattrose (author)  Dream Maker5 years ago
Good luck! Don't forget to show us pictures when you're done.
gmjhowe5 years ago
The 'have a nice day' on the inside makes it! Great choice of materials, using bags to add to the pattern.
emattrose (author)  gmjhowe5 years ago
Thanks!
nixFixr5 years ago
A thought on the weak point where the strap connects to the bag; you could try making the strap a bit longer and running the two ends that meet the satchel bag into the layers for the bottom. My thought is to included the strap into the steps when you are making the bag body and fuse it into the middle layers. This way the strap would be part of the bag and the whole item would support the weight of what is being carried.
emattrose (author)  nixFixr5 years ago
That's a good idea, to layer the strap between the two tabs on the side. But unfortunately, I don't think it would solve the issue. The connection between the strap and the side of the bag is very strong, it's the part of the strap just *above* the top of the bag that tends to weaken. If you try to fuse the strap to the top edge of the bag using lots of heat and pressure, you're going to make the strap above that edge a little bit thinner and weaker. That's why I suggest you don't fuse the strap all the way to the edge of the bag.<br/>