Introduction: 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

Step 1: What You'll Need:

  • 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'

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!


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:

  • 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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