Learn how to make a rain coat from fused plastic bags without a sewing machine.
After being caught in a torrential down pour during a recent trip to Venice and seeing the insane prices of a raincoat for our toddler, I recalled seeing an instructable about fusing plastic bags together to make a durable tote bag and was inspired to use fused plastic grocery bags to create a cheap rain coat. I documented the process to share as my first instructable.
You will need limited tools and material to make this jacket. Access to better tools and materials may lead to an easier process with better results. Or not, experiment and let me know.
1. Plastic bags
3. paper, (Letter-sized printer paper works, but parchment or larger craft paper would be better.)
4. clothes iron
5. pen or pencil, (Pens will write on plastic better.)
6. Velcro or a zipper
7. needle and thread
8. sewing machine
9. cloth tape
10. a soldering with a flat tip (This would potentially be much easier device for fusing the cut pieces together than using the clothes iron.)
11. heavy cardboard
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Step 1: The Design
I tend to do things by the seat of my pants altogether too often and this project was no exception. I actually started fusing plastic bags together and piecing together the coat with very little planning or design. I had my daughter's jacket to use as a reference and attempted to copy it for my son.
I've drawn a basic design to use as reference., since you won't have convient access to my daughter's jacket for your efforts.
I like this design because it uses mostly straight lines and has a minimum number of complex curves to be attached. Straight line were important to me because without access to a sewing machine, I intended to fuse the pieces together.
Do the design full-sized on craft or crepe paper if possible, as it's better to work out the details on paper than on your plastic fabric. You can then use the full-sized deisgn as a pattern when you cut the pieces.
Step 2: Fuse the Plastic to Create Plastic "Fabric"
The next step is to fuse the plastic bags together to create your more durable plastic "fabric" to create the rain coat.
I used large bags from Billa and Despar supermarkets in Italy, which are about twice the size of the typical grocery bag in the US. You might have better luck with bags from Target or another department store.
I trimmed the top of the handles and the bottom of the bags off and opened them up to get large tube.
With the yellow bags, I wanted to use the handles as part of the torso that wraps up over the shoulders, so I split the bags in the front to get large flat plastic sheets.
I stacked 3 layers and fused them between a cardboard and paper. I used cheap sketch pad paper, but would prefer parchment or even larger rolled craft paper.
The white bags where for the sleeves and I only had two, so I left them as tubes and carefully fused the two bags together with the logos aligned for a 4-layer fabric.
There a plenty of good instructables on the basic of fusing plastic bags into plastic fabric, I suggest doing a quick search for your favorite if you want more directions on this step.
Step 3: Cut the Pieces
I simply cut out the basic shapes without a pattern. I would not advise this method.
Make and use a pattern, as I had to make many adjustments and compromises along the way. The more complex pieces I sketched directly on the plastic before cutting them out.
If your bags have printed designs or text you can work around or incorporate this into your design.
I carefully split my white fabric down the middle of the Despar logo, which I wanted to appear on each elbow.
I then folded each piece in half length-wise and cut the slight taper and then cut the broad angle at the wide end for the attachment to the torso.
Step 4: Sleeves
Fold the pieces for the sleeves in half lengthwise, lining up the edges of the seam. If you are incorporating part of the fabric details in your design, be sure to keep the design to the inside of the fold.
To ensure I only fused the seam allowance, I created a simple paper guide.
I folded a piece of paper length-wise about 1 inch from the edge, leaving the folded edge sticking straight up.
Set this with the folded edge right on your seam and the rest sticking off the fabric so only your seam allowance is covered by the paper with a lip to keep the hot iron from the rest of the fabric.
Iron along the edge, being sure not to push beyond the folded edge.
You should end up with a nice tapered tube for each sleeve.
At this point you might want to fuse the seam flat to one side or the other,
..(for reasons why see step 9.)
Open the sleeve, rotate and refold with the seam in the center of the sleeve facing up.
Cut a piece of heavy cardboard to the shape of the sleeve and insert it inside.
..(A heavy cardboard tube might work for this as well.)
Stretch the seam open and fold the allowance to onside and carefully fuse it to the sleeve.
Invert each sleeve, so it is right-side out.
Step 5: Torso Tweaks
Fold the piece of plastic for the torso in 3 with the two folds at the sides where the sleeves will attach.
If you didn't make a design and pattern, use the sleeves as guides to adjust the angel of the cut on the torso piece.
I wanted to use all of the available plastic fabric to the best effect since I had a limited supply to work with on the project. I filled some of the small triangular gaps in the fabric of the torso piece with scraps and fused them together. This works best with only one or two layers at a time, fusing two triple-layered pieces together at once was more difficult and challenging.
Step 6: Fuse Sleeves to Torso
This step will combine the sleeves and torso pieces to form the jacket.
Fold the torso inside out with the sleeve hole at the fold.
Put the sleeve inside the torso and line up the seams. The outside of the fabric for torso and the sleeves should be facing each other at this point.
Carefully pull the front out of the way and again using our simple paper guide carefully fuse the back sleeve edge to the torso.
Flip the entire jacket and fuse the font sleeve edge to the torso, carefully maintaining the seam allowance and not disturbing the back edge, which is carefully pulled out of the way.
Repeat with the opposite sleeve.
Open the jacked up and fold the seam pointing into the sleeve and carefully fuse the seam to the sleeve. You can cut a thin single or double layer strip and apply it over the seam before fusing as it can be difficult to get the 7 layers of the seam to fuse with the 4 layers of the sleeve. This will cover the rough and potentially sharp edge that may result.
Step 7: Make the Hood
I didn't document the hood well, but I have some photos and illustrations to help with this step.
Lay one side of the hood outside up on the cardboard surface.
Starting at the neckline, lay the vertical band along the back edge and fuse using the guide. As you approach the curve hold the band perpendicular to the surface and carefully iron around the edge curving the band to match the edge.
Place the second hood side outside up on the surface and repeat.
Open the hood a and place the vertical band flat on the work surface with the seams pointing up. folde the seams pointing to the band side and carefully fuse. This gives the hood a good shape and hides the edges that can be irritating on your neck and face.
Step 8: Attach the Hood
Next you will attach the hood to the jacket.
You may need to tweak the collar line on the jacket and make sure that it is a nice matching curve that flows from the gently curve at the back through the sleeve to the front. When you put the jacket on, the neck hole should be a nice round hole with a v-neck front.
Open the jacket and place it inside down with the collar stretched as straight as possible.
Place the hood inside up atop the jacket and align the edges. Since this is a conceve curve it can be a bit more difficult. To make it easier I fused a small section at the back of the neck and then a small tab every inch and half to attach the hood and be sure it was all aligned properly. After the hood was attached, I then ran the continuous seam along the entire edge.
Step 9: Cleaning Up Seams
This might seem out of order, but I wish I had done each seam as I assembled the jacket.
In the photo below, you can see how the seam where the hood attaches to the jacket looks very sharp. It is, my son actually screamed when I tried the coat on him at this point because it was stabbing him.
To deal with this, cut releases almost to the edge of the fused seam.
Fold the seam allowance up into the hood and carefully fuse it in place. (I actually folded it down and realized it would have been much easier going up with less releases required.)
Step 10: Closures
I originally planned to make some bulky knots and loops to slip them through to keep the jacket closed, but I happened to see some notions in line at the super market and got a needle, thread and some Velcro.
Cut two strips of plastic fabric approximately 3 inches wide and as long as your jacket.
Place on strip of fabric on the outside of the jacket and align the edge with the edge of the jacket opening.
Fuse with the normal seam allowance.
Open the seam and lay the jacket outside down with the seam allowance pointing up.
Fold this to the strip side and fuse in place. This results in a nice straight seam going right down the front of the jacket.
Flip the jacket over and make a few reference marks 1.25 inches from the seam down the entire strip.
Fold on the strip on the reference marks with the seam to the inside, but do not fuse this fold.
Repeat on the opposite side.
Cut your Velcro into 1 or 2 inch strips.
Place the hook side Velcro every 3 inches or so along the front side of the strip on the right side and attach using needle and thread only going through the first layer of fabric.
Place the loop side Velcro aligned with the hooks tabs along the back side of the strip on the left side and attach using needle and thread only going through the first layer of fabric.
After all velcro tabs have been attached, lay the jacket outside down.
Ensure your folded edges are all still straight and fuse the edge of the strip carefully to the inside of the jacket fabric. If possible fuse between the Velcro tabs.
Note, the whole process could have been greatly simplified had I bought Velcro with adhesive backing. All the sewing could have been eliminated.
Step 11: Finishing Up.
Since I didn't fuse all the seams to one side or the other while assembling the jacket, they were pretty rough on the inside.
I used some heavy duty cloth tape I had in my first aid kit to tape all the seams. This made the jacket less likely to cause screaming when worn.
Duct tape would probably have worked just as well.
Step 12: Design Variant
The pattern of the sleeve attachment at the bottom has turned out to have three problems.
First it's difficult to fuse this area, second it is uncomfortable and third it's not very strong likely because of the first problem.
To address these issues, I opened the bottom arm hole up with a simple gap of 2 to 3 inches and inserted a strip of fabric that taper to a point in the sleeve. The sketch below gives a clearer image.
You could incorporate this change in your initial design and even have the sleeve seam on the top which would allow you to attach the sleeve to the torso before you fuse the sleeve seam closed. This would allow for easier connection of the pieces with a stronger and more consistent weld, since it can lay flat while you fuse.