Ironed Plastic Bag Creations for Kids

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About: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (or STEAM) programs at Boston Children’s Museum foster children’s curiosity, creativity, and learning as they try things out and explore the world around them.

At Boston Children’s Museum, we use this activity to support kids in practicing skills such as thinking creatively, persistence, and envisioning a final product. It is a great introduction to an important tool-- the iron! This activity also encourages the use of materials that might otherwise be thrown away.

Overview: In this activity, kids will use the heat from irons to melt a recycled material (plastic bags). They will design and create their own 3-dimensional project.

Skills Focus:

  • Tool use
  • Creative expression
  • Persistence
  • Envisioning
  • Spatial thinking
  • 2D and 3D design

Recommended ages: Best for ages 6 and up

Estimated project time: 20-40 minutes, depending on the complexity of the creation

Step 1: Materials

For this project, you need a basic set of materials. From there you can add on whatever other supplies you might want (see below for more ideas).

Basic materials:

  • Iron
  • Ironing board or blanket
  • Plastic bags. We recommend grocery bags, bread bags, and newspaper bags. Bags with thicker plastic (like department store bags) will not always melt.
  • Parchment paper
  • Scissors

Sample additional materials:

  • Yarn or string
  • Hole punch (single or three hole punch)
  • Stickers
  • Permanent markers
  • Brass fasteners
  • Velcro
  • Sewing machine

Step 2: Iron Safety

Before you bust out the iron, here are some tips for encouraging safe iron use:

- Irons get hot-- that's the whole point. Explain to kids which part is the hot part and which parts are safe to touch.

- Irons should never be directly placed on the plastic, it will melt and make a huge mess. Make sure to cover all plastic with parchment paper before applying the iron.

- Move the iron in slow and steady motions. Don't let it sit in one place for too long.

- After you're done, you'll need to let your piece cool before touching it. The melted plastic gets hot!

Step 3: Choose Your Plastic Bags

Choose three plastic bags. We love using colorful bags! Lay the bags flat on top of one another on your ironing blanket. Smooth the bags down to remove air bubbles. Remember that you will only see the color and designs of the bags that are on the top and the bottom!

Step 4: Melt the Plastic

Cover your plastic bags with parchment paper. Parchment paper must ALWAYS be between the iron and the plastic!

Then, plug in the iron. Set it to a mid-range heat setting (we use the one for 'cotton blend'). Once the iron has warmed up, gently move it across the parchment paper. Keep the iron moving until the plastic has melted. This should only take a few minutes. If it's taking more than 6-7 minutes, check the temperature of your iron or the consistency of your plastic bags. Thicker plastics will not melt under iron heat.

Step 5: Examine What You've Made

Your plastic bags will look a little different now that they're melted! How have they changed? If you think they could use more melting, repeat the previous step. Once the plastic has cooled, you may proceed.

Step 6: Envision Your Creation

Think about what you're making. Is it a purse? Is it a crown? Is it a book? These different creations will require unique processes to complete. What materials or techniques can you use to produce them? Make a sketch of your design and a list of materials.

Step 7: Resizing

For this Instructable, we created a pouch. We cut down the size of our melted plastic to be the correct size for a pouch. Different creations will require different shapes and sizes of material. If you're making a mask, you may have to cut eye holes. If you're making a book cover, you may need to cut a rectangle and then three-hole punch some holes for loose-leaf paper. Each creation will be unique!

Step 8: Adding Decoration

There are many ways to add decoration-- stickers, markers, and even scrap pieces of plastic! For this creation, we cut out plastic shapes and ironed them onto the bigger piece of melted plastic.

Step 9: Making Seams

For this pouch, we needed to attach the sides of the bag together so that it would be closed on three sides. We can do this by melting the sides together along the seams. It is VERY important to put parchment paper in between parts of your creation that you do not want to be attached. In this instance, we placed folded up parchment paper on the inside of the pouch and ironed over just the seams on the sides (with parchment paper on top, of course).

In the second picture, you can see what an ironed seam looks like!

Step 10: Share Your Creations!

What did you make? What materials did you use? We want to see! Our visitors have made: crowns, masks, purses, pouches, superhero accessories, necklaces, bracelets, unicorn horns, books, and journals-- just to name a few. Send us an email or leave us a comment so we can see what you're making.

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    3 Discussions

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    WeTeachThemSTEM

    20 days ago

    Awesome project! A great way to explore recycling and design thinking with students. :)

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    Lorddrake

    Question 21 days ago

    A very cool idea. How thick (how many bags) can you make the plastic sheet and still get enough heat to the middle of the seam so that the sides fuse together?

    1 answer
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    BostonChildrensMuseumLorddrake

    Answer 21 days ago

    Hi there! Thank you for the question. Our rule of thumb is 3-4 bags in the initial layering, which would translate to 6-8 layers when folded over into a seam. You also definitely have to increase the amount of time you iron a seam vs a regular plastic sheet. If you experiment and find different results, let us know! I hope this answers your question.