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Fusing Plastic Bags: A Tutorial from Etsy Lab

created at: 03/27/2013

Are your plastic bags all dressed up with nowhere to go? Fear not, Etsy Lab teaches us the latest DIY trend.   

What you'll need

  • Plastic bags (thin, flimsy ones work best)
  • Parchment paper, freezer paper or plain old copier paper
  • Iron (and your favorite ironing surface)

Making It



Flatten out the bag and trim the bottom seam and handles off. This allows the bag to be opened up into a larger rectangle of plastic.



Turn the bag inside-out if it has printing on it. Once the ink heats up, it comes off the bag and makes a huge mess. If the bag has an interesting design that you'd like to preserve, try using a clear plastic bag layered on top of the printed one.

We find that between 6-8 layers of plastic gives the best results. So, you can either fold your bag twice until it is 8 ply thick, or use three or more bags layered on top of one another. Trying to fuse less than 6 layers often results in little holes forming in the finished piece and a generally weaker material.

Sandwich your plastic bags between the parchment paper:



Next, run a hot iron (we set ours to "Rayon", but you will need to experiment a little to see what works for you) and keep the iron moving constantly. Make sure to get the edges, and after about 15 seconds, flip it over and iron the opposite side for a few seconds.



Peel a corner of the paper back to see if the plastic is fused together. It should be fairly smooth and "one sheet" to the touch (watch out, its a little hot). If the layers are not all melted together, iron it some more.





Peel the parchment paper away from the finished plastic sheet. Voila. Now, you can use this stuff to make a million things. We've made re-usable grocery totes, wallets, and floor cushions; I think its an inexpensive way to make waterproof linings for beach bags and makeup clutches.





Here are a few more rad examples of what you can do with this stuff, courtesy of Etsy seller Eclipse.
 





Alright, y'all. Don't forget to open a window when you do this to avoid potentially brain-damaging fumes. Send us pictures of your creations, or add them to the Etsy Labs flickr pool.

Can't get enough? Check out what this woman did with her leftover plastic bags....

created at: 03/27/2013

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Nate on Feb 08, 2013:

No matter what I do, I just cannot seem to do this successfully! I have followed the instructions to the letter (setting to Rayon, keep the iron moving, iron each side evenly for around 15 seconds), but on the first go, the plastic is hot and flattened out, but still very much separated. So I repeat the steps. Still hot and flat, but not fused. I do this several more times, even bumping the heat up one notch...and by the time I actually get the plastic to fuse completely, it's badly shrunken, very wrinkled, and sometimes has holes. Even then, some areas may not even be fused, despite being ironed evenly! I don't know how you people do it.


Mistie on Jan 18, 2012:

Love this idea! I have tons of plastic bags I've been trying to decide something creative to do with.


Nick on Feb 05, 2011:

Don't throw away the cut offs, they can be platted or knitted into rope or string, from there made into bags and even handbags again :)


Kathy Malone on Jul 13, 2009:

Cool Bag Do it yourself Tutorial!


Julie B on May 12, 2009:

Hi just wondering.... i'm able to successfully fuse the pastic together but the part i have trouble with is the sewing... the material is too stiff and it's really hard to turn it right side out once it's sewed together?!?! any suggestions? Thanks


Anonymous on Apr 25, 2009:

The future brain dead unite,think about it,breathing hot plastic fumes....


Atomic Shrimp on Apr 22, 2009:

This is such a cool idea - definitely going to try it - I've been recycling plastic bags by shredding and knitting them (linked), but it takes forever - I like the fast results of this method. 


Sandra @ Pepperberry and Co. on Apr 21, 2009:

Hi there!

I just wanted to let you know that this tutorial has been featured on Pepperberry and Co.'s '9 Crafty Ways to Celebrate Earth Day'.

Happy Earth Day!


Sandra


And Calliope on Nov 12, 2008:

Slightly concerned about this after seeing a comment about toxic fumes from melting on plastic on the Etsy page. What do you think?


haleyer on Jul 23, 2008:

This is so NEAT!   I will try it tomorrow.  I usually stash away the 'cool' plastic bags in my room and I always feel bad using them up to put my lunch in or something...now I have something useful to do with them.


lesley on Jan 03, 2008:

I don't know how I managed to miss this. They look so cool! I also think this would be an excellent project when you need to occupy a bored and unpleasant teenage girl.


wizodd on Dec 08, 2007:

Very interesting. You probably want to stick to one type of plastic, Though most of them (if not all) are theroplastic (can be modified by heating e.g.fused,) different plastics have different melting points (and behaviours when melted!)

Some experimentation is required. By using all bags from a single merchant of course,  you will more than likely be using the same type plastic.

Good ventilation is essential! fumes will be annoying at the very least, highly toxic at the worst. Outside is a GREAT idea. (Of course you are now turning some of the plastic into air pollutions....)

The melt point for average commercial low-density polyethylene is typically 105-115 °C.

You may be able to make thicker materials, but at some point you will run into problems because the pressing time will increase as the number of layers increases. Ideally, you would know the plastic, the melting point, and have a press set up at that temperature--like a dry-cleaners press. 

Plastic bags also make excellent kite making material, in particular there is a Vietnamese crossed stick kite design that is extremely easy to make and possibly the easiest kite to fly. (I'll try and find instruction for it and post them.)

<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org">TYVEK</a> is a spun  flashspun high-density <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyethylene">polyethylene</a>
 fibers. If your bags are polyethelene, most are, it will be a similar, although not as tough material.

<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic_shopping_bag#Composition">Shopping bags are made of</a> 

 

 


jeaner on Nov 10, 2007:

This looks really cool and I can think of fun things to do but BIRD OWNERS DO NOT DO THIS ANYWHERE EXCEPT OUTSIDE AND AWAY FROM ANY WINDOWS! The fumes will kill them. If there are people in the house with ashma then this is definately something that needs to be outside.


optimist on Nov 02, 2007:

As with all these plastic bag crafts, some places - like Ireland - now use biodegradable plastic bags (which in Ireland you have to buy so that there are not too many of them about) and in about 6 months it will be a heap of little fragments. Not sure how this would affect the fusing process, but be aware!


bhartzer on Sep 27, 2007:

This is definitely one of the ultimate recycling ideas...maybe we need to tell those folks in the cities who city councils that have banned plastic bags that they should start making real stuff like this from plastic bags.


eastteak on Sep 27, 2007:

Interesting concept...I wonder if you could fuse the bags together and make something like a tarp or even a drop cloth for painting?


cindyAtStaged4more on Sep 20, 2007:

ahh thanks for this, i always wanted a bag like this ;)


frontier on Sep 19, 2007:

ok, I did this this weekend, and a suggestion: DO IT IN THE BACKYARD. I opened a window, and still coughed for 24 hours. The fumes are silent but deadly. Basically, it seems to me, unless I did it wrong, that it makes tyvek. Very cool. Also, there is a topic on some other craft place where a woman suggests using silk taffeta for the top and bottom layer. Made it very easy to peel off. Just don't breathe.


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