French Knitting - Working With Plastic Bag Yarn

frenchknitting3_1.JPGThis knitting loom is designed on exactly the same principles as the French knitting bobbin in previous articles - it's just bigger, with more pegs.

But I'm going to use a recycled material this time - plastic bag yarn

The Knitting Loom

I cut it out of a piece of reclaimed hardwood with my jigsaw, drilled the peg holes at approximately 2cm intervals and glued in dowels. The central slot is made by drilling a 25mm diameter hole at each end and jigsawing between them to join them up.


frenchknitting3_2.JPGThe knitted work produced by this loom consists of a stretchy, seamless tube about 25 cm across - this can be used to make bags, hats, scarves and other items.

The width of the finished piece is dependent upon the spacing of the pegs, not the thickness of the yarn, so a thick yarn will produce a stiff, tightly-knitted piece and a thin one will yield a light, gauzy result.

frenchknitting3_3.jpgWorking with the loom is exactly the same as for the French knitting bobbin on the previous pages.

But I'm going to use a recycled material this time - plastic bag yarn

Plastic Bag Yarn

frenchknitting3_4.jpgPlastic bag yarn can be made from any reasonably strong bag - the tough, crinkly ones from the supermarket are ideal, but I have also had good results with the softer polythene bags from loaves of sliced bread.

To begin, the bag should be flattened out completely and any pleats should be tucked in as naturally as possible.

frenchknitting3_5.JPGNext, the bag is folded repeatedly across its width to form a narrow strip

frenchknitting3_6.JPGThen sections are cut off as shown with sharp, strong scissors - it's important to hold tight to prevent the folded layers slipping out of line with each other, as this would result in ragged or weak cut sections.

It's a good idea to unravel and test the first cut piece for strength - if it breaks too easily, cut wider strips

frenchknitting3_7.jpgOnce the pieces are all cut, discard the top and bottom parts of the bag, then unravel the cut pieces - each of which should form a continuous loop.

Link them all together into a long chain by passing the end of one loop through another, then back through itself and pulling tight - this knot is called a ring or cow hitch

frenchknitting3_8.JPGThe completed length of yarn can then be wound into a ball, ready for use - it will probably need a rubber band around it to prevent it unwinding

Working With Plastic Bag Yarn

frenchknitting3_9.jpgThe yarn can be used as a direct substitute for wool or string - it can be a bit tricky to get the right tension though - as the plastic tends to stretch a little, then spring back tight, gripping the knitting needles or pegs, but with a little practice, it's easy to master

frenchknitting3_10.JPGSo here's the work in progress - this piece required at least twenty plastic bags so far, but the result is quite a tough, stretchy net.

frenchknitting3_11.JPGIt took more than 25 carrier bags to complete the main knitted section and another few to make the handle - which is just a rope knitted on the smaller French knitting bobbin detailed on previous pages.

Casting off the knitting is a tricky business - on the smaller bobbin, it's just a case of passing the yarn through each of the loops, removing them from the peg and pulling tight like a drawstring - this isn't really possible on the larger one - it's too much gathering, really - and in any case, would not leave the top open.

To cast off and leave an open top, it is necessary to knot the yarn onto each of the loops in turn, then remove them all from the pegs.

frenchknitting3_12.jpgTo assemble the bag, I blanket-stitched the bottom closed with some very strong polyester twine.

Then I reinforced and neatened it by stitching over with a single strand of plastic bag yarn made from one of the tougher bags. (see inset)

Attaching the handle was a similar process - first, I stitched it onto the top of the bag mouth using strong polyester cord, then I rolled the rim over to enclose the rope handle and stitched it down with the strong plastic bag yarn.

The End Result

I'm quite pleased with the finished bag. It's not perfect - using a variety of source materials has resulted in a little unevenness here and there, but all in all, I'd say it's not bad.


What Next?

I already have some interesting plans for the next bit of knitting... certain types of plastic bag shrink, thicken and toughen when carefully heated.

I plan to experiment with this effect to see if it's possible to apply it to a finished knitted bag - if it works, it may be possible to shrink a piece over a former to make a resilient basket, or to shrink it carefully onto a container such as a glass bottle, to provide an impact-resistant permanent cover.

Knitting With Video Tape

When I was working with the plastic bag yarn, it occurred to me that it's not unlike plastic tape, which got me thinking about the idea of using discarded video tape as a source material.

Initial tests with video tape are promising - it's very tricky to get started because the stuff is springy and slick, but it soon starts to behave itself very nicely.

frenchknitting3_14.JPGIt's easier to work with than plastic bag yarn simply because it is absolutely consistent in quality. The knitted work is very light in weight, but really quite tough and I don't think it will take very many tapes to make a bag - maybe in fact just one.

At this stage, it seemed possible to say that The Core wasn't an entirely useless movie, after all.

Further Tests With Video Tape

However, further testing on the larger knitting loom proved difficult and eventually impossible.

I tried to redeem the movie Starship Troopers by knitting up the tape on my loom - I got to about a dozen rows, but it was very tough going - it's almost impossible to control the tension and the knitted work is very tight - making it hard to pull the loops over.

frenchknitting3_15.JPGEventually, the tape snapped and in trying to unpick the work to tie it back in, the whole lot came off the pegs and was just impossible to rescue

because the tape had been stretched a little at every stitch, the work at this point was quite stiff and would probably not have been much use anyway.

I'm certain there must be some way to recycle this material though - maybe some kind of weaving...