Reclaiming Traditional Women’s Work as an Act Against Consumption and Plastic Pollution
I am a hoarder – of both experiences and physical objects. Despite my love of capitalist consumption, I have been playing with the idea of zero waste for a while now. Plastic is a real problem, especially one-use plastic bags that cannot be recycled. It is in only in my weakest and most unprepared moments that I accept and use the devil re-incarnate that is the plastic bag.
I knew I needed to do something with the plastic bags I had accumulated on my travels. So I decided to crochet them. Plastic bags cut and tied and turned into a string can then be handled by a crochet hook.
There is a whole lot of plastic in the world. I started by using everyday plastic bags that came with supermarket purchases. As I had been really trying to cut down on my waste – refusing packaged items and bags at shopping centres – I actually soon ran out of plastic bags to recycle. So I asked my friends; I used food and chip packets, washing and cutting them. I also started picking up plastic bags on the street, washing and cutting them as well.
Initially, I was inspired by my artist auntie, Karen Herber, who said she got the idea from a documentary or a photo she saw in some unknown and now un-referenceable place. When Karen was working as an art teacher at a low socioeconomic school, she wanted to do something beautiful and cheap with her students. So she started collecting from friends and family plastic bags that they had kept and hoarded under their sinks.
I am more than a crafter than an artist. I crochet bags and table baskets, while my auntie’s works are beautiful tapestries of up-cycled plastics. My bags are a crocheted cascade of similar but different tones that are then suddenly contrasted by colours that jump. The chaos of the knots, where the strips of plastic bags have been tied together, don’t make the piece messy, but intentionally bring the viewer to understand that the product is up-cycled.
Crocheting is an old craft. For me, it conjures memories of my grandmother. And Julia Gillard knitting. As with a lot of traditional female work, I find the process to be very gender normative, which is so deterring. But it is practical, easy to do and a great time-passer, especially for those travelling. And in the end, that it was it is for me.
I think it is important to understand that these types of traditionally female household activities have been very gendered, and maybe even, in their time, oppressive. However, acknowledging the history of female crafts and reclaiming them can also be empowering. And honestly, crocheting is just super beautiful and fun to do.
So, let’s save the world together! Here is how to make your very own up-cycled crochet plastic bags.
Firstly, you want to gather some plastic bags I would advise you to not accept any more at supermarkets, but check your cupboards and ask your friends. The heavy duty-plastic bags make more robust string and stronger crocheted objects, while your “common” flimsy plastic bags are softer and more flexible.
You can cut the bags into strips and then tie them, or make one continuous string of plastic (here is a video on how to do the continuous strip).
Then, watch any online tutorial on how to crochet. Good luck!