Weave a checkerboard tote bag from plastic waste

You love potato chips, but you’re a zero waste fan. As another empty chip bag yawns in your hand, your conscience asks:

What can you do with empty chip bags?

Make a reusable tote.

To invite the eyes to play, weave a checkerboard pattern, and then break it with a contrasting band of color. That was the plan for this blue and yellow tote bag made from plastic waste chip bags, and a deflated smiley balloon.

blue and white tote made from plastic waste
Blue and white checkered bag woven with waste plastic.
© 2024 Joanne Masterson

The idea for this tote weaving project came from a friend who got a yellow metallic balloon as a gift. When it collapsed into an empty carcass, she passed the balloon along to me.

I’m so glad she did, because foil balloons wreak havoc in the wild. When they tangle with power lines, metal coated plastic balloons have caused explosions and outages, says Edison International (a leader in the electric power industry). In the oceans, they kill marine animals who eat them as if they’re jellyfish. But as flat reeds, the material adds a pop of color when weaving with plastic bags.

Image credit: skhakirov from Donetsk, Ukraine – Sad smile, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

What are foil balloons made of?

Metallic balloons are often called Mylar® balloons. That’s a misnomer, says Hawaiian Electric, because foil balloons use metal-coated plastic sheeting–a combination which isn’t Mylar®.

Mylar® is a trademarked clear film, also known as BoPET (short for biaxially-oriented polyethylene terephthalate). It’s a clear plastic widely used in food packaging, glass and paper products, insulation, science, and other applications.

Metallic balloons contain metallized plastic film which may or may not be Mylar®. But no matter what you call it, the plastic and metal combination in silvery balloons does not biodegrade.

Since foil balloons and chip bags and are so durable, upcycling them reduces waste. All it takes is a way to make them into something more useful.

How do you fuse plastic waste to weave into a tote bag?

Because metallic balloons are so colorful and strong, they’re quite useful in a weaving project.

So, the question is how to fuse the balloon material into reeds to weave with. It’s easy to do with plastic bags like potato chip wrappers, because the low heat from an iron easily fuses pieces together.

But this particular balloon material didn’t seal onto itself when I tried ironing strips together. After experimenting, the balloon strips finally did fuse with plastic wrap from cereal bags. So by cutting the balloon into strips, and laying a clear plastic cereal bag strip underneath, I was able to make heat-sealed reeds for weaving with the heat of an iron.

What’s the packaging material for potato chips?

If you are new to weaving with plastic snack wrappers, let’s be clear about the material we’re using here. We’re not talking about semi-transparent plastic grocery bags. We’re not making plarn.

This tote project uses many-layered packaging that’s the typical container for potato chips, coffee and similar grocery staples.

potato chip bags plastic waste
Potato chip bags become waste plastic, but not if you reuse them!
© 2024 Joanne Masterson

Potato chips and coffee bags contain multiple sheets of different plastics to block moisture, hold air, display colorful designs, and form heat-sealed pouches.

Why can’t chip bags be recycled?

Sometimes chip bags include metals such as aluminum. The combination of layers keeps the snacks fresh, and traps any oils inside. But with so many different materials fused together, it’s too hard to separate them for recycling, so the bags get thrown away.

These single-use plastic food wrappers are a major source of pollution on our planet. So, that’s a good reason to turn plastic bags from potato chips and other snacks into re-usable totes.

Make a checkerboard pattern with plastic chip bags (plastic waste)

To weave a checkerboard pattern, you’ll use plain weave — that’s over one, under one. All the vertical strips are white, and all the horizontal strips are blue, except for two rows of a yellow accent color. By weaving over one and under one, a checkerboard pattern forms.

Blue stripes for this tote come from tortilla chip bags and potato chip bags that sport nearly matching blue hues. A yellow metallic balloon provides the accent color. The white strips come from potato chip bags turned inside out.

To make a tote from potato chip wrappers, follow these 6 steps

How to Make a Tote from Potato Chip Bags

Tote from plastic snack bags and foil balloon
Make a tote from plastic snack bags and foil balloon
© 2024 Joanne Masterson

Step 1 -Gather materials

You will need:

  • A sturdy cardboard box, about 12″ wide by 14″ tall by 4″ deep
  • About 20 regular or party size potato chip bags or snack bags (holding 7 ounces or more), mostly blue on the outside and at least 10 which are white on the inside
  • 1 deflated metallic balloon or 2 snack backs in a contrasting color
  • 1 or 2 empty cereal bags (depending on size)
  • An iron
  • A scrapwood ironing board
  • A 1-inch wide bar made of metal, wood or cardboard, 1/8 inch thick and up to 12 inches long (such as a paint stir stick, aluminum bar strip, or a strip of sturdy cardboard)
  • A 1/4-inch wide metal bar such as a skewer or knitting needle
  • Scissors
  • A pen, scrap paper
  • 24″ of nylon or cotton webbing for the handle

Step 2 – Make plastic reeds for weaving

You’ll prepare:
9 blue reeds (1-inch wide and at least 34 inches long)

12 white reeds (10 measuring 1×36 inches, 2 measuring 1×40 inches)

1 yellow reed (1×34 inches)

1 narrow blue reed (1/4 wide and 34 inches long)

Make the blue reeds

Wash and dry the snack bags to remove oils.

Cut the bags into strips about 1.5 inches wide.

With the blue side out, wrap a strip of plastic bag onto your flat bar in a spiral going up the bar.

Using just enough heat to fuse the plastic but not melt it, press the iron over the wrapped area to laminate the plastic together into a reed. If the iron sticks to the plastic, use a sheet of scrap paper between the iron and the plastic.

Slide the fused part off the end of the stick and continue wrapping and fusing. As you reach the end of one cut strip of plastic chip bag, fuse another onto it to continue wrapping.

Aim for reeds at least 34 inches long. One option is to fuse short reeds together end-to-end to make longer ones.

Continue until you have 9 blue reeds that are at least 34 inches long.

Fold the reeds down the center to make them 1/2-inch wide.

Open the crease.

Cut along the fold line.

Now you have 18 blue reeds half-inch wide and at least 34 inches long.

Make the yellow (or contrast color) reeds

Use the same method for making blue reeds. Cut your contrast-colored material into 1.5 inch strips. With the contrast side out, wrap your 1-inch bar with the material and fuse into a reed.

Make one reed that is about 34 inches long.

Fold the reed down the center to make it 1/2-inch wide.

Cut along the fold line, to make two reeds.

If using a metallic balloon, you may need to layer a 1-inch clear plastic strips under the balloon material in order to fuse your spiral into a reed. Plastic bags from breakfast cereal worked for me.

Make the white reeds

Use the same method as for blue reeds, but keep them full width.

With the white side out, wrap a strip of plastic bag onto your flat bar so that just the white side shows.

Make 10 reeds that are about 36 inches long and 2 reeds about 40 inches long.

Reminder: Do not cut the white reeds in half. Use them full width.

Make the narrow separator reed

Using a skewer or knitting needle, make a blue reed that’s about 1/4 inch wide. Use the same wrapping and ironing method as for the other reeds. Aim to make each reed about 34 inches long. If needed, trim your reed to make it 1/4 inch wide. Iron it flat once it’s off the knitting needle or skewer.

Make loops to fit around the box

You’ll find that plastic reeds slip against each other instead of gripping, like natural grasses or wicker. So, to hold them in place, we’ll use a cardboard box form. The form holds the blue weavers securely so we can weave up and down through them with the white reeds.

To start, take one blue reed and wrap it across the 12-inch side of the box, overlapping the ends.

Mark where the overlap starts: Use the pen to trace a line on the tail of the strip where the leading edge begins. Cut the strip one inch past the mark toward the tail end.

Put the strip on your ironing board, and line the leading end up with the overlap mark. Open the leading edge and put the last inch of the tail end between the layers, matching the leading edge to the overlap mark. Make sure the rest of the strip is free of twists. Iron to fuse into a loop.

Repeat to make the rest of the strips into loops. Leave one blue reed open as a long strip. This will be the rim.

When you’re done making loops, you should have 17 blue loops, one separator loop 1/4 inch high, two loops of a contrasting color, and one blue reed that is still one long flat piece.

Stack the horizontal weavers on the box

Put the loops on the box in this order:

  • 11 blue loops
  • 1 yellow (or contrast) loop
  • 1 separator loop
  • 1 yellow loop
  • 6 blue loops

Set the last blue reed aside for the rim

Step 3 – Weave

Weave with the white weavers up and down the box. Start with the wide side of the box facing you.

Use plain weave: over one and under one. Keep going until you’ve gone through the front and the back side of the box. With the next white reed, pass your weaver under the loop where the first reed went over, and continue until all the white reeds are used up.

Step 4 – Tuck in the free ends of the white reeds

When you’re done weaving, you’ll need to hide the free ends of the white weavers.

Take the free ends of the white reeds, fold them over the top loop, and tuck them into the loops below until you run out of reed.

Specifically, if a reed passed over the last loop, fold the free end to the inside. If the reed passed under the last loop, fold the free end toward the outside. Weave the free ends into the loops below the fold, following the over-under pattern already there.

If any ends of the white reeds are showing, cut them off even with the bottom edge of the blue loops.

Iron the free ends down to secure them. Take care to avoid the top row. Keep the top row un-fused so you can weave the rim.

The top row doesn’t follow the checkerboard pattern. Don’t worry – the rim row will fix that.

Step 5 – Finish the rim

Take the last blue reed. Weave it over and under the loops that formed in the top row when you tucked in the free ends of the white weavers. Use plain weave to blend with the pattern below.

Overlap the ends of the blue reed and fuse them with the iron.

Fuse the entire top row with the iron taking care to keep the heat low enough to laminate the layers, but not to melt or warp the plastic.

Step 6 – Attach the handles

Cut the handle material into equal lengths.

Using a needle and thread, or a sewing machine if available, place the ends of the handles where you want them. Stitch through the layers to hold them in place.

Get a chip bag weaving tutorial by email.

So, you love chips (I do, too), and you want to reduce waste. Now you can put empty chip wrappers to work as a smart reusable tote.

Start weaving today (Free mini course)

Create a unique tote from everyday snack bags, step-by-step

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