The rainbow of supple plastic is transformed by Nancy and about 40 of her neighbors at the Village at Orchard Ridge in Winchester, Va., into “plarn”: plastic yarn. Then it’s crocheted into sleeping mats that charities distribute to people living on the streets or in camps around Winchester.
“I saw a thing on YouTube,” said Ann Smolinski of Alexandria. “I don’t troll YouTube, but it popped up: sleeping bedrolls for the homeless.”
Ann donates the mats she makes to Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church, which works with people living in poverty along the Route 1 corridor in Fairfax County.
To make plarn, a bag is flattened, its bottom seam and top handles cut off and set aside for recycling. Then it’s sliced horizontally into bands that are looped together with others to make a long skein. A big crochet hook and a few simple maneuvers and the plarn is transformed into something about the size of a yoga mat.
The group that Nancy organizes at her retirement community has crocheted about 120 mats since starting the project in September 2018. Donations have gone to the Winchester Rescue Mission, the Winchester Area Temporary Thermal Shelter and the Congregational Community Action Project.
Any scraps and bags that aren’t used go to Trex, the Winchester-based manufacturer of composite deck material.
The charities Nancy works with told her that people who end up on the streets appreciate the insulating qualities of the mats. The mats are easily cleaned and roll up into a compact bundle.
Some of the folks at the Village at Orchard Ridge volunteer because they like the creativity involved, incorporating patterns into their creations. Others do it because they’re really into recycling.
I asked Nancy whether she’s a hardcore crocheter. Is her home full of crocheted blankets, sweaters and tea cozies?
No, she said. “The only thing I crocheted before is a little snowflake Christmas ornament. I’m more of a knitter.”
Oh, by the way: Nancy said she has enough bags.
One tote over the line
Ruth Gnatt is a different kind of bag lady. She took the plastic bags in which her Post is delivered, sorted them by color, made “strips” by ironing four bags of each color together, and then sewed them into . . . another bag.
It’s a tote bag, to be exact. And quite handsome, too. I wasn’t sure how those wispy bags could wind up strong enough to hold the grocery shopping, but Ruth assured me they do.
“After I iron the four bags together, the strips become stiff and strong,” she wrote. “And waterproof!”
Added Ruth: “I hope Greta would be proud!”
That’s Greta Thunberg, the climate change activist.
Eat your heart out, Smithsonian
I wrote about the quirky little homespun museum in 2014, which at the time was housed in a McLean condo.
The museum was founded by the late Lee Forman and her husband, Howard. Lee was a graphic designer who started collecting colorful, limited-edition Bloomingdale’s shopping bags designed by such artists as Roy Lichtenstein. Her collection grew from there, until it numbered more than 9,000 items, mostly shopping bags but also related bagiana, including airsickness bags, vehicle air bags and the sheet music for “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag, and Smile, Smile, Smile.”
You might wonder: What does a bag say about the human condition? Well, I expect that’s the sort of thing researchers will be able to explore at the University of Akron in Ohio. In July, Howard donated the Lee L. Forman Bag Collection to the university’s Institute for Human Science and Culture. The bags will be exhibited on a rotating basis, available for research, and used as part of the university’s undergraduate Museum and Archives Certificate Program.
I really hope the Museum of Bags will get a gift shop. I’d love to see the bags it hands out.
Speaking of gifts, I hope you’ll consider making a donation to The Washington Post Helping Hand, our annual fundraising drive for three great local charities: Bright Beginnings, N Street Village and So Others Might Eat.
We’re three weeks into this year’s campaign. So far, readers have donated $71,536. That’s a great start, but we need to keep the momentum going if we hope to reach our goal of $250,000 by Jan. 3.