It used to be when I looked at a pile of newspaper bags I saw pooper scoopers.
Now, I see colorful window dressings, pillow covers and table runners.
Northeast Portland resident Catherine Wilson showed me the light – with a floor loom, laundry baskets full of plastic strips and rolls of colorful woven creations that I never would have guessed came from newspaper wrappings.
“This used to be my dining room,” she says as we stand over her loom and piles of plastic strips. “I saw a rug at Pottery Barn and it was so expensive. I thought I could make one instead. When I started I didn’t know anything.”
I delivered my second bag of Wall Street Journal newspaper bags to Wilson today. They were mostly dull gray. Not nearly as much fun as the sapphire bags from The New York Times or the blazing orange Oregonian wrappers.
But if you look closely, even the grayish newspaper bags have a wide range of hues. Wilson slices the seams of each bag to make a long strip of plastic. She ties the strips together and weaves the pinkish gray bags with the whitish and bluish into a variegated pastel rag rug.
The result can be stretched over windows or room dividers, stitched around pillows or draped over tables, and it’s surprisingly lovely.
“I have a twin sister, and she thinks I’m nuts,” said Wilson. “But a lot of people you tell say, ‘Oh, I have bags. You can come get them.’”
Wilson says she started weaving plastic in 2008 for the craft – not for environmental reasons.
But she is hoping that one day people will hire her to weave custom pieces for their living rooms.
“I have to tell people I will not do placemats,” she said. “I want to do something bigger than that. Something that has more effect on a room. Something more beautiful.”
It takes a lot of newspaper bags to make something beautiful. Hundreds, in fact. Wilson used about 200 bags to make a narrow, 6-foot table runner for a friend’s wedding gift. She thought it would only take 150. So she nearly ran out of green bags before she finished.
None of the other plastics she tried weaving work as well as newspaper bags. Wilson says they’re softer than grocery bags and weave a lot faster than shower curtains or window screens.
I’ve seen other stories about people turning plastic bags into something long-lasting and functional. But I think the delicate texture and varied hues of newspaper bags that appeals to me. Of course, I may be biased in that I am one
of the shrinking number of people who still enjoy unwrapping my newspaper every morning and leafing through actual newsprint.
Another six months of stockpiling bags and I’ll be ready to order my first gray-scale window shade. Wilson suggested I ask my neighbors to chip in to speed up the process. Anyone want to donate their newspaper bags for the benefit of my apartment?