CNCHnet . . . The Textile Arts Webzine of the Conference of Northern California Handweavers

Modern Alchemy

Alchemists in the middle ages had a quest- to turn base metal into gold.  Sadly for them, their goal was literally impossible.  Other quests have popped up in the intervening centuries.  Turning straw into gold is the stuff of fairy tales and literally impossible, but spinning flax into linen yarn might be close, figuratively that is.  Then there is the quest to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.  Again this is literally impossible, but to take a basic item, in this case plastic newspaper wrappers, and turn it into something beautiful,–perhaps that is one definition of art.

Nancy Duncan is a creative and artistic weaver. In conversations about where she finds her inspiration, Nancy has responded, “Well, sometimes it just means looking at everyday things and  seeing something in them that makes you want to use them in a new way.  The following chronicles her plastic bag odyssey.  JF

In 2003 our newspapers were delivered in colorful plastic wraps with variations of colors around the neighborhood.  This was the beginning of my collection of plastic wraps and ideas for colorful wefts.

To make a weft, I start cutting at the top edge of a bag and cut round and round until the bag is a long strip1/2″ or 1″wide.

Part of the fun in weaving plastic is weaving with colors you might never use together.  Some of the bags have printing and this adds to the design.

cutting the weft

My first hanging , “Home Delivery”, had a fine linen warp and all plastic weft woven in plain weave.  Woven sideways it had no straight ends so I had no trouble with slits where colors met.

The result was what I wanted.  It had a sheen to it but you had to feel it to know it was plastic.  However, this hanging seemed too stiff to hang gracefully.

I liked the concept of using hand spun and hand dyed cotton with the plastic. This time I made warp stripes and ended each color in a stripe  which added to to the design and avoided slits where the colors came together.  This made a sturdy fabric that hung well.

Home Delivery

In my “Planetary Plastic” hanging I used hand spun and dyed silk for warp.  I cut the plastic one half inch strip and used it to make circles the hand spun silk weft.  I liked the 1/2″ plastic strips much better. It made a finer fabric, was easier to work with and was still shiny so it contrasted with the rest of the hanging.

Nancy's second piece

It is important to use very soft plastic.  Newspaper wraps are just right. Other bags tend to be stiff.  I leave the plastic tails hanging on the under side of the piece and since I weave wall hangings, it works for me.

I tried more texture and contrast with my next weavings.  I tried a double weave using a dyed textured cotton with thin linen to form square boxes.  I then folded pieces of plastic and inserted them in the boxes as I wove.  It is still important to use very soft plastic so that the weaving hangs well.

In this hanging I filled more boxes with plastic in the background color and liked the effect.  I’m still working on contrasts.

Planetary Plastic

Double weave boxes filled with folded plastic