With scissors, measuring tape and crochet hooks, a group of crafters met at the Superior Village Hall on Wednesday, June 2. Their goal? To turn hundreds of discarded plastic bags into sleeping mats for the homeless.
They call themselves the "Superior Bag Ladies."
Leader Linda Lee Barton learned the art of plastic bag transformation in December. In the months since, she’s created 35 sleeping mats.
“It saved my sanity during COVID. I crocheted my little fingers off,” Barton said.
The new skill helped while away hours that in pre-pandemic years would have been spent socializing with friends in Florida. It also gave Barton back the gift of making. A longtime crocheter, she had set her hook aside when she could no longer craft delicate doilies with aging fingers.
“I had just thought my crocheting days were over,” Barton said, but a retired teacher friend in Barnum encouraged her to give the mats a try.
“I’ve been doing them ever since," she said.
The project involves cutting grocery-size plastic bags into circular strips about 2 inches wide, then fastening them together to form “plarn.” The plarn is woven together with a hefty 11.5-millimeter crochet hook, size P. It involves mostly wrist and arm action, and requires a hefty 500-700 bags per mat.
Recruited through Facebook, the crew of 11 gathered June 2 to cut, crochet and chat.
Leslie Holmstrom, of Superior, and Sally Schultz, of South Range, had a head start.
“Linda taught us about two weeks ago. We took material home. We both had kind of a rough first draft, but we’re learning,” said Holmstrom, who recently moved into the same duplex as Barton.
She was prompted to join by Barton. Schultz said she was hooked by the name of the group.
“That’s why I joined it. I thought it sounded interesting — the 'Bag Ladies,'" Schultz said.
The two said the pastime has grown on them.
“When you’re sitting in the evening, it’s nice to have something to do with your hands,” Holmstrom said.
It’s also taught them that not all bags are created equal. Certain stores offer thicker bags, which are often saved to crochet strong carrying straps for the mats.
“We found out which stores to shop at, which stores have the heaviest bags,” Holmstrom said.
Ten garbage bags full of bags sat to one side, donated over the past few weeks at the village hall. The Superior Walmart has also given Barton the go-ahead to collect the bags dropped off at the store for recycling, and return the plastic scraps that can’t be made into plarn.
Barton moved from group to group, offering tips such as crocheting the mats lengthwise, keeping stitches loose enough and showing how to chain together the carrying strap. When finished, each mat is roughly 68 inches long and 3 feet to 42 inches wide.
Some of the bag ladies were worried their emerging mats were too thin, or too ragged. Not everything goes to plan, Barton said.
“It will still be better than the ground,” she said.
For many, it was a chance to find new connections — children who went to school together or friends in common. Smiles were frequent; conversations hummed. The ladies who attended said they plan to return.
“It’s for a good cause; it is fun; and it is a good way to meet people,” Holmstrom said.
The sleeping mats will be donated to the Ruth House and St. Vincent de Paul in Superior, Barton said. They plan to meet at the village hall, 6702 Ogden Ave., at 1 p.m. the first and third Wednesday of each month. Everyone is invited to join.
Donations of plastic bags (grocery store size or larger) are also needed. They can be dropped off at the village hall from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.