Spinning yarn from plastic bags - an interview with Michelle Baggerman

Source: Michelle Baggerman
Always on the look-out for interesting yarn crafts, upcycing projects and people who are using / passing on traditional skills, I  was delighted to come across this project via social media. Michelle Baggerman is based in the Netherlands and one of her projects is 'Precious Waste' -  textiles made entirely from carrier bags which have been spun into yarn and woven. I loved the look of the video I first saw (find it at the bottom of this post) and got in touch with Michelle to find out more.

Source: Michelle Baggerman
Can you tell us how this project started and what was your inspiration?
"The project started as my graduation project from Design Academy Eindhoven. I had recently gone on a trip to Japan and was astounded by how many plastic bags I had consumed in the month I was there. Everything I bought, even something tiny like a pack of gum would be bagged at the counter! (I'm currently in Japan again and I can say this hasn't changed at all.) I thought I was doing much better back home, always trying to bring a reusable bag or basket to the supermarket, but when I really started looking I discovered that the bags that I had stashed away in various places around the house amounted to a much bigger pile than I thought. When I asked other people about it, it turned out they were doing the same thing. This raised a lot of questions for me. Why were we hanging on to these worthless things? What would happen if we disposed of them? What is the life-cycle of a plastic bag anyway? Questions very interesting for a designer, so I thought I'd address them in my graduation project. 

Once I found out more about how terrible it really is to make oil based materials, turn them in to a product with an average use of just 15 minutes and then landfill or incinerate them (or worse, dump them in nature), I started looking into recycling. But that wasn't as good as I thought it was. Of course it is better to recycle than not to recycle, but plastic recycling is done in big plants that consume lots of energy and water, use toxic chemicals to treat the plastic, release filthy emissions and so on. And plastic degrades every time it is recycled. After about three cycles it is useless. So I decided I should focus on extending the life-span of those plastic bags that we already have consumed."

Source: Michelle Baggerman
So how did you end up making textiles? Had you been spinning with fibre already? 
"I never set out to make textiles, but that's where I ended up after lots of material experiments and many failures. I was inspired by people knitting and crocheting their bags (I've been knitting and crocheting myself since I was a child) but I didn't like the way the final products looked. Despite all the hours of loving labor people put in, the products still looked like the cheap waste they were made of. I thought maybe if I went back to the very first step in textile production, I could make something better and that's when I started experimenting with spinning yarns. That was something I'd never done before, so I had to learn a lot about it. I started by making a drop spindle and kind of took it from there. Now I'm happily working on a second hand Lou√ęt. 

Do you have to do much to prepare the plastic before spinning it?
Of course plastic isn't a fibre and it works very differently. It took me a while to get it right, but I figured out some basics for plastic spinning (cut strips 5-15mm depending on the  thickness of the plastic bag, literally don't cut corners because the yarn will break if it's not a straight cut, stretch as you spin...) and then it suddenly became super easy. I do it as I watch tv or listen to a podcast or something. I'm still useless at spinning anything other than plastic though ;)

What’s the future for the ‘Precious Waste’ project?
So yarns lead me to weaving, and weaving led me to Mexico (although it took a few years!). That is where I'm working on the future of this project with Anudando. As the whole process is done by hand, it's super sustainable, but not feasible in a country like the Netherlands, where time is expensive and we're so industrialised that few people still possess the skills of hand-making textiles. Whereas in Mexico spinning, weaving, knitting, crochet and other textile crafts are still proper occupations. They also have a lot of plastic bags. Mexico consumes the largest number of plastic bags per person in the world. The traditional crafts are under great pressure, so this project is a wonderful way to help preserve those, creating opportunities for craftsmen to earn a fair income, and create awareness about waste and set up a grass-roots recycling system at the same time.


There is still a lot of learning, developing and growing to do. Anudando is only a small and young company, and it's not exactly smooth sailing, but we're starting to see the first signs that our efforts are paying off. Hopefully in the future, we can support many craftsmen and put all this plastic waste to good use by making it into beautiful products. I would also love to see how this would work in other countries that still have craft textile production." 

Visit the Bureau Baggerman blog to follow Michelle's journey. You can also read more about the Precious Waste initiative in Mexico here and here.  Dutch readers can find some of the textiles at a recycling exhibition at Museum Boerhaave in Leiden until the end of January 2016. 

7 comments

  1. Replies
    1. It's the sort of thing I can imagine on your blog, Regula! :D

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  2. I love that finished textile - so beautiful. Thanks for introducing me to the project!

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    1. You're welcome. I'm happy to have found it, quite by accident!

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  3. Could you tell me what plastic is best to use in the UK - most of the plastic bags now seem to turn into little pieces or even powder with time - is this because they are recycled already?

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    Replies
    1. Most bags in the UK seem to be biodegradable - I don't know if that's a requirement... but I'm afraid I don't know much about plastic bags myself - it might be worth a bit of research online if you want to give it a go... :)

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  4. I would so love to try spinning plastic into yarn. One question. Now do you attach your next piece of plastic? When spinning wool you just add in and the cuticle of the wool catches and makes the join. Isnt plastic too smooth to do this?

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