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sociable guerilla bagging

Take a group of vaguely dexterous people, add a pile of disused bedlinen, curtains, and tablecloths, a sewing machine, some scissors, an iron and ironing board, maybe some wine and definitely some tea and cake, give them a few hours and they might end up with a pile of recycled fabric, reusable shopping bags. Then they hit the streets and give away the fruits of their — hopefully fun — labours to unsuspecting shoppers, encouraging them to stop using environmentally unfriendly plastic carrier bags. Groovy, hey?

They're called morsbags.

The pattern, which is gloriously easy to use, and the sociable making and guerrilla distribution concept was developed by a women called Pol Morsman — hence 'morsbag' — in January 2007. She was concerned by the devastating effects of discarded plastic bags on marine wildlife. Approximately 17.5 million plastic carrier bags are given away to UK consumers every year. Most of these aren't reused or recycled and many of them are washed into rivers and canals and flow out to sea. Here, they are eaten by birds, fish, turtles, or whales, who mistake them for jellyfish. The plastic has its wicked way with the animal, which then dies and decomposes around it. The bag remains and floats off to attack another animal. As plastics haven't been around long enough for us to know over what period of time they degrade, we've no clear idea how much damage one bag could do.

No, your organic hemp shopping bag alone cannot save the world, it's true. But reducing the number of plastic bags we get through is a good place to start.

Morsman envisaged that groups of people would gather together in 'pods' to produce and distribute them for free to consumers around supermarkets and shopping centres. As pods become more active, they can compete against each other to make and give away bags. Tell me, at 18 by 20 inches (45 by 50 cm), with double-stitched seams and strong handles, handmade, washable, and free, who wouldn't want one?

Here are the instructions. Once you get the hang of it and if you establish a sort of production line, each bag takes about twenty minutes to make. There's minimal pinning, no tacking, and all the hems are made by folding, ironing, and then swooshing a row of running stitch along them. Easy. And I'm rubbish with a needle and thread. (Which is of course why I was entrusted with the iron and charged with folding and pressing handles.) If you want to get a bit more creative, though, you can make bags with contrasting back and front panels and handles. You never know, you might discover that you're the next Orla Kiely.

It's a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon with friends, but I also spent an afternoon making them with a class of children who have special educational needs. Doubtless you'd think of other ways to bring together people and practise some sociable guerrilla bagging. And believe me, there is a compelling degree of satisfaction gained by ironing Barbie's head to make a handle.

In the bag

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