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Recycling with a 'rugged' creativity

Old pantyhose, plastic bags get new life as handmade rugs

Old pantyhose, plastic bags get new life as handmade rugs

August 17, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

MIDDLETOWN, Md. - For many people, their idea of recycling plastic grocery bags is probably using them as trash bags. If they reuse old pantyhose, it's to hold moth balls. And they reuse old tube socks as dust rags.

When Gail Rudisill has a bunch of plastic bags, pantyhose with runs, or tube socks with holes, she thinks of making rugs.

"You do this because you want to use stuff up. I'm just a freak of nature when it comes to recycling," says Rudisill, 59, of Middletown.

You would think a rug made of plastic grocery bags would look absolutely horrendous, Rudisill says, but it doesn't. They look like normal area rugs that are tightly woven. In fact, one of her plastic-bag rugs was named grand champion in the open-class weaving competition at the Washington County Ag Expo & Fair in July.

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Jan Wilkins, the judge for the weaving category, says she found the plastic-bag rug Rudisill entered in the open-class competition to be original and timely, worthy of merit.

"It caught my eye, not because it was beautiful, necessarily, but when I looked at it really carefully I saw it was made out of plastic bags," says Wilkins, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va.

"It was attractive, not aesthetically beautiful. It was something you could put down on the floor and people wouldn't say, 'Gee, why are you putting plastic bags down on the floor?" since, Wilkins says, it looks like a rug.

Rudisill, who teaches fiber arts techniques such as weaving at her home, was surprised by her win.

"It's almost embarrassing. There are some excellent, excellent weavers who had beautifully structured items at Ag Expo. I know it won because it's 'green.' Green is so avant-garde right now," she says.

Judy Williamson, superintendent of open-class home arts and agricultural products for the Ag Expo & Fair, says making rugs out of recycled materials has been common for centuries - old clothes were used to make rag rugs; scraps of wool were used to make braided rugs.

Rudisill got the idea to make rugs from plastic bags after she saw a family friend from Spain crocheting doll hats out of plastic grocery bags. Then, during a visit to Montana, she saw some rugs in a restaurant that appeared to be made of plastic bags. So she decided to try it on her own.

For each bag, Rudisill cuts the handles off, cuts down the sides of the bag, opens the bag and lays it flat. She spreads her hands over the rectangular piece of plastic, grabs it in the middle then scrunches it into a long, thin shape. She runs her hands down the bag and stretches it the long way. Then she puts it in the loom through the warp threads.

Now her friends save their plastic bags and pantyhose for her, though Rudisill says pantyhose are hard to come by these days. Fewer women are wearing them.

She uses a loom to weave rugs with plastic bags or old tube socks. She uses a latch hook to make rugs with pantyhose.

The pantyhose rugs are super soft. The pile doesn't look like pantyhose because Rudisill dyes the material with commercial dyes.

Rudisill had made a couple of traditional latch hook rugs, but didn't like the look of the acrylic yarn she used. So she started cutting up pantyhose and using that.

Rudisill makes and sells woven rugs made of many materials, including those made with plastic bags. She and some friends host an annual craft show. A 36-inch-by-22-inch rug, made with about 50 to 60 bags, might cost $20 to $25, though Rudisill says she often donates the money to charity.

This year's show is at Rudisill's house on Quebec School Road in Middletown, Md., on Saturday, Nov. 1, and Sunday, Nov. 2. For more information, call Rudisill at 301-371-4638.

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