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Margaret Hartley's Greenpoint
by Margaret Hartley


A Daily Gazette community blog
Ideas on greener living

Food bags from feed bags

My neighbor has been making garden art, stacking old glass light fixtures, glued together, onto broom handles and planting them in the garden to reflect and refract the light.

“It’s pretty dorky, but I’m having fun,” she said. “I mean, I wouldn’t put it in my house, but in the garden it looks pretty nice.”

We were taking our weekly Insanely Long Walk — seven miles around the lake — and our conversation had turned to various reuse projects we’ve been working on.

My friend likes redoing old furniture — end tables or small chests — by painting them bright colors. She’s been doing mosaics too, on the tops of the tables and on old flower pots, using various broken plates and crockery. She makes fun of her finished projects, but they really are beautiful.

And we both like finding new uses for old stuff.

I told her how I was making reusable shopping bags out of chicken feed bags, which actually look pretty cool because the finished bag has a big picture of a hen on one side.

They are easy to make too. I used my best origami techniques to figure out how to make a flat bottom without sewing a separate panel onto the bag. Working inside out, you sew the bottom closed so that your sack is shaped like a pillow case.

Then turn the bag 90 degrees, opening the bottom into a diamond shape. Then sew straight lines to cut off a triangle at two of the corners. When you turn your bag right-side out, you get a flat bottom.

OK, it’s hard to describe in words, so I’ve included a handy picture.

And if you don’t happen to be inundated with feedbags, you can use the same design with fabric.

It took me a while to figure it out myself. I tried folding paper to get the hang of it. Then I made a miniature test bag, and gave it to my son for a berry picking bag. I made his bag a single handle out of a strip of feed bag, stitched along each edge so that it won’t unravel.

My son was happy with his berry basket but suggested it would have been better if I had hemmed the handle edges.

“It was just a test,” I told him.

“I know, Mom, but really, it would be better . . .” That boy’s an expert on everything.

Back in the way old days, feed and flour came in real cloth bags, and people used the empty bags to make clothing. Once the feed companies figured that out, they switched from using plain muslin bags with company labels on them to patterned cloth. Calico was popular, and shirts and dresses were made of the feed bags.

Our modern feedbags are made of tightly woven plastic, which makes a flat surface that’s easy to clean with a sponge or damp cloth. It’s pretty much the same material as those reusable bags the grocery stores sell.

Handles like the one I made on the berry bag wouldn’t be strong enough for a grocery bag. I can make handles out of strips of fabric, but I’m trying to find webbed ribbon, which I think will be stronger. And easier to work with.

I don’t know how many of these bags my extended family will be needing, but I think everyone’s going to end up with at least one. Because as long as the chickens keep eating, the feed bags keep on coming in.

And that means we keep on trying to figure out new uses for the old bags. Of course we reuse them as bags — to fill with potatoes or corn or wood ash. I’ve used them as tarps, covering drafty spots in the chicken coop. We’ve used them to deliver composted manure to our garden friends. Cut open into flat sheets, they work to cover hot frames (miniature greenhouses) on cold nights.

And now I have a new use for them. I think I’ll make a couple for my walking partner — she can use them to collect glass for her garden art projects. Or maybe I’ll make us matching berry bags in case we wander off into the woods during one of our walks.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

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