Create, Design, and Invent with Plastic

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plastic weavingImagine that you live in a country which has very little in the way of natural resources. You still need basic items for daily living, and having some form of recreation or play is desirable. What will you use to make them? Many people in this situation use whatever they can find, including trash.

While citizens of nations rich in resources think of trash or solid waste as a problem, people living in less developed countries consider it a valuable raw material for creating and inventing.

Including work from all over the world, the show is proof of man's creativity and ability to survive with limited resources. While much of the exhibit consists of useful, everyday objects, many of the pieces are beautiful works of art. Visitors to the show learn that recycling is not just a way to get rid of trash. It's vital to the survival of millions of people in the world.

Reusing and recycling were as common in the United States in the first half of the 20th Century as they are today in other parts of the world. Unfortunately, we have become a throwaway society. But we can change that if we rethink, reduce, reuse, and recycle. This activity challenges YOU to think like a folk artist to make art or to craft an object from solid waste. Recycling materials will help save money, landfill space, and natural resources.

You Will Need:

Materials will vary, depending on what you create. The following are some basic supplies: goose tangram

How to:

Before you start, thoroughly rinse out a gallon size container such as a bleach bottle. Have an adult use the shears or utility knife to cut the bottom and the cone-shaped top from the container. As you can see, you've already created two useful items! The bottom is a shallow pan, and the top makes a great funnel.

Now the challenge is to design something with the remaining cylinder. Again, have an adult cut the shape down one side, so that it results in a flat, rectangular piece. If you work with this scrap as you would any conventional art material, there are many ways to create, design, and invent with it.

Make a Tangram tangram

One thing you can make is a simple toy called a tangram, pictured here. It's possible to create thousands of designs and objects by experimenting and playing with its different shapes. A tangram is made by cutting a square into five triangles, a square, and a rhomboid, as shown here in the diagram.

Click on the image at the left to get a full sized pattern. Print the drawing and transfer it to the plastic. Have an adult cut it out using a utility knife. Experiment with the shapes to see what you can create. Try making animals, people, and objects.


Make a painting on the plastic with acrylics. After the paint is dry, you can scratch a design or drawing into the surface. This method of making art is called s'grafitto. Another way to make a painting is to use craft paints like those available in "squeeze" bottles.


Working on the protective surface, cut the plastic into strips, and use them to weave a basket or the warp portion of a mat. If you wish to color the plastic, leave it overnight in a bucket with water and fabric dye. Weave in other materials such as scraps of yarn, foil or paper, as shown in the example above.

Sculpture Sculpture from plastic strips

Cut the material into a few squares, rectangles, and triangles. Make short cuts here and there on the shapes. Slide one piece into the slots of another, building the sculpture up and out. Gradually assemble the shapes into an abstract sculpture in the round. Add a little color here and there with craft paints, if you wish.


Use a brayer to roll water based printing ink onto the plastic, and then draw a picture or design in the ink with a pencil or sharpened stick. Transfer the image to a piece of paper by laying it on the plastic and smoothing the back of the paper with your hand. Remove the paper, and when the print is dry, add color with pencils or other media.

Tips and Tricks:

Learn more about plastics at the American Plastics Council Web site. Check out the Classroom section for information about the chemistry and characteristics of plastics.

© 1998 Marilyn J. Brackney updated (2018)

Volume 12 No. 4

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