How to crochet a plastic bag mat for the homeless: Awesome!

Crochet Patterns, Rugs

This is a craft project that is full of heart and community minded: How to make plastic bag mat for the homeless. Crocheting a mercy mat with plarn is a creativity project with a very specific mission: to care for and comfort the homeless people in our community.

Crochet Plarn Sleeping Bag Design

Craft for Humanity: how to crochet a plastic bag mat for the homeless

These plastic crochet sleeping mats for the homeless are a project by humanitarian and environmentally concerned Dawn Warmbold from Arkansas that has warmed many hearts and bodies already. Dawn’s plastic bag mats for homeless have been in high demand.

Craft for Humanity: Crochet a Plastic Sleeping Mat for the Homeless
Project & image credit: Dawn Warmbold

The sleeping mats are intended for people who are less fortunate, be that the homeless, refugees in camps, or people in the third world. These crochet mats are remarkable comfortable and offer just enough to create a barrier between the ground and the body, to help retain body heat while sleeping. It’s no problem if the mats get wet as they can easily be dried.

The mats are also a cleaner way of sleeping. Bugs don’t like them. And when dirty, they can be easily hosed off, shaken out and be good to go again.

They are portable as well. The crochet plastic makes for a very lightweight mat. With the accompanying strap, these crochet mats can easily be carried over a homeless person’s shoulder.

Not only are they free to make, each mat will keep 500-700 plastic bags out of the landfill. Humanitarian and eco-friendly!: what is not to love? So, let’s make some mats,

How to Crochet a Plastic Bag Mat

This project comes in 2 steps. First you need to make the plarn from plastic bags. Then you need to crochet a sleeping mat with it.

Materials Needed

  • Crochet hook size 10 or above
  • 500-600 recycled plastic grocery bags. (While bags can be recycled in principle, they require a different recycling process that not all waste services provide. So, they can still end up in the trash!)
  • Good Scissors
  • Card stock, marker and a hole puncher if you want to add tags.

Step 1: How to Make Plarn

How to make a sleeping mat for the homeless from plastic yarn or plarn

Start with about 10 plastic bags at a time. Straighten out each bag by pulling at the end and the handles, so that it becomes as nice, smooth and flat as the plastic bag in the picture.  Cut off the plastic bag handles and the bottom of the bag.

Now, for a plastic grocery bag that’s standard in size and in thickness, cut each bag into 4 rings. Loop these rings together, so that you will have one long plastic chain.  This long plastic strip is called ‘plarn’, short for plastic yarn.

Note how the decision to cut each bag into 4 rings is ‘just right’. If you make more rings, you’ll get a longer but thinner plarn, which takes longer to crochet and creates a mat which is not as cushiony.

Crochet Mat Video Tutorial

In this free crochet video, humanitarian and environmentally concerned Dawn Warmbold from Arkansas shares her ideas to help the homeless and  her pattern for making plastic crochet sleeping mats.

Step 2: How to Crochet a Plarn Sleeping Mat for the Homeless

You’ll need a crochet hook size 10 or above. If you get a really large crochet hook, you will find that it’s easier to crochet looser, making the mat more cushiony, and making it more comfortable to crochet with the plastic.

Mat Crochet Pattern

Set-up: ch 42. This is the width of your mat (minus 2 st), and should be approximately 2 1/2 feet-wide.

Row 1: sc into the 40th st, and sc all the way across.  ch 2. Turn over work.  Now, check that your mat is indeed about 2.5 feet wide.

Row 2 and beyond : repeat row 1 until your mat is approximately  6 feet-long mat. inches in length.

Cast off. And that’s how to make a mercy mat.

Crochet Plarn Tips

  • In case you wonder: What is plarn? Plarn is simply short for plastic yarn. It’s not a typo.
  • If you have thicker plastic bags, cut smaller strips, but not too narrow that they’ll break!
  • You can use any kind of plastic bag, even from your dry cleaners.
  • If you want to get started, or just figure out if this project is for you, why not make a small mat for your back door to your garden. Or a mat for by your outdoor shower? (Crochet with plastic is not exactly soft on your hands and this is a rather big project.)
  • Then, when you are ready, contact your local homeless shelter or charity, and start collecting plastic bags.
  • If designs matter to you, then sort plastic bags right away by color, so you can work with them in badges.
Craft for Humanity: Crochet a Plastic Sleeping Mat for the Homeless
Project & image credit: Dawn Warmbold

Questions? Email Dawn Warmbold at

Making Crochet Mats, a community project

Plastic crochet mats - the results of team work!

Image credit: unclear / craftgossip?

How to make a Strap for your Sleeping Mat

It you want to finish this off with a strap, which is very handy, just take it one step further:

Make a 6-foot chain. Then, single crochet down the entire length of the chain. Put the two ends together (no twists!) and join. Fasten off.

Add a Plastic Bag Crochet Flower to Your Mat

how to make plarn for crochet flower
how to make plarn for crochet flower

And if you really want to take this from good to great, embellish your plastic bag mat for homeless with a plastic bag crochet flower or two. Learn how to make plarn crochet flowers

Be Part of the Tidal Wave for Good!

This photo is an inspiration to me. Since Dawn Warmbold started a decade or so ago, many people have followed. This lovely photo is by Fay Stout taken at her local market. She captured the happiness of this lady crocheting her plastic bag mat for homeless. The story goes that she’s part of a community group making the mats. Love it!

Photo credit: Fay Stout

Making plastic bag mats is also a kids crafts!

Comments by Jo-Ann, one of our readers:

Please work with others to create Heaven on Earth. You don’t need a church group in order to start making these sleeping mats, but it helps if you are doing this as a group, even as a family. Kids can straighten the bags and cut the strips. Adult hands are best suited to crochet the mats.

On that, this school took on the project and kids from all ages are involved in mat making — Inspiring video:

So, no need to wait till Earth day to start this. Start today! 

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