Recycled Plastic Lantern

Plastic bags, once the villain of the green movement, have found a new following as reusable materials with a little help from a resourceful hot iron. Fused plastic bags are now making an appearance in all kinds of crafting circles, and people are finding all sorts of cool uses for these new fused materials.

The nice thing about plastic bags is that rarely is there a shortage of this material. One look under my kitchen sink cupboard found my “bag of bags” filled to the brim with plastic bags I never find a use for. A further inspection of my plastic bag collection found I shop at Target waaay too much. So, instead of hiding them under my kitchen sink, we’re going to fuse these babies into a fun plastic material we can then use to make a rockin’ table lamp!

First, we’re going to learn how to fuse the bags. There are dozens of tutorials out there on how to do this, but I’ll run through it so we have it all in one place. One thing I did discover while researching this is that some tutorials say you can use freezer paper to fuse bags. This is how you say.... wrong. It fuses into an icky plastic-y waxy mess. Not that I tried it or anything...

The tools I do recommend you DO use are parchment paper, a scissors, an iron, and of course a large collection of leftover plastic bags.

First, grab a bag and snip off the handles off the top, and the seam at the bottom, so you can flatten the whole thing out into a nice rectangle.

Do this with two more bags, until you have three, and lay them all on top of each other, smoothed out and flattened. Then fold these three layers in half.

Too few layers, and you might end up burning right through your plastic, so we need to bulk it up a bit before we fuse it.

Place your folded layers between two pieces of parchment paper. Quick tip... make sure any sides with ink are facing inwards, as the ink can melt and get all over the place. If there’s a design or pattern you want to preserve, cover it up with a layer of plain white plastic.

Set your iron to its hottest setting, and iron back and forth, not resting the iron in one spot for too long. You can lift up the edge of your parchment paper now and then to see how well it’s fusing together. Careful! It might be hot. When you’ve ironed one side, flip the whole thing over and iron the other side, so everything fuses evenly. Peel your newly fused plastic off the parchment paper, and admire your new recycled crafting material.

In order to make our project, we’ll need four of these pieces, so repeat your fusing process until you have enough. You might find you need to try it out a couple times until you have four you like.

Right... now you have it, what do you do with it? Well, you can make anything you like out of it. But me? I’m going to make a lamp.

To make your lamp, you’ll want about a half dozen thin square dowels, (1/4” inch thick or so), a small wood saw (you can get these in most craft stores), some wood glue, and some binder clips. You might also want to have an X-acto knife, a ruler, and a pencil about.

You will also, of course, need a light source. There are a few different options for your new “green” lamp. My favorite is a common and popular battery operated light bulb called the “stick up” light, which is basically just a light bulb and a base. We’re going to create a cool cover for this light, and create a table lamp that can be used anywhere you like, since it is cordless and electricity free. Use an energy efficient bulb and rechargeable batteries for maximum green effect! Other options are lamp kits that usually come with a bulb and base with a cord, or if you want a “mood” light, try a flameless LED candle! All will work in our new lantern cover.

First, we’re going to build a simple frame for our lamp out of our thin wood pieces. Measure out two pieces of wood 10 inches long, and use your wood saw to cut them to size.

For the other two sides of the frame, I’m spacing mine out about 5 inches wide. How large you make your frame is up to you. Mine will be thin and tall, yours could be short and wide, or a square, or whatever you like, as long as it’s large enough to accommodate your light source.

If you’re following my measurements, these are the four pieces you need to make one piece of your frame – two 10-inch pieces, and two 5-inch pieces.

Grab your wood glue, and glue your four pieces together as shown, to create one side of your frame. On one side, I left a small gap so the little lamp would have some “legs” to stand on, instead of being flush with the surface it’s sitting on. This is especially important if you’re using a light source that has a cord, as this gap will allow the cord to snake out the back.

Repeat this process four times, to make the four sides of your frame.


Finally, to make your finished panels, run a line of glue all around the back of the wood frame, and press it firmly on top of one of your newly fused pieces of plastic. Take care how you frame the pattern, these will make up the sides of your lamp and you want them to look pretty.

To get a good glue seal, place a few heavy things on top of your frame and let it sit until it’s dry. Do this with all four pieces of your lamp frame.

When the glue is dry and your panels are secure, take an X-acto knife and run it along the edge of your frame, trimming away everything but the panel inside the wood.

Not that you haven’t figured it out by now, but repeat this for all four panels. At this point, I’m resigned to the fact that I’ve basically made a Target lamp, and I need to vary my shopping habits a bit. At least it’s coordinated...

You might find after trimming your edges that the middle of the plastic is not as fused as the edges, and you have some layers that are starting to come apart. We can fix that...

Place your frame on the ironing board plastic side up, and place a piece of parchment paper over the edges of the frame. Press around all the edges to re- fuse the plastic and keep all the edges tidy and tightly stuck together.

Now, because we can’t do anything without adding at least a little embroidery, we’ll want to add a fun design to our lamp. In honor of our recycled materials, I chose our new Go Green design. So the issue is... how do you embroider on plastic?

Well, first we need to figure out how to get the design on to our lamp. You cannot see a printed pattern through the plastic, and transfer paper doesn’t work... instead, we’re going to fight plastic with plastic. Cut a small piece of white plastic bag and lay it on top of your chosen design.

Trace your design with a pen or marker, and then tape the plastic with the design onto one of your plastic panels.

Now you’re ready to embroider! Since the plastic is essentially already “hooped”, i.e. it’s attached to a frame, embroidering it is relatively simple. It’s a little bit trickier to see where your needle is going to come up in the design, which may make involved stitches more complicated, but essentially you can embroider it as normal. Make sure you don’t tug or pull too much on your plastic, and rip it loose from the frame.

My design all finished and pretty! Now all we need to do is remove the tracing...

The nice thing about a regular, un-fused plastic bag is that it’s pretty flimsy, and you can carefully tear away the traced plastic from underneath your stitches. This way you remove all markings you would otherwise leave behind tracing the design directly on your material.

Here’s the design with all the extra plastic removed. Ta da! This is a great technique for transferring designs on hard-to-deal-with materials.

Now that all your panels are done, it’s time to assemble your lamp. Run a line of glue on the inside border of one of your lamp panels.

Line up the panel edges perpendicular to each other, along the glue line, and use one of your little clamps to keep the two pieces held together.

Continue gluing the edges, and clamp each side as you glue it, until finally you have an assembled cube. Clean up the excess glue that squeezes out of the cracks, and let the whole thing sit until it’s dry.

Remove the clamps, and if you like, take some sandpaper and lightly sand any gunk left behind from your glue. You now have a totally handmade, DIY lamp cover you make out of a bit of wood and all those extra plastic bags you had lying around!

Place your light cover on top of your bulb of choice, and click it on! The fused plastic makes an awesome semi transparent material, letting light through but hiding the ugly light bulb inside. Plus you can get all sorts of neat patterns from the fused plastic!

Now you’ve got an eco-friendly lamp that’s totally handmade, and if you used a cordless light source, can go anywhere! Turn it on and remind everyone that going green can be a pretty bright idea. Plus, my favorite part of this whole project is that someone inevitably asks, “Hey, where did all the plastic bags go?”

“Oh, I fused them into a lamp.”


Nobody can say you’re not resourceful.

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Suggested designs for this tutorial: 
Go Green_image
Go Green $1.00
2 Available Sizes:
Machine Embroidery: 4.37"w x 4.29"h | 2.83"w x 2.76"h | Hand Embroidery