Monday, January 9th, 2012
On Tuesdays you can find Wilma Groh, along with a group of family and friends, in the Cali
Comfort Restaurant and Sports Bar in Spring Valley, CA, which is inland from San Diego. They are not there to party, though. They are there to weave sleeping mats for homeless people. But what they are weaving is plastic – used plastic grocery bags to be precise.
When people first see the mats they usually ask some variation of the same question: “That’s plastic?” Yes it is. The plastic bags are cut into loops about one to two inches wide. The loops then are tied together end to end, forming a type of yarn that Groh and her colleagues have named “plarn” for plastic yarn. The plarn is rolled into a ball and woven by hand to make the mats. Weaving, says Groh, is weaving, even if it is done with plastic.
The project got rolling in May of 2010 when Groh’s daughter showed her mother what she had found on line: a youth project weaving plastic.
Groh, who is 89 years old and lives in the Monterrey Trellis Retirement Home close behind the restaurant, had always done weaving, crocheting, sewing and such, and was immediately interested.
Now, however, she does the work primarily by touch. Blind in one eye and having a degenerative condition in the other, she can see only blurry shapes and colors, which has not slowed her down even slightly. The group has woven more than 75 mats, and has expanded into making purses, hats, tote bags, coasters, ornaments, and more.
They sell the woven plastic items at craft shows and other events, with the proceeds going to a branch of San Diego Youth Services that works to get teens off the streets. Production material, meaning used plastic bags, has not been hard to come by, says Groh. They have over 20,000 bags on hand, from a variety of friendly sources.
Group members say what they are doing is very satisfying. Not only are they helping the homeless people, but they also are helping recycle the bags, and that keeps them out
of landfills. It takes about 400 bags to make each mat. If it were laid out in a straight line, the yarn, make that plarn, would go almost ten miles.