By Diane Gilleland
My local Trader Joe’s and New Seasons markets always have paper bags with wonderful graphics on them. I usually hoard a few in hopes of finding a perfect project for them, and now I have! Here, I’ve stitched the best parts together, patchwork-style, and fused them to a felt backing to make a set of very modern-looking place mats. A layer of iron-on vinyl makes them spill-proof.
3-4 printed paper grocery bags
Rotary cutter, ruler, and mat
Sewing machine and thread
1/2 yard iron-on vinyl I’m using matte here.
Wool felt, a 20″x16″ piece
1/2 yard fusible web I’m using Heat’n Bond
Iron and ironing board
Step 1: Cut the bottom panel off each of your grocery bags, and then cut along the back seam to flatten the bags out. Then, use scissors to cut out panels with interesting graphics on them. (You can cut them pretty roughly at this point, just to get the general shapes.)
As you’re cutting, be careful of the creases in your bags. See the photo above? Some creases will be soft enough that you’ll be able to iron them out of the paper. Other creases will be too hard, and will never iron out. Generally, if a crease has created any kind of raised ridge in the paper, it’s too hard to iron out. I recommend avoiding those hard creases as much as you can.
Step 2: Next, begin laying your paper patches out on a large, flat surface, moving them around until you have a configuration you like. The finished place mat will measure 18″x14″, so make sure your patchwork is 2″ to 3″ larger than that on both dimensions. You don’t have to be exact about the size at this point, because we’ll trim the place mat to size later.
Note: Incidentally, we’re using a casual method of patchwork piecing here. If you’re an experienced quilter, you might want to cut these paper pieces into specific shapes to make a more formal patchwork.
Step 3: Tidy up your paper patches by cutting all the edges straight and square. I prefer to use a rotary cutter with a ruler and mat for this step, but you could also use a ruler, a pencil, and scissors.
When you’re done, all pieces should have straight sides and 90° corners.
Step 4: Set your iron to medium-high heat with no steam. Set your sewing machine’s stitch length a little longer than you’d normally use for fabric. I set mine to 3mm. Place 2 paper pieces right sides together. (I don’t recommend pinning them, as that will make holes in the paper.) Sew them together with a 1/4″ seam allowance.
Incidentally, when you sew fabric, it’s customary to backstitch a few stitches at the beginning and end of a seam. I recommend not doing this when you sew on paper — it just creates excess perforation and weakens the paper. (I’m using contrasting thread here for visibility. You’ll probably want to use a matching thread.)
Step 5: Gently press the seam allowance open with your fingers.
Step 6: Then, place the piece on your ironing board, right side up. Place a pressing cloth over the paper and press the seam flat.
Repeat this process to sew the rest of the pieces together.
Step 7: If you need to rip out a seam, don’t worry — it happens to all of us. However, since you’re sewing on paper, the seam will leave a perforation in the paper, as seen here. It’s best to cut this edge off if you can, and sew along a fresh edge. If you try to sew over this perforation again, it can weaken the paper to the point where it tears.
Step 8: Once you’ve sewn all the pieces together and pressed the entire place mat flat, it’s time to fuse on a vinyl covering. Cut a sheet of iron-on vinyl to the same size as the place mat. Peel the backing off the vinyl and place it, sticky side down, over the top of the paper. Match all 4 edges as closely as you can.
Step 9: Place the pressing cloth over the vinyl. Smooth the surface of the cloth out with your hands — this will also smooth out the vinyl beneath it, so you won’t have any bubbles in your finished place mat.
Set your iron according to the iron-on vinyl’s package directions. Move your iron over the pressing cloth, starting at the center and moving outwards in all directions. Keep the iron moving, and be patient — it will take several minutes of pressing before the vinyl is fully fused to the paper.
Be sure to do some extra pressing along all 4 edges of the place mat, and also along each of the seams — these are areas where the vinyl may need a little encouragement to fuse.
When the vinyl is completely fused to the paper, remove the pressing cloth and let the place mat cool completely.
Step 10: Cut a piece of wool felt the same size as the place mat. Then, cut a piece of fusible web that’s about 1/4″ smaller than the felt on all 4 sides. Center the fusible web, paper side up, over the felt. Leave the paper backing in place.
Step 11: Set your iron according to the fusible web’s package directions. Following the package directions, press over the entire surface, keeping the iron moving. It will take several minutes of pressing to fully melt the fusible web and bond it to the felt.
You can carefully pull up one corner of the paper backing to see if the fusible web has fully melted. If it has, you’ll see a uniform shininess on the felt. If it hasn’t, you’ll see dull patches, as in the photo above. If you see dull patches, just replace the paper backing and press some more.
When the fusible web is fully melted, peel away the paper backing and let the felt cool.
Step 12: Place the paper place mat over the felt, vinyl side up, lining up all 4 edges. Place the pressing cloth over the place mat. Press over the entire surface to fuse the felt to the paper. Keep the iron moving and be sure to do some extra pressing along all 4 edges. Be patient — it will take several minutes of pressing to fuse the felt to the paper.
When you’ve pressed over the pressing cloth for a few minutes, remove it, turn the place mat over, and press the felt side. This fusing will stiffen the place mat slightly and help it lay flat.
When you’ve fully fused the paper and felt together, let the place mat lay flat until it cools completely.
Step 13: Using a rotary cutter or a ruler and scissors, cut the finished placemat to 18″x14″, making sure all 4 sides are straight.
Your placemat is finished!
By the way, you can make this project in a smaller size and get some dandy coasters!
About the Author:
Diane Gilleland produces CraftyPod, a blog and bi-weekly podcast about making stuff. Her first book, Kanzashi In Bloom is currently out in bookstores.