Last month, some friends and collaborators presented our church with a new set of liturgical vestments: an altar cloth, a chasuble, stoles for all the clergy and more. The twist? They were all knit and crocheted out of plastic shopping bags. (Actually, the altar cloth had some woven cloth for the table top, at the recommendation of our valiant vergers.)
The plastic recycled knitting had started for me three or four years ago, when our then-curate, the Revd Judith Alexis, called me up to exclaim, “I’m in the yarn store, and you’ll never guess what this guy here is knitting with!” Judith was the instigator of Trinity’s knitting ministry, and now she was inspired to see how we could integrate other aspects of our Christian mission – environmental stewardship, responsible consumption, respect for our Creator and creation – into our pastoral ministry of knitting shawls, blankets and garments for those in need of comfort or celebration. “Look it up online,” she urged, “and let us know at our next meeting what we can do.”
Well, for once, I needed no second bidding. I was excited by the possibilities of reusing all of those plastic bags in my kitchen closet which seem to get into the house no matter how hard I try to keep them out. I knit reusable shopping, tote, book bags and purses, branching into designs and logos to keep things fresh when my energy flagged.
When Judith moved on and away, I knit her a priest’s stole out of green newspaper bags.
I’m not sure exactly how the idea to make Earth Day vestments came about. I had made the stole; at a diocese-wide knitting event we had all talked plastic and cut strips and begun the laborious task of learning to knit loosely enough to deal with the inflexibility of certain grocers’ bags; but I suspect it was Cathy who first uttered the words, “altar cloth.” That’s when things really took off. We invited anyone and everyone to contribute strips of knitted plastic which Beth collected and organized Audrey, the seamstress among us, sewed together into a whole table covering for the altar of Trinity Cathedral in the heart of downtown Cleveland.
I knit a stole in February which we gave to the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts-Schori, when she visited our Diocesan Convocation. Others then took that pattern and ran with it, producing a good half-dozen stoles for our own cathedral clergy. Meanwhile, I picked up a throwaway line from the Dean – “You’re making a chasuble, right?” – and set about creating that large, poncho-like garment out of 499(ish) plastic grocery bags.
The whole thing was such fun! And hard work! I had callouses on my fingers and thumbs from the unforgiving plastic, and Audrey’s fingers were sorely pricked, and it was still wonderful.
It was more than fun, though. It brought together women and men from different congregations – people of different faiths, and of no professed faith came together to create an offering to God.
The vestments were presented to Trinity Cathedral as part of that congregation’s acknowledgement of our responsibilities to our Creator and creation, as an act of repentance for our abuse, neglect and sheer carelessness of the gift within which we live, as an act of praise for the variety and inventiveness of creation and the gift of creativity, and as an offering. “All things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee” (1 Ch 29:14)
You can see more photos of the finished product in Trinity Cathedral’s facebook album at http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150233208990692.365841.49984935691
To make your own recycled plastic stole, cut about 30 grocery bags into 1/2 inch strips and link together. Using this as “yarn,” cast on 20 stitches (11 needles work well; adjust to your own preference). Knit in linen stitch (which sits nice and flat) for 50″. Hold stitches on a spare needle or stitch holder. Knit another strip the same way. To join, decrease each strip by one stitch per row, mirroring the shaping, so that you achieve a mitred point. Cast off the last stitch on each strip and sew the strips together.