An e-zine for happenings of local culture in Milwaukee and elsewhere

People’s Books Co-op, DIY baggie style

A corridor of books leads to a small card table covered in plastic shopping bags. Two young women dressed for cold weather, kept company by an overflow of shopping bags sitting on the floor, busy their hands manipulating scissors to trim excess plastic into likable shapes. One of the two, Flannery Steffens, temporarily transplanted from New York, got this crazy idea to organize an activity not involving beer suds on a Saturday night at People’s Books Co-op.

Sparked by the recollection of a batiking project and the sight of numerous plastic bags hanging around, Steffens went looking for a clothes iron. Her theory would prove correct that, with a precise amount of heat, layers of bags fuse together to form a fairly durable and pliable fabric. Melting plastic bags allows desecration of corporate labels, no matter the weight and texture of the bag. The brand image is not completely destroyed however, it blends with the other colors and images printed on the other bag layers in a “new and improved” motif. A tad of alchemy helps the process along too. Id est, when in doubt experiment.


Steffens, now guided by her ambition as a playwright, admits to pursuing painting at one-point. Less about art and more about reuse, a night of creating also serves as a conduit to interacting with crafty people. People’s Books Co-op has a coziness that Steffens intends on sharing at other “Do-it-Together” functions.

Books do not always draw enthusiasm, but making things should. Just ask Elis, the Honduran who also stopped by the event. He plans to share this technique with his family that remained there, when he left 17 years ago. The discovery of an everyday use for fused bag material would deem Steffens an inventor of modern-day fire, in the world according to local lore.

In March, the next “Do-it-Together” session will take on old magazines, newspapers and what-have-yous, in a bout of collage making at People’s Books Co-op on East Locust Street.

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