Yesterday's Old T-Shirt, Today's Cool Reusable Bag

. Participants in the Istanbul bag-making workshop.

Paper bags aren't too commonly used in Turkey, but shopkeepers just love giving out plastic ones -- for a tiny item that you could easily tuck into your purse or a pocket, for a single soda you'll probably just drink on the way home anyway, for a few nectarines that are already in another plastic bag.

I've gotten used to saying "Poşet lazım değil, çantama koyabılırım" ("a bag is not necessary, I can put it in my purse") -- and to the funny looks people usually give me in return. So the old "Paper or Plastic? Neither!" idea seems like it might be a hard sell here. But that's not what the folks at the farmer's market found out.

Last Saturday, Istanbul's first organic market, the Şişli 100% Ecologic Market, celebrated its third anniversary with concerts, dancing, and, of course, plenty of organic eats. But one of the most popular events was a workshop, organized by the local Slow Food Youth Movement and Istanbul Technical University's "Don't Plastic Bag-ize Life!" Group, for sewing your own reusable cloth bag.

Learning To Sew Cloth Bags
"People were so into it, even the guys were sewing their own bags," said Gizem Altın Nance, a local environmentalist and the publicist for the Buğday Foundation, the group that started the farmer's market back in 2006. One of those guys was her husband, Bryan Nance, who said the project was simple, but took a long time since he doesn't really know how to sew.

"Women's T-shirts work well because they are a good size for a bag," said the now-expert Bryan, who explained the easy-as-pie process:

  1. Take an old T-shirt
  2. Sew up the bottom
  3. Cut off the sleeves
  4. Et voilà, a reusable bag with handles

Plenty of participants altered this formula to use the old T-shirts and cloth scraps provided in creative manners, showing how quickly materials that were going to be thrown away could be converted into a useful product.

. Competitors hard at work.

The festival's final scheduled event was a competition for the "nicest cloth bag." Gizem said she was afraid no one would stick around into the afternoon, but as it turned out, the crafters were clamoring to compete. The 20 entries included many variations on the theme, from a bag with a small change pocket sewn into the back to one that would fold up on itself when empty for easier toting around.

The winning bag (shown at top left) was a lovely one adorned with flowers, buttons, and a patterned border. But the real winner, of course, if the idea catches on, will be the city's green spaces and waterways. Seeing them no long cluttered with plastic detritus would be the best birthday present the organic market and its fans could get.

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