Wednesday, 13 April 2016

"Creativity, recycling and a dash of joy"

In 2007 Claire Morsman lived on a houseboat in London. She could see plastic rubbish floating past the boat every day. She decided to start making fabric bags out of recycled material and hand them out to family, friends and strangers to gently persuade people to stop using plastic bags. Nine years later, 200 000 Morsbags have been made in the UK and abroad. It's a simple and very powerful idea! Read my interview with Claire below. 

What does it take to make a Morsbag? 
You need to put aside 15 minutes, take a look at the pattern (or watch the video below), rummage around for some spare material, cut, sew, attach label, admire and smile. You can have a slice of cake while you decide whom to give it to. Making a Morsbag takes very little time but involves creativity, recycling and a dash of joy. That’s why thousands of people have told us they’ve become addicted and just have to keep on making and giving!

  


Morsbags are given for free by volunteer makers to family members, friends and strangers. How can volunteer know whether the Morsbags recipients value the bags? 
There is a kind of ‘random act of kindness’ involved with guerrilla morsbagging. Morsbags are homemade. It means that someone has invested time and love. Recipients often wonder what the catch is. There isn’t one. Once that has been understood, then a Morsbag is usually valued more and people tend to remember to use it for those specific reasons.
Handing out Morsbags to strangers can be daunting but it’s a way to bring communities together. Seeing the smiles on people’s faces and the offers of airing-cupboard-decluttering for fabric donations, means people are getting involved.

One of the 1517 Morsbags made by Claire.
Morsbags are made by volunteers and given away for free.
They can be recognised thanks to their Morsbags label. 

When you decided to make fabric bags to replace plastic bags in 2007 what were you hoping for? 
I thought I could make a simple reusable shopping bag out of material that already existed, rather than buying one as conventional cotton farming is responsible for huge pesticide use and supermarket so-called bags for life also have a big carbon footprint.
Making my first bag took no time at all and was fun to do so I suddenly wondered why everyone wasn’t doing this. I wanted to give everyone the free pattern so my husband made a simple webpage so people could help themselves. I then posted on a few sewing forums and sewed frantically so I could give out the bags to as many people as possible, with the web address on.


Claire Morsman, now 40, started guerrilla morsbagging in 2007.
At the time, she was living on a boat in London. 

"There’s something wonderful in an idea spreading organically and via interesting and unpredictable channels."


How quickly did the idea spread?
The idea spread incredibly quickly considering it was all word of mouth or should I say ‘labels on bags’. BBC Breakfast then contacted us and featured us 6 months after that first Morsbag and suddenly things really took off and a community of Morsbaggers began to grow. The people who joined us were extraordinary and gave their passion, material, ideas, and time and made morsbagging as well-known as it is today. There’s something wonderful in an idea spreading organically and via interesting and unpredictable channels.

In towns where there is a very active pod, has plastic bag pollution (or litter in general) decreased? 
That’s a really interesting question and I’m afraid I don’t know for sure. I’m certain though that local inhabitants in places such as parts of Leicester, Bude, Herefordshire, the Isle of Mann and Cornwall for example, are thinking far more about their plastic bag and packaging consumption. People write to us saying they hadn’t thought about it before but now they see plastic everywhere and are trying to reduce their use as they know the harm it can cause.


Walsall saddlebags pod get together once a month. 
The bags are generally distributed on stalls at local craft fairs. 

Is it more difficult to convince men than women to use Morsbags? 
 Ha! Actually, no! That’s down to 3 things….
1) It’s all about the flavour of Morsbag. We’ve found that a lot of donated material can be chintzy or colourful, which many men don’t seem to like. So, if a man is given a muted manly-Morsbag in greys, blues or a man’s shirt (including their own), they are happier to use them.
2) They like the simplicity and practicality of them. We’ve had plenty of men appreciating the fact that morsbags don’t split and let shopping swirl all over the pavement, as plastic bags are prone to do, and also the more comfortable handles.
3) They often wouldn’t dare not use the bags that their wives or children have made, of course!
It’s true though that we have fewer morsbagging men than women – although we have some fabulously supportive husbands bringing in the tea and cake to pod meetings and ordering labels online.

There is a free bag pattern available on your website but people can also customize their Morsbags. What are the most interesting take on the Morsbags you've seen? 
We loved the wheelchair Morsbag pattern. Many people customize the length of handles to suit their needs. Also, some put in a flat bottom. We loved it when someone made a fold-up Morsbag out of very thin but strong hot air balloon fabric and sewed in a small piece of netting to keep it neatly folded and there was also a bike handles Morsbag. The most innovative would be the solar lights sewn into a Morsbag that a male morsbagger from Cuckoobird pod in Cornwall made. Genius and wacky!

A Morsbag Claire made out an old umbrella.
I'll never bin my old umbrella anymore!


"The bag levy is a good start but is not the complete answer whereas Morsbags is."


Have you ever come across someone you didn't know on the street using a Morsbag? How did that make you feel? 
It’s a ridiculously wonderful feeling because it’s a bit surreal. In the early days I saw a lady carrying what I thought was a Morsbag at a tube station in London. Instead of asking her if it was, I stalked her around the station trying to get a good look. I think my jaw dropped in disbelief when I saw the label. I haven’t seen any truly in the wild since, but know I’d act a bit differently now and say hello if I did. However, I know that when they are spotted by Morsbaggers, it’s a thrilling feeling that makes it all worthwhile.

A plastic bag levy has been introduced in England in October 2015. However, shoppers are only charged for bags in large stores. Does that mean that nowadays pods are more focused on converting small shops customers to Morsbags? 
I think Morsbaggers grab the opportunity to convert anybody, anywhere! The bag levy is a good start but is not the complete answer whereas Morsbags is. So it’s important to tell as many people about it wherever they are.

Claire made this bag out of an old curtain she had on her houseboat.
"Morsbags can preserve memories", she says. 

If you could wipe out one thing from the surface of the earth to protect the environment -  apart from plastic bags - what would that be?
Cleaning products and their packaging. My heart sobs to see the aisles of chemical products that we’re duped into believing that we need and that go straight down the drain, literally. I’m not keen on plastic drink bottles, straws or toothbrushes either. There are many brilliant people on the planet so I’m hoping that these harmful products can be adapted soon, before our oceans and the wildlife within have had enough.


"I’ve had some of them for years and still use the first ever Morsbag. It’s still going strong after 9 years which tells its own story."


How many Morsbags have you made yourself since 2007? 
I have made 1517 Morsbags. My sewing machine is out and ready but I haven’t found time to make any for a while. It’s mostly due to the huge amount of labels orders coming in - a wonderful irony. My next mission is to teach my 10 month old daughter to make them to keep my pod afloat!

Curtains and soft furnishing covers given by Prince Charles and the royal household
to Morsbaggers in 2013. 


How big is your Morsbags collection at home? 
I have a core 12 or so Morsbags in the cupboard, car and pushchair. They rotate whenever I get excited by a new recycled fabric that comes my way but that’s not often as I love to give the interesting ones away. I’ve had some of them for years and still use the first ever Morsbag. It’s still going strong after 9 years which tells its own story.

How does it feel to wake up in a world where almost 200 000 Morsbags are being used? 
Hopeful. But I feel as if we need to times that number by 10,000. I’d better get sewing… Have you made a Morsbag? ;)

To find out more about Morsbags, visit the website. You can also get in touch with Morsbaggers via  Facebook and Twitter. If you are already Morsbagging, let me know about your experience. I am looking forward starting a Morsbagging pod in my neighbourhood in North West London.