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A Cornelius summer library program introduces 'plarn' mats, popular in Australia. The mats will be donated to a homeless shelter.

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: EMILY GOODYKOONTZ - Cornelius Library Volunteer Coordinator Emily Antonelli creates plarn, yarn made by looping strips of plastic bags together. The plarn will be crocheted into a sleeping mat for the homeless. Emily Antonelli wants to help the homeless, so she is crocheting plastic bags.

And she wants you to join her.

Antonelli held her first mat-making session Thursday, July 6, at the Cornelius Public Library, where she coordinates circulation and volunteers.

It's one of the library's summer adult programs, which aim to increase community involvement; teach people new, creative skills; and educate them about issues such as food waste and homelessness.

Antonelli's goal is to create at least one portable, thin (about a half-inch) sleeping cushion made from crocheted plastic grocery bags.

"This is a good introduction to see if it's something that people are interested in," said Antonelli. "Can we get them talking about these issues?"

The first step in making the mat is to cut plastic bags into long, circular strips. Once they are linked together into "plarn," or plastic yarn, they can be crocheted into a relatively strong mat. As with regular crocheting, the process takes a while.

In Australia, such mats are commonly used by homeless people. They're easy to clean, don't mold or mildew, and create a barrier between a sleeping person and cold, dirty or damp ground. The plarn mats can even be rolled up and used as a pillow, Antonelli said.NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: EMILY GOODYKOONTZ - Hillsboro resident Paula Green crochets plastic bags into the beginnings of a 'community mat' at the Cornelius Public library. Once completed, this sleeping mat will be donated to a homeless youth service center in Beaverton.

Although only three people showed up Thursday to help make the mat, Antonelli isn't daunted. She's hoping more will come to the second and final session Thursday, Aug. 31, from 5 to 7 p.m. — or stop in on their own any time.

"All members in our community can come and do some portion. They can trim the handles off the bags, do the looping pieces, or crochet."

The partially finished mat — and materials — will remain in the library available for anyone to work on during open hours. Just stop in and ask Antonelli for instructions.

Hillsboro resident Paula Green was one of those who spent time crocheting the bags together into a long winding strand.

When it's completed, the mat will be 3 feet across and 6 feet long and will take about 700 plastic bags — and many hours of crocheting — to create.

Antonelli said she was struck with the idea when searching online for crafts that focus on re-using and recycling, a theme for this summer's adult programs.

As a librarian, she also works closely with the homeless population, who come to use computers or escape the summer heat (the library serves as an official cooling center).

The mat idea melded these two needs together perfectly: she'd re-purpose bags and help the homeless in one fell swoop.

Because the process takes so long, Antonelli decided to aim for only one mat. It will be donated to Home Plate, a homeless youth service center in Beaverton. Home Plate reached out to the library to help extend services to homeless youth in Cornelius.

Antonelli says the mats are best used in warm climates and are perfect for summer. "Even though we're only making one, we are helping someone. We're trying to show the community a way to give to the greater good."

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