How to Make a Sleeping Mat for Homeless Veterans

Two years after articles were published in the February and May 2016 issues of Auxiliary magazine, units across the country continue to live out the mission of Service Not Self by making sleeping mats out of plastic bags for homeless veterans. 

Recently, American Legion Auxiliary Department of Michigan member Jackie Weersing saw the story in that May magazine on how to make a sleeping mat for homeless veterans out of plastic bags. She thought it might be a good project for the Kentwood American Legion Post 208 to take on. The local newspaper picked up the story, helping to further spread the word of what Auxiliary members are doing for our veterans. You can read that story here.

These women helped get the project going at a Michigan unit.

She brought the how-to article to an Auxiliary unit meeting, and since then, several members have been hard at work making the sleeping mats.

These mats were first brought to the attention of ALA National Headquarters from ALA Unit 291 in Newport Harbor, CA. This unit was featured in the February 2016 Auxiliary magazine.

Unit 291’s project, Cucumel’s Compassionate Carpets, helps veterans and the environment.

Each 6-foot-by-2½-foot mat is made from 600 to 700 recycled plastic grocery bags. The mats are lightweight, waterproof, and help keep plastic bags out of oceans and landfills. Each mat takes about 50 hours to make.

The May 2016 Auxiliary magazine featured a follow-up to its Cucumel’s Compassionate Carpets article it published a few months prior. The follow-up article included more details about how to make the mats.

Here are step-by-step directions on how to make a plastic bag sleeping mat:

  • Be a collector – Collect clean plastic bags from the grocery store and other places. The bags should be in good shape and not full of holes.
  • Be a folder – Return the bags in their original shape.
  • Be a cutter – Cut off the bag’s handles, as well as an inch from the bottom of the bag. Then cut the bag into 2½-inch loops.
  • Be a “plarn” maker – Link the loops to form plarn (plastic yarn) and roll them into balls like you would with a ball of yarn.
plarn example
Part of the process of making the mats involves forming plarn (plastic yarn).
  • Crochet or knit the rows:
    1. Crochet the mat into a 6-foot-by-3-foot mat. It is a single crochet with a size P or Q hook.
      1. Make a chain 36 inches long, which is about 66 chains. Make the loops loose with a little space between each one.
      2. Make an extra loop at the end to use as your turning point.
      3. Start at the third loop to make your second row.
      4. Continue until the mat is 6 feet long.
      5. Crochet from front to back so that it does not pucker up.
      6. Crochet two rows of a single crochet to form a tie that is 80 inches long. Connect the tie to the mat so the mat can be rolled up and carried like a sleeping bag.
    2. Knit the mat using size 19 knitting needles. Knit approximately 50 stitches until it reaches about 2½ feet wide. Keep knitting until it reaches 6 feet long. Cast off, and you’re done!

For further questions on how to make the mats, email Cucumel’s Compassionate Carpets at or visit the group’s Facebook page.

An example of a completed sleeping mat using plastic bags.




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