Make. Change: A DIY sleeping bag for the homeless

Meet Jo Maxwell, an ordinary citizen who prototyped a sleeping bag made of newspaper and plastic bags that has been distributed to more than 20,000 people.
Posted 3 Nov 14 By Design Indaba Duration: 00:04:34 Design ThinkingProduct Design Interviews / Video Interviews Comments

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This feisty 76-year-old retired guesthouse owner proves that you don't have to be a trained designer or even a traditional creative to come up with ingenious solutions to changing people’s lives. 

In 2004 Jo Maxwell started the Cape Town version of the Red Hat Renegades, an American social club for women over the age of 50. But for Maxwell it was about more than just having fun: "I changed the motto from 'Fun and friendship over 50' to 'Fun and friendship with a purpose'."

This kick-started her active involvement in community work. 

In 2005 while out one night, she stepped out for some fresh air and couldn't help but notice some children wrapped in flimsy blankets asleep in a doorway. This sparked the idea of developing a cheap, waterproof sleeping bag.

Maxwell looked at what resources she had at hand and started experimenting with plastic bags, newspaper and buff tape. She made several prototypes before finalising her design using recycled, heavy-duty plastic bags and ten layers of newspaper. The result was a sleeping bag that is warm and dry and not cumbersome to carry or store away.

The "Good Night and God Bless" sleeping bags, as Maxwell dubbed them, cost approximately R6 to produce and are child's play to make. She has been demonstrating her sleeping bag technique for volunteer groups, schools, corporates and prison inmates and together they have made and distributed more than 20,000 of these nifty bags to people in need.  

The idea has even gone globally with volunteers making the bags in Wales, Scotland and England.

If you want to make a Good Night and God Bless sleeping bag, contact Jo Maxwell to do a free demonstration or follow the simple steps below.

Share your story of making change with us on Facebook or Twitter using #makechange.


How to make a Good Night and God Bless Sleeping bag

You will need:

Two 900mm x 1500mm, 60 micron plastic bags

20 sheets of newspaper

A roll of buff tape

Two elastic bands

Step 1

Sort newspapers into two separate piles (tabloid or broadsheet). Open them up so the middle spread is facing up.  Take 10 sheets and layer them in rows, overlapping each 10 sheets.

Step 2

Cut small “anchor” pieces of buff tape and anchor the layers of newspaper to each other to keep in place. About 40 should do to start the first bag.

Step 3

Lay the plastic bag on a table with the top edge (the open side of the bag) hanging over the side of the table by about 10cm.

Step 4

Start laying the 10 sheets of newspaper over the plastic, overlapping them until you have covered the plastic. IMPORTANT: Leave about 2cm of plastic exposed on the sides but take newspaper down to the sealed bottom edge. Anchor down every corner of the newspaper down the middle, never at the sides, top or bottom.

Step 5

Take roll of tape and attach to paper, plastic and table, making sure all the newspaper is taped.  Do this on the sides and bottom.

Step 6

Carefully flip the bag over and fold over the excess 2cm plastic and tape that was on the table to cover the edge of the newspaper. You are making the inside bag smaller than the second bag, which will slide over when complete.

Step 7

Now cover the second side of the plastic bag with newspapers in exactly the same way, but leaving just the smallest edge of tape visible.

Step 8

Take roll of tape and tape down the three sides.  Lift up carefully and the tape will fold underneath easily.  Or turn the bag over and tape it down.

Step 9

Take your second bag, give it a shake and then slide over the first bag.

Step 10

Turn the closed end of the bag towards yourself and start folding almost all the way to the open end, expelling air as you go. Turn the open end towards yourself.

Step 11

Separate the two bags, make a pleat and tape down both sides. The bag is now done! Use two elastic bags to secure the rolled up bag. 

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