Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The beginning

Hello Community!

My name is Ruby Sprengle. I'm a Product Design student at the University of Oregon. Yesterday morning, as I was listening to NPR on my walk to campus, I heard a piece about the rapidly approaching rainy season in Haiti and the problems it has already begun to cause with the country's rebuilding efforts. The Red Cross sees this deluge of precipitation causing some serious problems in the future. Displacement and lack of shelter are two looming problems that have yet to be addressed. The people of Haiti are confused as to why the Red Cross hasn't supplied them with adequate shelter. The answer was simple: They don't have enough tarps.

They don't have enough TARPS?! I couldn't believe what I was hearing. People were sleeping under cardboard boxes (which are anything but waterproof, I might add) because there wasn't enough plastic for them to sleep under. How interesting...

...As I took this information in, a project that my friend Greg Peterson and I did this summer popped into my head. It is a portable shelter for the homeless people of Portland called the Utility Quilt. I thought, "Wait a minute...homeless people in Portland...homeless people in Haiti...why can't the Utility Quilt work in Haiti?"

The Utility Quilt is made entirely out of recycled plastic bags using an extremely high tech and uniquely named process caused "Plastic Bag Fusing" which involves layers of plastic bags, just like the ones you get at the grocery store, a piece of tracing paper, and an iron. It was designed to be a lightweight, portable, waterproof shelter that can be used in a variety of situations and locations, depending on the user's needs. They can be used as a singular unit or linked together with other Quilts to form a larger protected area.
Here are a few images of how it turned out:

Installed on the Portland Waterfront:

The Utility Quilt as a tent:

The Utility Quilt is even strong enough to be a hammock:

Level one of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs: Food, water, shelter. Efforts have already begun to supply the country with food and water but the fact remains that buildings are still in ruins, schools are still being used as shelters and there still aren't enough roofs to protect the people from the rains to come. I propose that we, as a community, come together to produce as many Utility Quilts as possible. Let's use design to solve problems and better the lives of those who truly need it.

I ask you all today to begin saving your plastic bags. If you already have some stockpiled in your pantry or under your sink, hang onto them for future use. Stay tuned for information on where to deposit your plastic bags for collection, a call for volunteers, how to make your own, and other ways that you can help.

For more information

Here is a link detailing Haiti's average rainfall

Here is a link to one of the pieces I heard on NPR

Thank you all!
-Ruby Sprengle


  1. Just let us know where to donate!

  2. I just participated in a quilting party this afternoon... what a wonderful experience! Lots of people turned out; we could only stay an hour or so but we cut like crazy while we were there, and managed to use all the bags we brought with us. Thanks, Ruby, for giving us something concrete that we can do to help!

  3. I have a big bag full of plastic bags. I live in Eugene and can deliver them to you. Would you like them?


  4. Ruby, HAUDI ! ! ! I met you @ SCRAP last week, and I have to remind you just how impressed I am with your creativity! I stopped by today and spoke with SARAH TAYLOR @ SUNNNYSIDE ENVIRONMENTAL SCHOOL today. I encoraged her to look you up and she was enthusiastic about her interest. If you see this before 3 pm on friday you might like to contact her about getting her students involved. The program there has a requisite community service element and I see yoour U Q as a global item which folks in the affected areas could be employed to create!

    More than KUDOs girl!!!

    I hope you can make an extreme fortune by sharing your technique!