‘Bag Lady’ crochets tote bags out of used plastic
Karen Parrett is taking used plastic bags and turning them into — plastic bags.
The rural Tonganoxie resident said she recycles plastic bags and crochets them together to make larger bags that can be used again and again — just as canvass bags are used to hold groceries and other items.
“I don’t like to use any new ones,” Parrett said. “That’s not the purpose of the recycle.”
Friends, family and co-workers give Parrett their plastic grocery and newspaper bags to use for her bag projects.
Parrett cuts the bags widthwise into pieces, which look like mammoth rubber bands. She cuts thinner bags into two-inch strips and thicker bags into smaller strips.
Then, with a crochet hook, she takes those pieces and transforms them into plastic tote bags.
Parrett said she learned about making the tote bags while reading a magazine from her family’s insurance company. Inside was a how-to story about making the bags, complete with pattern information.
She has been crocheting the bags for about a year, though she has done various crochet work for about 25 to 30 years.
Afghans, kitchen curtains and potholders are some of the things Parrett has crocheted, or “old-lady stuff,” she said with a laugh.
Though she takes joy in her new hobby of plastic bag crocheting, it is met with some good-natured ribbing from her family when she works on bags while they are watching television.
“It’s a lot more noisy than yarn,” Karen’s husband, Doug, said.
Parrett has finished about 30 tote bags and has done specialty bags for people, a small Halloween trick-or-treat bag and a Mary Kay bag, for examples. The trick-or-treat bag was made with orange newspaper bags and black trash bags. For the Mary Kay bag, Parrett incorporated pink plastic bags into the pattern equation.
From hobby to retail
Thanks to one of the bags she made for someone, other tote bags now are for sale inside Candle Queen Candles Gift Boutique, a downtown Leavenworth store that offers homemade candles and other gifts.
According to the gift shop’s owner, Stacy McCowen, a customer approached her about selling the bags inside her store. The customer noticed someone carrying one of Parrett’s tote bags while shopping at a retail store and inquired about the bag.
McCowen contacted Parrett and has carried the bags in her store the past couple months.
“If I see something that is really neat, I’ve got to have it in my store, so hers is one,” McCowen said. “We’re really picky about what we have. We only want the cutest stuff ever.”
McCowen said customers seem to be fans of the environmentally friendly approach as well.
“I think people love and appreciate that it’s the ultimate recycling,” McCowen said. “I knew immediately that I loved it. And it’s very sturdy, too.”
The tote bags sell for $40 at the store.
The Bag Lady
Though her rule is to utilize only used bags for her projects, Parrett did have to break her own regulation by taking some black garbage bags from her husband’s shop to make the Halloween bag.
“I snitched ’em,” Parrett said sheepishly about taking her husband’s shop bags.
On average, the tote bags require about 50 plastic bags to complete. Thus far, Parrett has made about 30 bags total, but it’s been play, not work, she contends.
“It’s just a hobby,” Parrett said. “It’s a stress reliever, so I crochet all the time.”
Her hobby, though, has garnered enough interest that she’s made homemade business cards that read “Karen Parrett” as the header and “The Bag Lady” beneath.
Even with those business cards, Parrett reiterates that her crocheting is simply a hobby.
“It’s just a fun way to recycle,” she said.
For more information about the recycled tote bags, contact Parrett at (913) 350-0018 or firstname.lastname@example.org.