Rembrandt of recycling
Newton resident makes totes, handbags from plastic bags
When you approach Gwendolyn Maggitt’s front door, you can’t help but notice two potted autumn joy sedum’s framing the bottom step. Perfect for the current conditions in Georgia, the hearty plants require very little water and enjoy basking in full sun.
That they can flourish just as easily in Arizona as they can here is astonishing in its own right. But that’s not what makes these perennials so unique.
“They were originally my grandmother’s,” says Maggitt, “Ever since I can remember, those plants have been around in my life. They’re over 58 years old.”
Once inside her home, a quick scan reveals a meticulously kept interior with family photos on the mantle and a comfy blanket lying neatly over the back of an overstuffed armchair.
Sitting on the floor near the dining room table is a large, blue tote bag. At first glance, nothing seems peculiar about the tote. But a closer look reveals something amazing. It’s made from plastic grocery bags.
Maggitt makes purses, handbags and totes using nothing more than plastic bags she collects. She weaves together strips of various colored plastic using a large crochet hook and says her imagination dictates her creations.
“Whatever I feel like doing, I just sit down and work on them,” she said. “Many times I’ll start with one stitch then change it up. I have no set pattern. Sometimes I’ll just grab material out of a bag and that’s the color I’ll use.”
A retired registered nurse originally from Annapolis, Md., Mag- gitt has been crocheting with yarn for more than 40 years, but the idea of using plastic bags was a stretch.
“I got the idea off the Internet about three or four years ago, and I didn’t do anything with it,” she said. “I saw the pattern and I thought, ‘that’s ridiculous’, so I didn’t do anything with it.
“I was crocheting baby blankets, afghans, hats, scarves - different things like that. I get bored easily so one day I said, ‘let me try that (plastic) pattern’. So I just picked it up and tried it.”
It takes Maggitt several weeks to make a bag. One of the most time consuming aspects of her hobby is in the preparation. Since she can’t run down to the closest Michael’s and buy what she needs, she often spends hours just making her plastic “yarn.”
Occasionally she uses other plastic materials to create her masterpieces. Her collection displays a wide spectrum of colors and designs ranging from beige beach totes to white handbags.
“This one here is actually made from caution tape,” Maggitt said, holding up a bright orange handbag. “I don’t dye anything. The colors come from the original colors of the bag or plastic material.”
She has made more than a dozen bags, varying in style, application and color.
Maggitt started crocheting at an early age and has refined her skill over countless patient hours.
“My grandma taught me how to crochet when I was a teenager, and my aunt actually taught me how to read a pattern,” she said.
Not only are Maggitt’s bags useful, they’re eco-friendly. She estimates a typical tote contains up to 150 grocery bags.
While Maggitt doesn’t usually sell her finished products, she has before and says she gets the occasional request from friends asking her to make a custom bag.
“I do this for enjoyment,” she said. “If it becomes work, I wouldn’t like doing it as much. But I have been asked by members of the community to donate a bag for silent auctions and such and I have done that.”
Inevitably people do buy her bags. When asked, she will sell one, but she doesn’t actively pursue it as a business venture.
Don’t be surprised if you see one of her bags on television someday soon; if only she can keep them around long enough.
“I have sold two bags, both of which I was planning to send to Oprah,” she said. “But each time I have one I want to send her, somebody sees it and wants to buy it, so I end up selling it to them instead.”
Maggitt and her husband Willie, along with their 8-year-old son William Lee, moved to Covington a little over a year ago after visiting family in the area. She says she enjoys the area and plans to get involved in the community after being so active in Maryland.
The family joined the Church of the Good Shepherd Episcopal and Maggitt plans to partake in the Great American Cleanup on Saturday.
Even though she enjoys crocheting, Maggitt still finds time to work in her garden and maintain her many flowers and plants.
“We had a separate truck for all my plants when we moved. I dug up everything and brought it down here to plant. Any time I get, I’m outside tending to my plants. I love my plants.”
Trash to treasure:
Gwendolyn Maggitt sits in the living room of her Covington home surrounded by a variety of the handbags and totes that she creates using recycled plastic bags.