WARRENSBURG - A member of a local quilting and crocheting group is helping save the environment while she's crafting some attractive, useful items.
If it's up to Elly Benoit of Stony Creek, all of those bothersome plastic grocery and shopping bags - the scourge of both the landscape and landfills - would be recycled into useful, attractive products.
Elly Benoit, 78, is weaving plastic bags, fashioning them into durable, waterproof and fashionable handbags, shopping bags and beach bags.
Recently, she talked about her newfound craft.
"It's not easy to do this," she said. "It took me quite a while to figure out how to do it."
Benoit cuts the bags into thin strips, then crochets with them, creating a tight weave that displays an abstract design featuring the colors of the bag's printing.
She mixes bags from Wal-Mart, Hannaford and other stores to make distinctive, colorful designs.
Hannaford bags, with their beige color and rust-red lettering, or Wal-Mart, with its blue lettering on white, Benoit weaves them so they lend distinctive, geometric patterns on the bags she creates.
Attentive to detail and up-to-date utility features, Benoit weaves cell-phone pockets into many of her styles. Also, they are waterproof and durable, and easily cleaned up if something gets spilled on them.
She said her creations have prompted quite a stir among admirers, particularly those who are environmentally-conscious.
"Some people say, 'Oh, where did you get that,'" she said. "But these are not for sale, because it just takes too many hours to weave one."
Instead of retailing the finished product, she's giving them as Christmas gifts to selected, special recipients, she said.
Benoit said her friends collect retail bags, common and exotic, for her to use in making her various bag creations.
Benoit said she was keeping her technique of weaving a secret, at least for now.
She's figured out how to cut the bags over and over, making one endless thin loop with which she weaves, like it's yarn.
Benoit first started crocheting several years ago with plastic bags, she said, after a group of crafters at a senior citizen's center in Florida , of which she's a member, challenged the participants to do something good for the environment.
"When you explore new techniques, you can come up with new creations," she said.
Benoit, originally from Switzerland, retired to Stony Creek after a career as an art teacher and the proprietor of an art gallery in Castleton-on-Hudson, N, called "Elly's Studio."
Benoit said Tuesday that while the shopping bags' exceptional durability - while creating a widespread problem - offered her creations more than just functionality.
The woven handbags of hers will likely be discovered in many hundreds of years by archeologists unearthing 21st-century culture, she said.
"One day, plastic bags will be banned, and then these woven bags will be collectible antiques," she quipped.