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Schwartzkopf finds practical use for plastic bags

Nimble fingers keep Dottie (Abner) Schwartzkopf in stitches with a pastime that has her hooked.

“I crochet everything,” the 77-year-old said. For her latest project, though, she decided instead of using various types of yarn, she would try something different – plastic grocery bags.

“We hear about the importance of recycling all the time, so I thought why not? I just thought it would work,” she said. And, it did.

The Shelbyville resident made a mat to be used on the ground to comfort someone who is homeless. The mat should be waterproof, according to Schwartzkopf, and will protect its owner from the dampness of the ground.

“When I lived in Dagley Court (Blueridge Terrace Apartments), I was in (building) one and my daughter was in four,” she said. “People lived under the bridge in back of (building) four.” It’s something she said she couldn’t forget. Schwartzkopf started thinking about ways to make the homeless more comfortable some time ago when that memory came to mind.

“I didn’t know how many bags it would take, but I knew I wanted it to be six-feet in length and wide enough for a person to lay on. I figured that it would be lightweight and carry easy when moving from place to place,” she said. “I think it’s a great idea to recycle bags to help others.”

To start, Schwartzkopf cut the handles and the bottom seam off of the bags. Then, she cut one-inch strips across the bag. “It comes out like a circle,” she said, adding that she would do 25 bags at a time. That made it easy for her to keep track of the number of bags used for the project, which was something she wanted to know.

Once cut, she would loop the bags together one at a time until she made a long strip. That strip would then be rolled into a ball “just like you would do with yarn for a project.”

“I used an ‘I’ needle or bigger and just crocheted,” said Schwartzkopf.

As her work continued, she realized she was doing lots and lots of folding, cutting and weaving for a six-foot long by 30-inch wide mat. Plus, she had to keep collecting more and more and more bags. “At one time she said ‘I wonder what I got myself into?’” said Roland Schwartzkopf, her husband of three years.

It took countless hours of work.

“I was determined to finish, though,” she said. Nine hundred bags later, it was done.

“It’s pretty easy. Just crochet. It’s a lot, a lot of bags. I got all kinds of bags wherever I could get them,” she said. “They came from everywhere. That’s why there’s different colors all over the mat.”

The finished mat has a raised, roll-shaped addition at one end to serve as a pillow, with a cord attached to it to tie around the mat once it is rolled like a sleeping bag would be for storage.

Schwartzkopf will take the mat to the Salvation Army. She is confident officials there will find someone to have it.

While she usually crochets when watching TV at night, it is quite commonplace for Schwartzkopf to stitch a few rows of a project just about anywhere. Her bag, filled with her work in progress, yarn and crochet hooks is likely in her hand or slung over a shoulder no matter where she goes.

Without hesitating, she said she has been called “the bag lady,” in an endearing way, of course.

Schwartzkopf is also working on a 38-inch in diameter, two colored, beaded dollie that has various ruffled layers for entry into the Open Class at the Shelby County Fair this summer. Six hundred or more tiny beads will be worked into the crocheting, according to Schwartzkopf.

In past years, she has earned blue first premium ribbons, white ribbons, and reserve champion for the various crocheted items she has entered in the fair.

“I crochet everything – afghans, table runners, chair arm protectors, doilies and more. Doilies are my favorite,” she said. “My Granny taught me when I was about eight years old. Then at about 18, my uncle brought his girlfriend to the house and she had a book. She would crochet, then look at the book, crochet, then look at the book. She taught me how to read and follow the instructions to make things.”

Schwartzkopf has never gotten tired of crocheting. “It’s just fun to do,” she said.

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