Steuber develops her own totes

FAIRMONT – One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Pat Steuber of rural Fairmont has taken the adage to a whole new level. She creates colorful tote bags using plastic grocery bags.

Steuber heard about the totes a couple of years ago and decided it would be a terrific way to recycle all those plastic bags that seem to be in abundant supply in every household.

“I liked the idea so I searched the Internet for a pattern,” she said.

A self-taught crochet enthusiast, Steuber decided her initial effort needed some refining.

“The first one was small so I modified the pattern to make it bigger,” she said.

After a bit more tweaking, she was pleased enough with the results to give one to a friend. The friend took it to work and showed it to her colleagues.

“Then everybody wanted one,” Steuber said.

The totes, which sell for $15 each, are sturdy. A dozen different canned items fill a bag halfway, but the weight doesn’t cause any stretching or strain.

And the handles don’t cut into the palms of your hand, even when the bag is carrying a heavy load.

“You can actually throw them in the washing machine, and then just air dry them,” Steuber said.

She estimates it takes about 100 plastic bags to make one tote.

“Just think of how many bags I’ve saved from the landfill,” she said.

Initially, Stueber would ask friends and relatives for bags, but now “so many people just give them to me, I don’t have to ask anymore.”

When she demonstrates the preparation steps for the bags, her deft hand movements are evidence of the numerous times she has done the procedure.

“Just take a regular bag. Flatten it. Tuck in the sides. Then fold it four times lengthwise. Then you cut off the handles,” she said.

Cutting the bag into 1-inch strips creates a large plastic circle, which she sorts by colors on the strip. Using a type of loop knot, Stueber joins the strips into a long chain, which she then rolls into a ball.

She completes each step quickly – and makes it look easy.

“I probably spend as much time cutting and rolling as I do making a bag,” she said. It takes her about two nights to crochet one bag.

Each store has bags that create a specific colored tote. Blue Earth Bucs fans are frequent buyers of totes made with Fareway bags. The finished tote is splattered throughout with maroon and gold – Buc colors.

Steuber has difficulty keeping Target bag totes in stock, with the red-and-white color scheme being popular with Fairmont Cardinal fans.

Steuber’s current pattern results in a finished product that resembles a tweed, but she’s ready to try a new technique.

“After Christmas, when things slow down, I’m going to try and make a striped one,” she said.

Last winter, shoulder surgery kept her sidelined from many activities: counted cross stitch, scrapbooking and helping her husband of 39 years, Kurt, with their pork business. She has since “retired” from working in the barns, but her various crafts and seven grandchildren keep her fully occupied.

The busiest time of year for craft shows has just ended, and Steuber has sold much of her tote bag inventory. She plans to remedy that situation over the next few months.

“I’ll just refresh my stash all winter long,” she said.

Those interested in obtaining totes may contact Steuber at (507) 436-5456.