Transforming Refuse: Sister Monika’s Amazing Market Bag

St. Placid Priory is a women’s Benedictine monastery in Lacey, about an hour south of Seattle.  The hallmark of Benedictine communities is a radical hospitality that extends to all people, and even beyond–to the more-than-human world of nature, and wildness.  St. Placid’s has a lovely, quiet guest house, where I sometimes spend a few days writing, or just finding some solitude (anyone can visit–no religious affiliation required!).

The very cute Sister Monika Ellis, OSB, and her fab bag
The very cute Sister Monika Ellis, OSB, and her fab bag.

On a recent visit, Sister Monika Ellis told me about a market bag she’d crocheted.  I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.  For “yarn,” she’d cut sixty (SIXTY!) plastic grocery bags into half-inch strips.  She snipped them in loops, from seam tomonica-3210217 seam, so they could be strung together like rubber bands into a long, long line, then rolled into a ball.  This she crocheted into a strong, beautiful, open-work bag using a free pattern she’d found on the internet.  I love how different colored bags were used to create a striped pattern.

Many of the sisters at St. Placid spin and knit wool from the fleece of local sheep, and the resulting creations they offer for sale are often wondrous, but this bag is something new altogether!  People want to buy Sister M’s bag, and she says, “You want me to make more of those?  Are you kidding me?”  But she has provided a demo roll of the plastic yarn, along with directions to inspire people.  “If I need something, I always try to figure out if I can make do with what I have first,”  Sr. Monika told me.

The bottom of the bag is reinforced with two discarded CDs, covered by crocheted circles.
The bottom of the bag is reinforced with two discarded CDs, covered by crocheted circles.

In Seattle, the city council recently passed a “bag tax”–twenty cents for every new plastic bag we take at the grocery checkout line.  Good heavens, from the resulting outcry you’d think they’d told us we had to sacrifice our first born children.  The detractors provided some astonishing math.  It would cost $1 every time we shopped!  In a year, we would spend the same amount on plastic bags that we would have spent on 77 gallons of milk!  200 loaves of bread!  (Um, not if we bring our own bags…).  It didn’t take long to gather the 20,000 signatures needed to get a “Repeal the Bag Tax” referendum on the ballot.

When I think of all this, and when I find myself feeling unmotivated to make the simplest life-giving steps in my own everyday life–out of laziness, or hurry, or cynicism, or lack of creativity, or even despair, I try to remember Sister Monika, patiently transforming our refuse into something practical, lasting, and beautiful. Thank you Sister!


  1. Nancy Stillger

    What a remarkable story. I don’t think I will be trying it soon though! In Mexico, the women do amazing things with gum wrappers. In New Mexico, the use of found objects to create “retablos” – devotional art to the saints – is also remarkable.

  2. Gillian Nilsson

    In South Africa women use plastic bags in the same way to make bathroom mats, hats and bags. Black plastic garden sacks make very elegant handbags and hats.

  3. Ed


    Cool! What beautiful creations!

    I love the minimal packaging of buying at PCC-(Puget Consumers Coop) where we get oats, granola, muesli, all kinds of beans, lentils, rice and nuts and these foods are all economical also and associated with greater longevity.

    But I’m not really for the bag law. I won’t mind it on a personal level, it’ll make it easier for me to not take bags. But I disagree with it philosophically. I don’t like the battles royale that environmentalists choose to fight over issues that barely matter in the scheme of things. Plastic bags are an annoying symbol of our profligacy and irresponsiblity, not the core of it. I’d rather fight to stop something that’s actually bringing down rainforests (and the Brazilian Cerrado) as I write: the horrendous gov’t subsidies and mandates for biofuel production, for example.

    Thanks for a wonderful site,


  4. Kate

    I initially felt a twinge of resistance at the idea of the bag law, not unlike how I feel about the seatbelt law. But I feel differently now. Our environment needs so much help that doing anything & everything that we can, as soon as possible, is critical. And after I watched this simple yet effective slideshow, I began to understand that the bag problem is WAY bigger than I realized, and certainly not victimless:

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