NEW PORT RICHEY
Before she kicked the booze and cocaine, Diana Shingleton felt like an old shopping bag. Used, full of stuff, carried away, abused and ultimately tossed aside. "I had been through rehab several times, and I couldn't even make it home without stopping for a drink," said the 54-year-old former marketer for a Pittsburgh engineering firm. "I lost everything, my home, my family. Everybody hated me."
After finding faith in God and quitting cold turkey three years ago, Shingleton looked to fill all those hours she used to spend drinking and sleeping. It was then she turned to crocheting rag rugs, a hobby she learned as girl from her mother and grandmother.
Wanting to recycle all the plastic shopping bags she had accumulated, Shingleton tried to make a rug with them.
"It worked," she said. "So I started making rugs."
Shortly afterward, someone said, "Why don't you try making a purse?"
That's how her business, Bags By Diana, was born.
Shingleton cuts shopping bags into strips, which she dubbed "plarn," takes a crochet hook and puts it all together to create the outside of a handbag. She uses fabric to line the inside.
"I can picture in my head what I want a bag to look like," she said, sometimes designing one on whatever paper happens to be nearby when inspiration strikes.
So far, inspiration has produced hundreds of bags in various colors and sizes. She even makes Bible covers. Once she made a diaper bag.
"I'm making a lot of little girl purses right now," she said, showing off a kitchen table of bags sized for children, including a blue and white one with a matching "mommy" bag.
Shingleton finds her colors in the bags themselves. She doesn't spray or paint them.
"I can twist them so that the color I want shows."
A tan bag usually came from Publix bags, while JCPenney, CVS and Macy's create a supply of red and white. Yellow bags come Dollar General. Blue comes from Walmart. Sweetbay is one of the few sources of purple. Gray bags come from Kohl's and several other stores.
Pink bags are the toughest to find. For black, she buys trash bags and "up-cycles" them. She even uses newspaper delivery bags for an iridescent look.
Friends and family send her bags from stores in other parts of the country.
"I'm always excited whenever a store changes its bags," she said.
Over the past three years she has sold at least 250 crocheted bags, mostly to friends who request them. Prices range from $15 to $30, depending on the size of the bag. A recent booth at a Tarpon Springs Trash to Treasure sale nearly wiped out her supply.
The side business, along with her regular job putting up signs inside a local department store, has allowed Shingleton to recover from the financial ruin that once had her living at her son's home without a car or a job. It was there, lying on a couch and listening to a television preacher whose name she can't recall, that she decided to turn her 16-year addiction over to God.
"I said, 'I give up,'" said Shingleton, who just moved into a gated apartment community. "I had tried to do it on my own and it wasn't working."
She said she hasn't wanted a drink or hit since.
She gives 10 percent of all her proceeds from bag sales to Shedding Our Silence, a nonprofit support group for women who have experienced trauma. Its goal is to help women see their inner beauty.
"You can see the Lord in all her pocketbooks" said Estell Keshock, a pastor at Calvary Chapel Worship Center and the group's leader, who carries a tan bag with multicolored flecks that Shingleton made. "She went from a black and white to all the colors."
Shingleton also makes plastic rosebud key rings. They represent her life now. Attached to each one is a tract that says "This Rosebud Has A Story."
Like the discarded bags Shingleton turned into something useful and attractive, she writes that God remade her "into something beautiful, useful, colorful, attractive and worth more than I could imagine.
"It's like my whole life started over again," she said.