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Law librarian makes a legal fashion statement in Fayette

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By Judy Kroeger
Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010

Kathy Kelly, an Erie law librarian, has developed a recycling method so unique, she's seeking a patent.

Kelly makes purses and laptop computer cases from the covers of outdated law books and other volumes.

Her work, called BookBags, will be on display in the Fayette County Law Library beginning next month. She is the March artist of the month at the library.

Kelly serves as law librarian for Knox, McLaughlin, Cornall & Sennett. The large firm disposes of hundreds of books each year.

"I started saving the books before I thought of making purses," she said. "I just couldn't bear to throw them out. It's amazing how much you see getting wasted in a law library."

Unfortunately, the covers didn't have much value. "Even to recycle the paper, you have to remove the covers. I'd been saving the covers."

One particular law book inspired Kelly. "My mom had a purse this shade of blue." The book was "West's Federal Practice Digest, Fourth Edition."

She started her first bag when temporarily off work following surgery.

"My only sewing experience was sewing Halloween costumes. I sew the bags on a $69 Singer sewing machine."

Kelly creates each bag individually, without a pattern. She lets the cover of the book inspire her design. She learned how to make linings from following instructions on the Internet. She originally used covers for the BookBag handles, but found matching vinyl was easier to work with and looked better.

She made her first BookBag last May and has completed nearly 30 so far.

She uses law books with leather, vinyl or cloth covers, often painted to resemble leather. "Anything not paper will work." She does recycle the paper in paperbound books and has used some for business cards.

The first step, often done by Kelly's son, Troy Kelly and his friend Nathaniel Adams, both 15, she calls "harvesting." They rip the pages from the binding for recycling. They have recycled more than 8,000 pounds of paper from law books so far.

Then, with an Exacto knife, Kelly separates the inner paper and cardboard from the binding. Once separated, she washes and irons the book cover. Next, she decides how to assemble the bag. She highlights the most interesting aspects of the book cover, chooses complimentary vinyl and begins work. Each BookBag takes about eight hours.

"Men buy them," Kelly said. "I do do some custom ones. Mothers buy them for their children."

Kelly has 20 boxes of book covers in her family room, so she's well prepared to craft more BookBags.

"You can literally pick your size. We put in as much extra material as we need, use as many books as you need and you can pick what base colors you want," Kelly said.

How to Get one

BookBags cost between $125 and $350, depending on size and complexity of workmanship.

The Fayette County Law Library does not sell any art. Contact Kelly directly for purchase at 814-838-4257.

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