DOVER –– Crystal Sweeney led a local effort for Little Dresses for Africa, a dress-making charity for impoverished African nations last spring and after its success, decided to expand her efforts to also help boys get clothing through Little Britches for Boys.
Mrs. Sweeney was initially inspired to start the clothing drive when her son Cameron traveled to Malawi in 2010 to help rebuild a bridge and wanted to help in her own way from the U.S.
Her parents have owned Delaware Sewing Center in Rodney Village Shopping Center since 1981 and she used the resource to get started. She got the store’s customers and sewing students to donate pillowcases to make the dresses and sew them and over the course of several months, accumulated more than 100 dresses which were sent over to Malawi last summer.
“It felt so good to get so many people involved and to actually send over as many dresses as we did but it was kind of sad that we were only able to help out women and girls so this year, I wanted to try to help boys get clothing too,” Mrs. Sweeney said. “I found an easy pattern that makes shorts out of T-shirts and elastic.”
On Saturday morning, people were dropping off donations of T-shirts and a group of four students were learning the pattern and stitching them into shorts.
Claire Murray of Magnolia learned how to make the shorts and plans on teaching her friends so they can make them on their own time and then donate the final products.
Mrs. Sweeney will travel to Malawi to take all the shorts and dresses to the residents personally at the end of July.
She will spend 12 days traveling the nation of 16.4 million delivering clothing to various villages with Doctors Without Borders which has a group visiting on the same dates.
In addition to giving the residents dresses and shorts, Mrs. Sweeney will also be taking a quilt she made with photos from Cameron’s 2010 trip to present to the villagers that hosted him.
She will also be giving sewing lessons in several different villages during her stay to the local women so they can learn how to sew and repair clothing on their own.
“My hope is that they will be able to learn basic sewing skills and support themselves and sustain their families,” she said.
The nation is mostly without electricity so the villages that do have sewing machines use manual treadle machines so Mrs. Sweeney is brushing up on her skills using the manual machines and is learning how to maintain and repair them from her father in case she encounters any which need repair or attention.
“It’s definitely a little difficult getting used to because I’ve always used electric machines so it is hard getting used to using them but I think I will be ready for it,” she said.
Anyone able to donate T-shirts, pillow cases or time to make dresses or shorts to be donated to Malawi can stop by Delaware Sewing Center during regular business hours –– Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays.
Asbury United Methodist Women and St. Matthew’s By the Sea have been donating the clothing they make together as an organization and some individuals have chosen to pick up a pattern for the shorts and dresses and make them at home like Nancy Ochs of Dover who has as of last week made 68 dresses.
At this rate Mrs. Sweeney expects there to be far more than 100 pairs of shorts and 100 dresses ready by the time she takes the trip.
Alta Johnson of Akron, IA Sews Dresses
By Julie Ann Madden
“We’re not just sending dresses, we’re sending hope” is the motto of a nonprofit Christian group called “Little Dresses For Africa.”
People from Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Singapore and all over the United States, including Akron, Iowa, are sewing dresses for African girls.
All it takes is a pillowcase, some sewing elastic and bias tape, according to one local seamstress Alta Johnson.
Former Akron resident Doris Brundeen brought the project to Akron’s Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Women’s group, which makes bandages from bed sheets and sends them to the Lutheran World Relief organization.
Advertisements for donations of sheets are made in their church’s weekly bulletin and monthly newsletter, said Johnson, explaining people who donate sheets often include the matching pillowcases, too. When Brundeen asked Lutheran World Relief officials if they wanted something done with the pillowcases, they said no and referred her to Little Dresses For Africa.
“We had a whole bunch of pillowcases so I went to (the organization’s) website,” Johnson told The Akron Hometowner. “I thought I’ll just try this.”
“I got started and it was so much fun,” she said, explaining she makes five or six dresses assembly-line style at one time. It takes a couple of hours to make each dress from start to finish.
Of course, she sometimes adds decorations such as a line of ric-rac trim a few inches from the bottom, a pocket surrounded by lace or a ribbon bow at the neckline.
“It’s a little expensive for the bias tape but otherwise there’s not much expense except for (the postage costs to mail them to the organization),” she said.
Last fall, Johnson made 42 of these pillowcase dresses and shipped them to the organization, which is located in Brownstown, Mich. Since Christmas, she has made 18 more.
Marilyn Berka, wife of Immanuel Lutheran Church’s interim pastor, Jim Berka, also sews these special dresses. Her special gift is often sewing a matching small purse to go with the dress.
The rest of Immanuel’s ELCW group makes bandages or sews quilts. The group meets any month there is a fifth Thursday, on Work For Missions Day, They cut sheets into strips to roll into bandages and make quilts for Lutheran World Relief.
Little Dresses For Africa was founded in 2008 by Rachel O’Neill.
More than 2 million dresses have been made by volunteers and shipped overseas. They have been distributed in 47 African countries plus sent to other countries in crisis such as Honduras, Guatemala, Thailand, The Dominican, The Philippines, Cambodia, Mexico and Haiti. Furthermore, dresses have been sent to children in need right here in the United States, in the Appalachian Mountains and South Dakota.
“Our mission is to provide relief to children of Africa, by distributing dresses to little girls,” according to the organization’s website. “It is our hope that in delivering dresses to these young girls, that a seed will be planted in their hearts, in the name of Jesus, that they are worthy.”
It’s more than just a dress! Although clothing is needed, these little dresses also give us an opportunity to hold Bible classes, children’s camps and informal teaching sessions to increase their knowledge in nutrition, clean water, and and to promote good health and family skills knowledge. We also visit many patients who are suffering from AIDS, and their care-givers, to offer encouragement and hope.” sanitation and to promote good health and family skills knowledge. We also visit many patients who are suffering from AIDS, and their care-givers, to offer encouragement and hope.” and to promote good health and family skills knowledge. We also visit many patients who are suffering from AIDS, and their care-givers, to offer encouragement and hope.”
Just back from a wonderful speaking engagement in Richland, WA. Thank you, Little Dresses of the Tri-City area, for a wonderful weekend. Chris Macourek and her group have made close to 6000 beautiful dresses and sent them to us. It was a great time to celebrate with the sewers and supporters and celebrate we did! And what fun to put faces to the names I’ve known through the years for their beautiful work. After a wonderful potluck, we headed to the Richland Community Center for a chance to share the Little Dresses for Africa story and some tips on sewing from Chris. Huge thanks to our hostess, Chris and also the lovely group that took us to dinner that evening. Wow! Hospitality PLUS!
Since I began sewing this summer for the beautiful girls that LDFA serves, I took a photo of each dress I made. I had two goals: 1)No two would be exactly alike. I use some of the same fabrics, of course, but it seemed important to me to make each dress as unique as I could for the one-of-a-kind girl that would wear it. 2) I wanted to complete 100 “littledresses” by Christmas of this year.
Well, I my promise to myself and each dress is an “original” but I finished the FIRST 100 on the eve of Columbus Day, instead!:-)
As I told Rachel today by phone – and as you ALL know oh so well – we who sew at home for girls a need even one pretty, modest, comfortable, well-made dress could NOT do this work alone. Donations of gift cards, fabric, rick rack, bias tape, checks for postage made out to LDFA – all from friends and family who “got it” about this important mission have made all the difference. Add their love, support, encouragement and prayers? How could I NOT make my goal?!
Wow. And this was the SHORT version . . . what can I say? I am humbled and delighted to be a part of something SO big and important. Bless you, LDFA, bless all of you who help even one child see themselves the way God sees them. . . beautiful and cherished.
PS Dresses 81-90 were hand-delivered to Joseph Lubega of Bulamu Children’s Village, Uganda as he visited the USA for the first time. A mutual friend, Becki DeVries, introduced us at my school (I’m a teaching assistant) and he took my dresses home to Africa. Brother Joseph sent me this amazing photo of five of his “children” wearing their new clothes and I can tell you I shed a lot of grateful, humble tears . . . and now, Rachel is helping me send enough dresses to outfit their small orphanage and school!
God is good, and so is Little Dresses for Africa! Keep up the GREAT work, ya’ll!
cindy lamb sterling on facebook
It only takes YOU to start something in your area. This is one of my absolute favorites! Jean has really gotten the ball going in the Saginaw, Michigan area. Her group has sewn close to 6000 pieces for the children. They come to us perfectly sized and separated. Each one is beautiful. Thank you, Jean!!!
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