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.