Skillful Sewers Help Needy in Haiti, Sudan
DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — Years ago, the women sewed clothes for their brothers and sisters on the family farm. These days, they use their sewing skills to create clothing for children in faraway countries, youngsters they will never meet.
For six months, a group of women have been gathering weekly to sew simple dresses for girls and women in Haiti and Sudan. Although parishioners at St. Anthony Catholic Church started the project, volunteers from every walk of life without regard to religious affiliation are welcome to help out.
Lively chatter and laughter rise above the hum of sewing machines in the activity room at Applewood 1 apartments every Tuesday afternoon from 1 to 4. Women work at three tables in an informal production line. On a fourth table, they pile brightly colored dresses as they are finished.
"The purpose is to make little dresses for girls and britches for boys in Africa and Haiti," said Sister of Mercy Lillian Connolly, who started the project and coordinates it with Joanne Haywood, also of St. Anthony Parish. "They don't have anything, and these dresses will be treasured and maybe passed down to younger sisters."
"Issy" Stillmunkes, 80, started sewing as a child, making carpets from rag strips and dish towels from flour sacks on a Singer treadle machine. On this day, she was threading elastic through the necklines of the simple dresses.
"I can just see their smiling faces when they get a new dress," she said.
While Jeanette Homb sewed seams to hold the elastic, the lifelong seamstress, 65, reflected on the benefits of the project.
"It's hard for us to imagine having nothing, and I can envision the pure joy on their faces when they get a dress," she said. "I also enjoy being with these positive, upbeat, purpose-driven women every week."
Volunteers do not need to know sewing skills, Connolly emphasized, as there are plenty of other jobs to do.
Besides help sewing, the group needs fabric, sheets and pillowcases to cut the basic two-piece dress pattern from, as well as bias tape, rickrack and three-quarter-inch elastic to finish the dresses. Local hotels have donated used sheets to the projects, which Connolly dyes bright colors in her washing machine.
So far, the sewing group has completed more than 300 dresses that will be sent to Haiti ahead of a medical mission from St. Anthony.
"Most of these women didn't know each other before this," Connolly said, "but now it has become this wonderful community."
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