The sporadic whir of sewing machines start and stop as pillow cases, sheets and bolts of unused cloth become girl’s dresses, receiving blankets and even cloth diapers as ladies from Antrim United Methodist Church are on a mission that continues to grow.
“We started out making quilts, blankets and such for Alabama, [after Hurricane Katrina]” said Virginia Russell. “It got to be so much fun we just couldn’t stop.”
Russell said it was the late Becky Hunley’s idea to start making the blankets, but since that time the little sewing shop in the basement of Antrim’s church has diversified its products and customers.
Shortly after the blankets the ladies found a pattern showing how to make a simple dress using a common pillowcase or similar fabric. Russell held up samples of the material they use on the dresses, most with colorful borders or trim from its first use that works well when repurposed into a dress.
“In the Appalachian project we sent out 35 dresses,” Russell said. “We have also sent dresses to Africa, and Haiti.” The pattern for the dresses is a fairly simple one. The ladies borrowed from Henry Ford, setting up an assembly line of dress manufacturing.
Mert Curtis and Julie Christie run the sewing machines that assemble the main panels of the dresses. Marcia Smith, Rebecca Reed and Belinda Munz dig through boxes of trim pieces, looking for the right accent to a sleeve, collar or bottom of a dress. Ruby O’Dell keeps things crisp by running an iron over the recycled material and finished products.
The blankets and quilts used up material quickly and Russell said it wasn’t long before they had gone through all they had and were buying material themselves. As word spread about the little dresses, donations of materials and patterns started coming in from all over.
“The ladies in Macksville gave us some wonderful fabric,” she said. “Any material can be used for the dresses or trim pieces.”
“It really has turned into a countywide project,” Russell said. “Even the lady at the Post Office where they ship from said it ‘was so much fun they really must keep going.’”
The care packages are sent mostly to Africa. Along with dresses, the group has branched out into colorful cloth diapers and receiving blankets. They also purchase some items like underwear to include in the care packages.
Russell said they received a letter from the lady that runs Little Dresses for Africa foundation, thanking them for the donations. A recent article in an energy business publication has gotten many inquiries about the project from other groups and individuals.
While the seamstress of the dimly lit basement in a small church in southern Stafford County turn out an abundance of cloth and comfort items, Russell said, “The little dresses really are the most fun.”