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Little dresses for Africa

Changing lives, a dress at a time

May 22, 2011
By Serra Muscatello - Staff Writer , The Journal

NEW ULM - A group of seniors with CAST (Community and Seniors Together, a United Way agency) and a group of home-schooled children with New Ulm Area Scholars at Home have been volunteering their time and efforts to help make "Little Dresses for Africa."

"Little Dresses for Africa" is a non-profit 501c3, Christian-based organization that provides relief to the children of Africa.

Simple dresses are being made from pillowcases, curtains, and yardage (breathable materials) and then are being distributed through orphanages, churches and schools with a mission "to plant in the hearts of little African girls that they are worthy."

Article Photos

Children in New Ulm Area Scholars at Home (NUASH) have been helping Community And Seniors Together (CAST) members make dresses and shorts for children in Africa. The NUASH?children in the photo are wearing or holding clothing that has been made in the program. pictured front row from left:?Jade Moellenhoff, Joshua Hagen, Levi Hagen, Emma Hagen, Lisa Hagen, James Hagen, Michael Sloot and Dominic Sloot.
Back row from left: Bridget Kavan, Rachel Sloot, Maddie Houge, Abigail Hagen, Jenna Kavan, Kaye Rysdahl, Jessica Moellenhoff, Danielle Houge and Kelly Anderson.

"In Africa, girls don't go to school (in some places) ... boys are treated a lot differently," said Annette Perry, a New Ulm resident and CAST member who has taken a leadership role in starting up the local efforts to make the little dresses for Africa, "They (the dresses) are building the self-esteem of girls. It makes them feel good about themselves."

Perry said a lady from Gibbon first gave her the idea to make the dresses. Then Perry went ahead and got the pattern for the dresses from Stelter Sewing Service in Mankato.

"Annette was the instigator behind this whole project, having been the first person to mention the idea around the Senior Center and then taking it upon herself to find the materials and volunteers to get the whole program off the ground" said Kathy Austinson, CAST Program Director, "Her positive, can-do attitude is what makes this all possible."

Perry, who has an extensive background in many facets of sewing, said it makes her feel good to help out with this project.

"It's just a strong feeling of goodness. There's a warm feeling we all get by doing a project like this," Perry said, "These dresses are just a small part of doing something to help these countries that need help. For us, we've gotten so excited about this project for our own inner spirits. They (the girls) need the dresses and the dresses also make the girls feel good."

Perry said that the locally-made, finished dresses are being sent to a shop called Nancy's Notions in Wisconsin for packaging and shipment to Africa.

The dresses are also being sent to places like South Dakota, the Appalachian Mountains, Haiti, Guatemala, Philippines, Mexico, Jamaica, and Honduras. There are groups of volunteers from all over the United States who are now sewing the dresses, and, so far, there have been at least 130,000 dresses made and sent to 26 countries of Africa.

The Little Dresses for Africa organization began when a small group of ladies returning from a short term mission trip to Malawi began to sew simple dresses made out of pillowcases. The women "saw the tattered dresses on these precious children and committed at that moment to do what they could to change things for the little girls in the villages of Ntcheu," according to the Little Dresses for Africa website.

"There's some of us who have spent the cold, icy winter with their sewing machines," said Perry, "We're just adding to the score."

A good, long-time friend of Perry's, a local woman named Georgine Rubie, has made over 80 dresses so far for Little Dresses for Africa organization. She recently delivered 68 dresses to Deb Voorhies of Fairbault who was taking them to girls in Haiti.

"I've sewed my heart out this winter," said Rubie, "I love to sew. Every dress is different. I feel so good that somebody benefits from my pleasure."

Rubie said the dresses are easy to make.

Dresses are mostly made from pillowcases. There is an armhole template pattern that is used for various sizes: small, medium, large and extra large sizes.

"We cut the armhole in each dress that is the shape of a 'J'," said Perry, "We tell them (the youngsters) that it is like putting Jesus in every dress we make. I know this is a good Christian project."

The dresses are decorated with pockets and lace. Bias tape is used to make the strings that can be tied at the top of the dress.

"It's so nice to know they'll (dresses) go where they should go," said Rubie, "It's contagious, you get the bug and you can't quit."

Mary Werner, another local lady, has made over 40 dresses for Little Dresses for Africa.

"I've made six dresses in two weeks," said retired school teacher Judy Luker from New Ulm, "They take no time to do once you have the directions."

"Britches for Boys" is another program that CAST and the home-schooled children are supporting by making shorts for African boys.

The CAST seniors have been working with the home-schooled youngsters to teach them how to sew the dresses.

"We have wonderful people here it's like my dream come true," said Perry.

Perry said the Africa dresses program would not be possible without the following: the support of District 88 donating a room for the volunteers to sew, the sponsorship of CAST, the special donated material, notions, pillowcases, etc. from the people in the community.

"And also, a special thanks for the support of all the volunteers that sew the pretty little Africa dresses," said Perry, "All are welcome to check out the workshops."

People are welcome to volunteer their time and efforts to help with the project.

"I'm so proud of the area people to come and share their talent and get together to create dresses for special girls so far away," said Perry, "It warms all our hearts and strengthens a belief that we can do something for others in this changing world. I love to see the faces of our designers and seamstresses. Of course, this also helps us to reuse, recycle and recirculate products."

People who are interested should watch the CAST Weaver senior publication for upcoming times. At this time, volunteers have been meeting on the first and third Wednesdays of every month for sewing workshops at 9 a.m. and again at 1 p.m. at the Senior quilting room at the DAC Building, 15 N State Street. (Donations of wide bias tape are needed.) For more information people can check out and the dress pattern is also available through the website. People may also look at the Little Dresses for Africa website at



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