Little Dresses, Big Smiles

Little Dresses of New Ulm sews clothing for children in need all over the world

Children wearing dresses sewn by Little Dresses volunteers in a village in Indonesia.

(Photos courtesy of Little Dresses Workshop)

NEW ULM — For nearly a decade, Little Dresses Workshop of New Ulm has been one of the most widespread charity organizations in the area in terms of its impact and membership.

Since 2011, the workshop has distributed over 13,000 pieces of clothing to children in Uganda, Sierra Leone, the Philippines, Jamaica, Gambia, Tanzania, Liberia, Honduras, Haiti, New Guinea, Dominican Republic, Kenya, Nigeria, Guatemala, Sudan, South Africa, Ecuador, Bulgaria, India, Grenada, Indonesia, Antigua, St. Lucia, the Orphan Grain Train in Fairmont, and churches in the area participating in the Christmas Boxes Project.

The Little Dresses Workshop of New Ulm is possible through community donations and sewing volunteers. The dresses and shorts are based on a simple pattern. A single dress takes two hours to make. The shorts take an average of 45 minutes.

Little Dresses originally began through Community And Senior Together (CAST). Mary Warner has taken over as the main contact person for the workshop but said she is only one of many dedicated and talented ladies helping produce the dresses and shorts.

June 8, 2017 Representatives of the Wellness Project selecting dresses for South Africa.

“They are doing the best possible job getting clothes to children in need,” Warner said.

She has kept a journal documenting many of the high points of Little Dresses Workshop. Warner recently submitted excerpts to The Journal to thank the sewing ladies that made it possible.


June 1, 2017 – I met up with several friends to box 100 dresses to be shipped to an orphanage in Teule, Kenya, today. A teacher in Sleepy Eye told us that on this trip, “the children at this orphanage are well cared for by the staff, but they have so little. While there, I helped plant watermelons and pumpkins which the children eat as a supplement to their constant diet of rice and beans.”

June 8, 2017 – More sewers dropped off freshly made dresses and shorts at our shop on North German Street. I love the lace added to pockets on the dresses. Every little girl should have a little lace in their life! Our project was referred to as the Health & Wellness Committee of the South African Diocese. Two representatives will deliver 27 dresses and 13 shorts to the Vryheid area in Southern Africa for needy families and orphanages.

Fabric storybooks were collected to send to New Ulm children’s shelter homes.

November 10, 2017 – Little Dresses sewers participated in an event through the First United Methodist Church in New Ulm and their ‘Samaritan’s Purse Shoebox’ program. Anyone can volunteer to pack these boxes that contain items for the children such as, books and a book bag, school supplies, spin tops, health items, etc., plus an item of clothing.

We donated 524 dresses and 52 pairs of shorts. New Ulm boxes go to Mankato, then to a warehouse in Lakeville, Minnesota are checked over and combined with thousands of other boxes and distributed worldwide.

May 5, 2018 – Today, 35 dresses and 23 shorts were on their way to a village in Indonesia with a woman in La Crosse, Wisconsin for an organization called Kingdom Workers. We see her several times each year because she travels to four villages each year to teach health and wellness to the children.

October 5, 2018 – It was a busy summer for our sewers. We have hundreds of newly sewn dresses and we’re working on finding volunteers to distribute them. As in previous years, our sewing group has collected many needed items for Samaritan’s Purse Shoeboxes so we could fully participate in this great cause. Today, 75 dresses and 75 shorts were donated.

November 6, 2018 – There are so many good people in the world. We were referred to Martin Luther College students preparing to teach in Antigua. Students picked up 40 dresses yesterday.

April 25, 2019 – Over the years, mission workers have given us helpful advice and tips on how to create the clothes in a way that will be even more beneficial to the children receiving them.

A total of 107 dresses and 100 shorts went out to a medical team from Avera Hospital & Clinic in Sioux Falls. They said their medical staff travels to the Gatineau village in Haiti and has served this remote area since 2002.

The three groups of volunteers provide support to the work of their partner project Friends for Health in Haiti to improve the well-being of people who have suffered throughout their entire history.

April 30, 2019 – Today, Father Cornelius picked up 700 dresses and 455 shorts to ship to his homeland, Nigeria. A shipping container was filled to the brim with all the extra necessities needed to help his country raise their economics and make life a little easier for families.

Father Cornelius sent a note to all our dedicated sewing ladies saying: “You do this type of job with joy and cheerfulness. You clothe the naked and make them happy. May God reward you for this great job. These children will continue to pray for you and your families. Thank you for all your items. You know how to make people happy”.

August 16, 2019 – Today, 60 dresses and 10 pairs of shorts were packed for Grenada and 20 dresses are going to Antigua. Both destinations have school children in some of the poorest locations on these islands.

September 23, 2019 – We donated, again and again, 75 dresses and 75 shorts to Operation Christmas Child. It is such a worthwhile event and participating brings heartfelt joy because ‘giving is better than receiving’ unless you are a child getting their first piece of clothing.

First United Methodist Church here in New Ulm filled 145 boxes. The excess items went to the same church in Mankato. At this point, the New Ulm and Mankato boxes are trucked to a distribution center in the Chicago area, where each box is double-checked for appropriate items. Last year, the boxes from all corners of the nation totaled 90 million.

October 6, 2019 – While watching the TV news, a story came across about the work being done by Smiles International in Mexico. Researching their website, the contact person was Dr. Jeff Moses and so we sent an email inquiring about his mission to provide medical surgeries to children in Mexico with lip deformities and cleft palates. The surgical team travels to two areas (Cabo & Tecate) twice each year.

After a lengthy conversation, later the same day, we got an email from Dr. Moses. He said, “Talking with you this morning was a wonderful lesson for me, showing how blessed we all are to be able to serve the purpose of helping others and especially the children of the world. Our program will welcome distributing your sewing club’s beautiful efforts constructing girl’s sundresses and boy’s shorts at our Baja mission programs where we correct deformities of the unfortunate children of northern and southern Baja, Mexico”.

Thrivent Financial helped with the postage necessary to get our items to Texas, where Dr. Moses’ office is located. He will transport medical supplies and our items through security at the Mexican border. Our hearts are bursting with happiness by giving our time to sew Little Dresses!


Warner wants to thank all those involved with the Little Dresses Workshop. In addition to dozens of talented sewers, the group has benefited from many willing individuals helping to distribute the clothing.

Warner said most of the distributors find out about the workshop by word of mouth.

The Little Dresses operation continues to do well and is expanding. Individuals can come to 1326 N. German Street on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday (9-Noon) to pick up supplies, drop off finished dresses/shorts or to help put a kit together.

Those wishing to donate to the workshop may contact Mary Warner at (507) 359-1326.

The workshops accept 100% cotton fabric, 3/8″ braided elastic, laces, ribbons, buttons, threads, stick pins, larger safety pins, and gallon size Ziploc bags. Warner has even offered to teach volunteers to sew a dress or shorts.

“Using resources well, engaging people to sew and share happiness,” Warner said. “That’s what this project is all about!


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