“Dress A Girl ” for Summer !

Carol Binnie Johnson from “Dress A Girl Around the World” has helped get the word out to her group about April’s sewing for girls’ project.  Their group has sent many dresses to the Rez and the girls really love them with many parents asking Jerome and Theresa if there are any more coming.  We’ve asked Carol to write the blog this week so we can all learn more about the work they do and get some tips for our project from the experts. Thank you Carol for your support to both groups and for sharing your thoughts with us.

“Sew For Kids asked me to write a blog about “Dress A Girl” several months ago and today I’m determined to get it done! Let me take a moment to introduce myself. I was trained as an RN, and worked in pediatric intensive care before marrying “my pilot.” I followed him around the world for the next 10 years with his Air Force career and when he retired we moved back to Tucson (where he found me!). He spent the next 19 years flying for Southwest Airlines, retiring just last Nov. We’re the very proud parents of 4 handsome boys, our “mighty men,” and have a sweet daughter in law. I love to swim, play outside in my garden which is currently overflowing with sweet peas, roses and hummingbirds, scrapbook, sew, quilt, bake, and help people.

I became involved in sewing for “Dress A Girl Around The World” in 2010 thorough a friend who wanted her college aged daughters to have a project when they came home for Thanksgiving weekend, other than the usual eating, sleeping and playing games. I had been facilitating a group at church that met monthly to scrapbook and thought it would be nice to do something charitable and asked her about the dresses. Well, let’s just say that was the end of my scrapbooking group, I became a “crazy sewing lady”.  I also sew for the group “Days for Girls” which makes sustainable sanitary supply kits and meet with the group  “Wrapped in Prayer” making prayer quilts for those experiencing physical, emotional or spiritual pain.  I’ve also been sewing and sending dresses to the Reservation for several years as well as to 17 other countries..

I’m the Tucson area ambassador for Dress A Girl which is a program of Hope 4 Women International, a 501c3 organization. The dream and challenge of Dress A Girl is to “Imagine a World where every little girl owned at least one dress.” This organization has put their dream into action by delivering more than 235,000 dresses to little girls in 77 countries all over the world since beginning in October 2009.  Dresses are hand carried by missionaries and other groups to be placed on the little girls, letting them know that someone loves them and sewed a dress just for them. Many girls have never had a dress of their own. We’ve heard that some girls will wear the dress day and night, never taking it off, similar to the story Carol B shared about the little Lakota girl receiving a dress this month who slept in it. We do ask that when possible photos be sent of the girls who have received the dresses. It means so much to the ladies who put such love into sewing the dresses to see the girls in the dress. You can see some of the dresses our group has sent out on my Facebook page Dress A Girl Around The World – Tucson. There is no charge for anyone to take or receive dresses and each ambassador is responsible for obtaining the materials to make the dresses as well as funds to ship them to the group distributing them so I love donations!

I became connected with Sew For Kids through Hopeful Threads as they were sewing for both my group and SFK.  When you start sewing for one charity, the connections that occur are amazing!   Several Dress A Girl groups have sent many dresses to the Pine Ridge Reservation but sadly we never received any feedback that our dresses had been well received other than a note for tax purposes saying we had sent so many pounds of clothing.  I was determined to find a point person for the Lakota people as many ladies want to sew for girls in the United States instead of sending their dresses overseas. I obtained Jerome and Theresa’s address, I believe from another Dress A Girl rep, and sent off a big box of warm winter clothing last fall. The day the package arrived in Wanblee I got a phone call from Jerome! I was so happy (as in ecstatic!) and knew the connection needed to get dresses to the girls had been made. I even received photos, and that was the clincher for my sewers. I now have a group of ladies who are thrilled to sew for the High Horses, including one exceptional seamstress who loves to make outfits for the plus sized girls. I’ve posted photos and pattern numbers on the Yahoo group page.  SFK is highlighting the girls in April, but Dress A Girl Tucson will continue to sew and send as long as there are girls needing a dress.

It’s evident the ladies in this group are committed to sending quality items to the High Horses.  It’s been thrilling to see all the suggestions on the blog and Pinterest boards and have even found some cute patterns I’m going to try.  Dress a Girl was started by using donated pillowcases as the basis for our dresses, however we had issues with quality, they were either too thin, stained and soiled or made of microfiber so we usually found it better to start with new fabric.    When sending dresses abroad in people’s suitcases the basic pillowcase style is easiest to pack, but for the Rez I’ve  become open to adding more cute embellishments, ruffles, buttons, etc.  Theresa says she does have the ability to make minor repairs and adjustments to the dresses unlike those going to third world countries where there are no pins, needles or sewing machines, and rarely a mother!

I admit to being a stickler on quality control and try to ensure that each dress I send is the best dress ever.  In a nutshell:  1) Use quality fabric, it really does make a difference. 100% cotton fabric is great, like quilters use.  2) Do not use thin or see through fabric, if you can see the outline of your hand or see print on a page, choose something else!  3) Use bright colors, it’s cheerful and hides stains.  4) Make sure to finish all seams, no raw edges anywhere.  French seams are a breeze to make once you get past the first one when you’re sure you’re doing it wrong, why would you sew the wrong sides of the fabric together with a narrow seam?? A serger is great for making sturdy seams, if you don’t have one make a regular seam and zigzag next to it, raw edges are finished and the seam is reinforced.   5) If you’re making a pillowcase style dress here’s a great tutorial by my friend Karen on how to make the best dress ever.  She also has a super tutorial for a t-shirt dress   6) Please be sure and make the ties long enough to allow for a nice bow.  I make ties by cutting 2 strips of fabric 2″ wide by the fabric width (usually 44″,  36″ for baby), fold strip in half and fold edges in (or zip it through a bias tape making thingamajig, 25mm, or use the Simplicity bias tape making machine).  The armhole curve isn’t severe enough to warrant using bias tape, which can get really expensive.  Make your own to save money, get unlimited color choices and use for further embellishment.  I don’t use ribbon of any kind for the ties.   7) Please don’t use anything on the dress that’s not washable…. no craft ribbon, raffia, hot glue, artificial flowers. We’re making these dresses to be loved and worn for the long term and maybe even passed on to another girl.

There have been so many suggestions for free patterns that I hesitate to throw any more out there. The pillowcase dress needs no pattern just follow the directions on the above websites.  If you want to use an actual pattern be sure and purchase when JoAnn’s has them on sale for $1. A few that are quick and easy are Simplicity 2241, See & Sew (by Butterick) 3889 and B6004, Butterick B4173 and 3772 and McCalls 2686, 6501 and M6275 (this one is cute for the older girls and comes in plus sizes). I’ve also made a few skirts from old jeans I think the older girls will like.

As usual I’ve gotten way too wordy and I’ve hardly started sharing my excitement!  In my sewing room is a collage ”Live your passion out loud”.   I am….and what fun to be able to create dresses for little girls after primarily using my sewing machine the past 30 years for sewing on Cub Scout patches and making pj’s and curtains! I am grateful to have connected with SFK and the High Horses. If you are sewing for Dress A Girl and have no rep counting your dresses, I’ll be glad to send in numbers for you.  I have discussed the Dress A Girl label with headquarters, and it’s been decided that, unlike other destinations, it’s not necessary to sew labels on the dresses. It’s been found that some places in the United States this label, instead of protecting the girls from predators,  may identify them as a “charity case.” We want the girls to love their dresses and be proud to wear them!

If I can help in any way, my email is dressagirltucson@gmail.com. Thanks for taking me under your wing and allowing me the pleasure of sending dresses to the girls on the Rez!”

Carol Johnson

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