The little-used craft room at Vernon Woods is humming again.
Led by one of its residents, an army of residents, dining room servers and other staff gather in the room on a regular basis to sew. There’s a rack of colorful dresses, adorned with ribbons and other decorations, to show for their labor.
Linda Willoughby, 73, came to live at Vernon Woods in July. She’d sewed all her life, but almost didn’t bring her sewing machines with her.
“I’ve been sewing as long as I can remember,” says Willoughby, who is of a generation of girls where sewing was as crucial a skill as learning how to use an iPad is now.
She wanted to find a use for her machines, but didn’t want to do something just for fun.
“I wanted to make sure it benefited someone else,” she said. “What better way is there to do crafts? Feeling useful is important.”
A staff member at Vernon Woods let her know about pillowcase dresses. Dottie Fonte, the center’s fitness director, had run across an article on the project and found the website littledressesforafrica.org. The international mission project seeks people to make the dresses and either ship them to Africa or send them along with those going on mission trips to the country.
The project grew at Vernon Woods and Willoughby now is in the craft room every day – sometimes by herself, sometimes leading a group to make the dresses. From cutting the patterns to ironing the cloth, to sewing and adornments, they make about one dress a week.
Willoughby and Fonte both say its brought residents and staff members together in a way that likely would not have happened otherwise. It also has those involved at Vernon Woods reaching out to their churches, who are making their own dresses.
“It’s spread all around,” Willoughby said.
One staff member even worked on several dresses by hand.
Now they’re looking for donations: money to ship the dresses (about $150 per box is the estimated cost) and supplies to make the dresses, from pillowcases to ribbons and other adornments.
Donations may be dropped off at Vernon Woods, 101 Vernon Woods Drive.
And Willoughby is already thinking about how to expand the project. She wants to find out if its possible to roll up the dresses and put them in “Samaritan’s Purse” shoe boxes that are shipped to other countries each Christmas with small gifts inside. She’s also working on a way to include boys.
“I want to start making shorts for the boys,” she said.