Hand-sewn Dresses Assist Anti-Slave Initiative

By Stan Friedman

CHICAGO, IL (January 3, 2012) – “Pillowcase dresses” sewn by women in the Central Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church could mean the difference between whether or not an impoverished girl in another country is kidnapped to become a slave.

The nice-looking dresses give the impression of stability in the girls’ lives, says Renee Shepherd, who chairs the Compassion, Mercy, and Justice outreach initiative of the Central Conference Women Ministries (CCWM). “People snatch kids who look unkempt or uncared for,” she says.

Shepherd coordinated the project and stresses its importance. “We’re not just making a dresses, we’re making dresses to save a life.”

The CCWM designated sewing the pillowcase dresses as its project for 2011. The goal was to sew 500 pieces of clothing. That goal was far surpassed as women brought a total of 962 dresses to two retreats in the fall.

“It just took on a life of its own,” says Bonnie Stephens of Northbrook Covenant Church. She sewed 101 dresses. Another member, Mary Dornfeld, sewed 124.

Stephens and some of the other women made dresses from different fabrics. Stephens put out a request for fabric on several knitting websites to which she belongs. Women from six states responded.

People donating the dresses also are asked to make a financial donation to pay for shipping. A pianist and organist at Covenant Village put on a concert to raise funds for the project.

Sewing the dresses is a project that brings together people of all ages. At one gathering of sewers at Northbrook, participants spanning four generations worked alongside one another, says Stephens.

The project inspired women at the retreats. “They saw what can be done when we work collectively,” says Shepherd. “It has galvanized the women so that I’m getting constant email from women who want to participate.”

Even though it won’t be the organization’s 2012 project, the CCWM plans to collect dresses during its retreats this year as well, Shepherd says. The dresses are being distributed through the Department of World Mission and the organization Little Dresses for Africa.

It is not only women in the Central Conference who are sewing dresses. An increasing number of Covenant churches around the country have been initiating their own sewing groups for an ongoing ministry or specific projects. Like the Central Conference women, many are working with Little Dresses for Africa. Others are working through Dress a Girl Around the World.

The websites for the different organizations contain patterns for making the dresses. Videos also can be found in multiple places online.

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  1. This summer our church members and neighbors sewed over 175 pillowcase dresses. Can someone get in touch with me about the best way to send these dresses?

  2. This project really grabbed the hearts of women (and more than a few men) throughout the Central Conference. It was so wonderful to see how everybody was inspired to participate.
    The dresses displayed at the Spring Celebration 2011 and the Fall Fellowship at Covenant Harbor were amazingly diverse with every color imaginable cleverly embellished with bows, buttons, ribbons, and lace.
    There were tears of thanksgiving and praise to our Lord when we prayed over the dresses at the Fall Fellowship. Glad to hear that this project is still ongoing.
    I’ll let our ladies know that we can continue making the dresses, and that they’ll be distributed through World Missions. Thanks to Renee’ Shepherd and her dedication to God’s children. <

  3. The comment relating to clothing being a factor as to whether a girl will be snatched for slave trade really caught my attention. Wow! When CW used to cut material for a sewing project even before the the Women of Zaire project, many women held a needle in their hands for the first time and sewed for their own children. What excitement when they could hold up a finished project. I wish all of those involved in this project now could see the excitement at the receiving end. God bless the makers and the receivers and may he be glorified. Wow!

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