Designed with love

Pillowcase dress photo 1

Pillowcase dress photo 1Most Holy Rosary Parish sews dresses for children in need

By Deacon Tom Picciano
Sun contributing writer

A group of women at Most Holy Rosary Parish in Maine, N.Y., carries out corporal works of mercy in a simple and colorful way.

    It’s not easy to find them. First, there’s a walk through a garage door, then a turn around a corner, a trip down a long flight of stairs, passage through the basement of the rectory and then a stop in front of an accordion door. The sound of laughter and hum of sewing machines gives them away, for behind that door is a busy workroom filled with fabric, machines and friendly faces, all hard at work creating “pillowcase” dresses for the poor and the needy in countries around the world. 

   The idea for making the dresses originally came from Haiti. Missionaries there noticed that many young girls had no one to care for them and, consequently, often had little or no clothing. By cutting holes in pillowcases for arms and the head, the missionaries discovered an easy way to make dresses for girls.

   Gloria Sullivan, a member of Most Holy Rosary Parish, was intrigued to find a similar program in operation when she visited a ladies’ tea at a nearby church.  Sullivan thought the colorful dresses looked like aprons. Sullivan was told the colorful collection wasn’t actually made up of aprons, but dresses that were created to clothe the naked.

   “I started asking a thousand questions,” Sullivan said. She wanted to know where the dresses were going and how they would get to their final destinations. She was invited to see first-hand how the unique dresses were made.  

   “They showed me how they do it,” Sullivan said, “and they said, ‘Gloria, sit down and make one.’” 

   Sullivan wanted to take the pillowcase dress idea back to her parish so women there could also help to create dresses for the poor. Sullivan also admitted she had a personal reason for wanting to see this project become a successful work of mercy.

   “I grew up a little poor myself — I mean, beyond poor. I had one dress when I was in third grade,” she said. Sullivan explained how, as a child, she had to wear that one dress for several days in a row. “My mother would clean it and half the time it wasn’t dry, so I knew she washed it every night.”

    Sullivan discussed the dressmaking project with other parishioners at Most Holy Rosary, including Pat Krzyzewski, who agreed that such a project could be done.  Together, with other volunteers, the two women coordinated the launch of the pillowcase-dress-making project and the cutting, sewing and ironing of dresses began.  

  The process is simple and well-organized. Bright, patterned material is donated for the project, eliminating the need for actual pillowcases to be used. A volunteer chooses a piece of cloth from the stacks of material, then brings it to the cutters, who match it with a pocket. A shoulder strap is created by machine and then the main part of the dress is sewn, using heavy machine stitching. Next, arm and head openings are cut out with patterns to match the size of the dress. Finally, elastic and lace are added. The dresses are then ironed and pieces are placed in a plastic bag for final sewing at the homes of volunteers.

   Since its start over a year ago, the group has created more than 1,000 dresses that have since been sent to orphanages in places like Malawi, Uganda, Kenya and Haiti.

Hand-delivered dresses

   To get to their various destinations, the dresses are often hand-carried by priests, religious, and people going to visit a particular country.  This process avoids the need for shipping, which can often mean encounters with custom fees or the possibility the dresses could be stolen in transport.

    Krzyzewski feels the project is going extremely well. “It’s just been marvelous. We just know God wants us to do it because we’ve had no trouble,” said Krzyzewski.

   Sister Salome Cherono, SOMK, visited with the women of Most Holy Rosary on a recent Monday work session. She will be taking dresses with her when she returns to Africa.

   “The work they do here is a very good work,” Sister Salome said. “In Uganda we have an orphanage and the dresses they [Most Holy Rosary Parish] have given me will help. To get dresses there is very difficult,” explained Sister Salome.

   The dresses range in sizes, fitting infants to young teens. “They’re excited to know that they have something to put on…and is given to them by the loving mothers here,” Sister Salome added.

   And for nearly a dozen women who’ve been working together, there’s excitement, too.

   “It’s worthwhile doing something that in the long run is going to benefit a child,” explained Ann Marie Stone as she worked on a pattern. Mary Jane Paterniti agrees, but feels there is an additional benefit.

   “I don’t sew. I just love being with the other women.”

   For more information on helping with the Most Holy Rosary dress project, contact Pat Krzyzewski at pkrzyzewski@stny.rr.com.

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