Charity sewing – dresses


I’ve been enjoying myself hugely the past couple of weeks, with mountains of lovely fabric to cut and sew into  simple, easy peasant dresses for girls.

Mountains of lovely cotton!

Above are the three lovely fabrics I mentioned in my last post – a useful soft blue chambray, a vibrantly-crimson Rose and Hubble marble effect poplin, and a beautiful silky lightweight daffodil-yellow twill. The first two were one-off specials from the lovely Kath and daughter Janet, of Kath’s Fabrics on Preston Market, and the third a clearance offer from a specialist shirting wholesaler.

The old style of ‘pillowcase dresses’ are,  thank goodness, losing favour for impoverished girls in the third world.  I always thought they looked very dodgy myself, and apparently there have been some instances of people using old worn-out actual pillowcases to make ‘dresses’.

Yuk! I cannot accept that these were made with good intent, unless they were made by someone with intellectual or psychiatric issues. 

There’s no good reason to make clothing that we wouldn’t be happy to see worn by a child of our own family in a similar climatic and cultural environment.

Bright, clean and pretty fabrics – unworn! – are surely what should be used, and these need not be expensive to buy if a little time can be invested in the search for them. In any case, why not make the task as pleasant as possible for yourself, too? I’ve loved sorting through my remnants to find fabrics and trims which co-ordinate, contrast or tone with the main fabrics, putting together colour and pattern combinations which please my eye and which I hope will please the eye of a girl far distant from me.

Dress styles

When I read Jacqui’s (Jacqui Onslow, from DAGAW UK) request in her response to me – ‘Please, no pillowcase dresses’ – I thought that perhaps here was an appropriate and worthwhile outlet for the lovely cotton fabrics pictured above. 

Jacqui mentioned that peasant dresses were popular – ‘nice roomy ones’, she wrote – and this gave me a good excuse to indulge in some of my favourite reading. I LOVE costume and clothing history!

There are several different types of peasant-style, or rather, so-called peasant style, dresses from different parts of the world. They all have a few important things in common – they’re easy to make, fit and to wear, are designed so as to not be physically restrictive, and they offer a degree of coverage that makes them ‘respectable’ in societies where this was, or still is, important.  

The first batch of dresses I’ve sewn are a bog-standard style, with an elastic or drawcord gathered neckline, a roomy bodice and full ‘puff’ sleeves, simply cut in a way that gives a raglan effect. It’s similar to the Carmen or gypsy style blouse,  popularised in the 1930s and 40s by the film star Carmen Miranda. The Carmen style, however, is an off-the-shoulder look, which these little dresses most assuredly are not! 

The first five finished dresses are in the picture below – the other dozen or so still await their elastic or their drawcords!

The first five dresses – the first five of many!

Sleeves, pockets and, in some cases, hem bands, are sewn from contrasting or toning cotton remnants I’ve saved from dressmaking and craft projects over the years, or which have been given to me by kind friends, acquaintances and the ever–generous Kath and Janet.

I’m making these to fit 4 – 10 year olds approximately. I tried one of the smaller ones on a neighbour’s tiny, slight 5yo, and it was big, but not unfeasibly massive, on her, so I think my sizing is probably OK. Really, most of them are the same size, just with slightly different armhole cut-outs, neckline elastic/drswcord lengths and total dress length. I’m putting elastic in most of the sleeves, but not all of them.

Each one should fit a child for at least a couple of years, as children grow upwards much more than they grow outwards between toddlerhood and puberty.  So if it’s a few inches too long when a child gets it, it’ll be a few inches too short a few years later, and about right for most of the time in between, I hope.

This style of dress, tunic or top is very quick and easy to make. There are umpteen different, easy-to-follow, free, tutorials, diagrams and downloads available, although I drafted my own pattern, and it can be embellished as elaborately as you like, so could even be made, in the right fabric, and perhapswith a wide sash,  for a special little girl’s First Communion or  bridesmaid dress.

This first batch aren’t embellished or ‘fancy’ in any way, but a neighbour heard what I was doing (the village grapevine flourishes!) and came over with a carrier-bag FULL  of lovely, quality, braids, piping, ric-rac and other goodies last week, so who knows what the next batch will be like!


Musings on fabric and sewing

(In case you’re wondering, my conversation with Consumer Advice re opening of patterns purchased on-line is still ongoing and so I am not yet ready to post anything. WRT objectively faulty or misdescribed patterns, whether purchased online or in person, please see my earlier post  here)


When it comes to the crunch, I’m retired with a small pension, and I don’t actually need to work if I live in a reasonably-frugal, but not uncomfortable, way.

I could sit on the sofa and eat bon-bons all day if I wanted – but then I’d be the Enormously-Obese Lady who does nothing, not the Fat Lady who sews. No, not a good idea.

Why I sew

I sew because I enjoy sewing for its own sake – I revel in the ingenuity of the machinery, for one thing! and a ruffler attachment delights me – as well as to fulfil creative urges. I love fabrics of all sorts and enjoy the hunt for lovely ones almost as much as actually finding them – being retired, I have the time to do this, and being in Lancashire I often find sources, and surprises, almost on my doorstep.

Oh, and I sew because it’s often easier, faster and cheaper for me to sew for myself than it is to buy clothing that fits, that I like, that is of decent quality AND which comes from an acceptably-ethical-to-me source.

Why I buy so much fabric …

Add to the last two paragraphs above, the indisputable fact that the Fat Lady cannot resist a bargain, and what do you think happens when she lights on Egyptian cotton, soft as silk and almost as drapey, or a pure natural linen, or a wool gauze, and finds out they cost £1 – £3 per metre?

Or sometimes even less per metre when she asks ‘How much is left on that bolt?’ and on being told, says ‘How much for the whole thing?’ 

What do you think happens when she comes across designer curtaining/light upholstery fabric  – which you might find in Milan, London, Tokyo or Dubai for £100 or more per  metre – for £3 – £8 per metre?

Well, let’s just say that all my friends have very expensive-looking curtains and sofa cushions, and I have unending piles of highest-quality bedlinen …

I also have cupboards, drawers and shelves piled ridiculously high – even unmanageably high! – with fabric. The tipping point came recently when I was offered the following three 100% cotton fabrics in quick succession: 

  1. a traditional denim-blue chambray, 150 cm wide at £1/m 
  2. a bright red Rose & Hubble poplin, 114 cm wide at £2/m
  3. an Egyptian-grown, UK-woven, very high threadcount, but lightweight (110 gsm),  shirting/light dressweight single twill, 90 cm wide at £3/m.

All three fabrics are high-quality examples of their type. The shirting twill, in particular, is of a quality very hard to find nowadays at any price, let alone at £3/m!

So I bought 10 metres of each fabric, and then wondered what to do with them – and with all my other fabrics, too.

… and what should I do with it?

I suppose I could sell the fabrics, perhaps via Etsy or Ebay, but you know what? I can’t be arsed. If I wanted to earn money selling fabric, I’d ask my favourite market trader if she wanted to employ me occasionally.

Could I make things ‘on spec’ to sell – to a boutique, at a craft fair or on Etsy or Folksy? Well, I could – I’ve done it before – but do I want to? The answer to that, at least at present, is a big, fat ‘NO’.

I cut three metres off the chambray to keep for myself – I have a Burda pattern in mind, for which I think it will be ideal – and then, after overlocking all the newly-purchased fabric’s raw edges and putting it in the washing machine, I consulted Mr. Google, where I found

Dress a Girl Around the World UK

which delivers new, handmade cotton dresses (and shorts for boys) to projects for impoverished children in some of the poorest parts of the world. The website was a bit vague and not really up-to-date, so I contacted them through the website’s contact form, and received a prompt response. The UK organiser, Jacqui Onslow, visits Uganda regularly, as she is a trustee of an educational charity over there, and institutions and projects elsewhere are supported, too.

Well, there’s a bit of religion involved, apparently, which I have to say I’m very much opposed to on principle, but as I’m a pragmatic person and don’t particularly want to do voluntary work in rural sub-Saharan Africa myself, I’m glad that other people do. I know a university lecturer in nursing who regularly helps deliver modern nursing education in one of the poorest countries in the world; he’s never struck me as ‘religious’, so I was very surprised to learn that his and his colleagues’ efforts are sponsored by  – I think – the Church of Scotland.

Personally I think it’s abhorrent that religion – in one guise or another – is so often an accompaniment to the provision of basic education, infrastructure  and healthcare, but it’s even more abhorrent that corrupt governments and politicians accumulate vast wealth at the expense of  poor folk who must suffer and die prematurely, illiterate, hungry and diseased, in squalor. So I’ll turn a blind eye to any bits of preachifying which might creep in here and there from good folk doing their bit to help. Count me out of any hallelujah praise the lord type of thing, though!

Anyway, I’m now making dresses for little girls. I can’t think of a better use for most of my cotton fabrics – can you?

More soon, when I’ve taken photos. Although I say it myself, some of them are very cute!