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!