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Jean Rudolph, left, and Kathie Morinelli hold a clothesline fi lled with colorful, hand made dresses to be sent to girls in African countries. photo by Ann L. Fouty.

April 10, 2014
Grosse Pointe Memorial Church's sewing room is full. Yet, there is always room for more — more sewers, more laughter, more joy and more colorful dresses with patch pockets.

The 15 or so women who gather from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Tuesday to create colorful Little Dresses for Africa have made more than 25 dresses for young African girls in five weeks and the seamstresses aren't finished yet.

A yard or so of fabric, bias tape, a little contrasting trim and patch pocket make a dress that when worn helps build self esteem in girls who are seen as second class citizens in African countries, said Jean Rudolph, a co-chairwoman of the sewing group.

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A line of dresses ready to be sent to Africa.
Supported by the Presbyterian Church United States, Memorial Church's Little Dresses for Africa are made by church and non-church members and sent to PCUS for distribution by missionaries.

"I launched it a while back, but it wasn't on the radar," Rudolph said. "More recently seemed to be the right time to do it."

On a 2013 summer visit to a Catholic church in Harbor Springs, Rudolph said, she noticed a basket with fabric and notions ready for volunteers to sew a dress to be donated to missionaries.

She decided it was time again to try Little Dresses for Africa at Memorial Church.

The project was launched out of the room originally built for women to sew aprons. The room has nearly a dozen sewing machines and a wall lined with cupboards, floor to ceiling.

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Behind the cupboard doors are stacks of material, thread and notions. From those materials, kits are created. Volunteers have between five-eighths to one and one-eighth yards of material (depending on the size of the dress to be made), two and one-half yards of double fold bias tape, 12 to 16 inches elastic, coordinating all-purpose thread and instructions.

"We harvested from our stash," Rudolph said of where the kits' material originates. "We get donations (from members) and some just give us some fabric and notions."

She added it's prudent to rotate the material and thread because its quality does deteriorate over time. With close weaved, quilting-quality material, the packages were made and set out for volunteers to pick up. Volunteers meet Tuesdays to sew, as well as knit prayer shawls and small lap blankets. The latter are distributed to Oakwood Hospital patients.

"One man," co-chairwoman Kathie Morinelli said, "(Rev.) Peter Henry and his daughter are sewing."

A Girl Scout troop leader picked up 10 kits for the scouts to make Little Dresses for Africa and earn a badge, she said.

She went on to say, not only is the group benefitting a mission project, it's also "been a very beneficial group for women who are in transition in their lives, with the loss of a spouse or health challenges."

"It's an opportunity to vent and share in such a safe environment," Morinelli said. "We have so much fun. We hope this will inspire others."

Adding to the fun, Morinelli said, is choosing what embellishments will adorn the cotton dress. Her personal favorite is adding rickrack on the hem. Other items sewn on are contrasting pockets created from quilt squares or machine embroidery.

Morinelli added, "They are very simple (to make). It's so much fun. The mission of Presbyterian women is supportive of brothers and sisters worldwide."

The next project is Britches for Boys. Shorts are made from T-shirts and also sent to Africa.

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