Forty young Haitian girls pulled on dresses recently — some for the first time — thanks to the efforts of a New Port Richey amateur seamstress-humanitarian and the Brooksville Rotary Club.
Dee Ford, 72, a twice-retired food service director, was looking for an outlet with an altruistic bent that might draw on her interests in sewing or art.
"Every little girl should have a dress," Ford said.
So, she started sewing.
Knowing of world service efforts through her husband's affiliation with Rotary International, Ford was confident of finding routes to get her sewing results to young girls in need.
"I've made hundreds of dresses over maybe two years," Ford said. "I can whip up 10 dresses in a week, and I don't sew all day."
Through church mission trips as well as Rotary, Ford's hand-sewn frocks have dressed youngsters in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Brazil, Ethiopia and Haiti, the latter four or five times. She has begun to sew shorts for little boys, too.
Brooksville Rotarians surprised Ford recently when she was invited to talk to the club about the program she calls Dresses Without Borders.
"They brought me tons of materials and trims," the seamstress said.
One member bought her a slick and speedy rotary cutter.
"They were so generous. They brought me to tears," Ford said, noting that fabric is expensive.
Early on, Ford found a simple sundress pattern on the Internet, designed to be made from a pillowcase.
"I started with pillowcases. They're already hemmed," she noted.
When Ford exhausted a stack of cases donated by friends, she shopped thrift stores for fabric remnants and bedsheets, "gently used, so they're not thin."
A young girl's dress can be made from as little as three-fourths of a yard of fabric.
"I run like a factory," Ford explained. "I cut out maybe 10, then sew up the side seams, then cut the armholes. I love to use grosgrain ribbon for the ties, (but) it's expensive."
When ribbon isn't available for binding the sleeveless armholes, with enough length to tie in a bow at the shoulder, Ford utilizes double-folded seam tape or makes her own bias tape from fabric, an exacting chore.
"I don't get bored," Ford insists.
She calls on her artistic talents to "get creative." She'll add pockets — "kids love pockets" — or handmade appliques, lace, rickrack, buttons, other trims, "doing different things with them."
Ford is interested in having additional amateur seamstresses join her effort.
"You don't have to live next door to me to do this," she said.
A relative in her native Pittsburgh got together a group of do-gooders who sewed up 90 dresses in a day. A friend in Seattle sent her 10 handmade dresses.
Emphasizing that the machine stitching is neither complicated nor time-consuming, Ford speaks about the personal fulfillment of sewing children's wear.
"It's the humanitarian part that interests me," she said.
Ford said Dresses Without Borders is merely a name she gave her endeavor.
"I don't have an organization. I don't want money. It's just a hobby," she insists.
But, it's an endeavor that she acknowledges gives her a lot of self-satisfaction.
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]