How-to: Garments for Ghana

Required disclosure:  I am a paid Brother Ambassador.  Not required:  I absolutely love Brother Machines.

Several readers have written asking if they may participate in the Garments for Ghana project.   Others asked how our project operated so they might do a similar event in their own community.  When I mentioned in response to a comment on this topic that I might write this post, at least one promised that she (sweet Sandee) would not find these details boring.  I hope she is not the only one because I am going ahead with this.

Before I began, I was given some direction from the mission team leaders.  The request was for bright colors, since the landscape there is pretty bleak.  We did that. Check.

Second, there must be no buttons or closures  that might break or need replacement. Such replacement is not an option for mothers in these areas.  Check.  Elastic at the neckline was the only closure notion.  I know elastic gives out after a couple of years, but I expect these garments will be worn out long  before the elastic is.

Third, in many African nations and apparently in Ghana, bare shoulders for girls and perhaps adult females, is taboo.  So we needed some sort of sleeve.  Check.  I did notice early on that many photos of pillowcase dresses for Little Dresses for Africa showed the girls wearing a  tee shirt under their dresses.  Now I see that the site offers a free pattern that has a sleeve, much like the pattern I used.

Fourth, each garment must be marked with its size.  I had a bag of labels for sizes 1-5 and for the others I embroidered sizes on grosgrain ribbon in the hoop.  Ladies who worked from home used a sharpie to write on ribbon, which like the others,  was tucked into the elastic casing at the back.

As mentioned in the previous post, one of my goals was to make a dent in my huge fabric stash.  I announced to our church membership that we would begin sewing garments for Ghana, for the medical mission team to deliver in June (NOW!!!).  Then it started–bolts and bolts and yards and yards of lovely fabrics were carried in every Sunday morning.  Granted,  in came 2 or 3 old curtain pieces, but I felt no guilt about not using them.  Perhaps we can make a tote next time from those fabrics.

If you would like to do this as a community project, I suggest that you announce it a  few weeks before you begin.  Of course, permission to reserve the facility (church fellowship hall or whatever) must be given.

Then assemble necessary power cords and strips to reach the machines.  Of course, you can do as you please, but I anticipated more participation if the ladies didn’t have to pack up  their sewing rooms to participate.

Several boxes of supplies were packed, one for scissors, one huge box with threads in every color and wound bobbins in several sizes for different machines, one for pins, pin cushions and extra machine needles, one for other notions such as fray block, marking pens and bobbins for a variety of machines and a jar of size labels.  This is all not necessary, but it was very helpful even for ladies who they brought their own supplies.  “Oops–forgot my scissors.”

Our church owns 3 basic sewing machines, which had been stored and unused for several years.  My dear husband and I spent several hours cleaning, oiling and readying them for use.  I also brought along two of my own machines so it was not necessary for at least 5 ladies to bring their own.

As for patterns, it took me a little while to get what I thought was the perfect one. I did not want to purchase a pattern for each sewist, preferring to purchase just one for all the dresses. Making all the kits myself guaranteed no copyright infringements. Many individuals, however, have their own patterns which could be used outside a community project.

At first, I chose this cute pattern and sewed it for a sample on our mission display board.


I quickly learned that this pattern absolutely required a serger.  The underarm 1/4″ seams were to be serged and folded under and stitched in place.  All instructions referred to serging the 1/4″seams rather than sewing them.  It’s a great pattern, but not do-able for my group as I didn’t want to involve a serger.   There were many beginner sewists who could not work around that need with satisfactory overcasting.  Again, the sleeve ruffle and pockets were not a part of the pattern.

Neither did I want one which required bias binding at the underarm.  When I found   “Cecelia,” from 5Berries  it was perfect. It is a downloadable .pdf pattern for less  than $7.  That was a bargain for 50 dresses in 12 sizes.

There is no need for finishing an underarm seam as the sleeve completes the armscye.  It is a blank canvas, allowing you to use contrasting (small pieces) fabric for sleeves and optional sleeve ruffle and pockets (drafted by you).  There are only 3 pattern pieces, front, back and sleeve.

AND–this was a big consideration–sizes 1-12 were included and nested with no overlap.  So as one size was cut out, the remaining smaller sizes were intact.  Our goal was to make 100 garments, 50 dresses and 50 shorts.   After  printing and taping the pieces together, I simply cut 4 of the largest size, 12, from the pattern.  Then I trimmed the pattern to size 11 and cut 4 of that size, and on and on.  That would give us 48 dresses, but…..

As it turned out, one retired home economics agent, needed to sew at home.  So I gave her a size 5 kit.  From those cut out pieces, she cut 7 kits from her own fabric and then cut 5 more for a housebound church member.  So we ended up with a LOT of size 5’s, those 12 as well as the other 3 I cut. I like to think God knew there would be more size 5 girls than the others.

Each kit included  the cut out pattern pieces (usually including the shoulder ruffle and sometimes 2 pockets) with the fronts of each piece marked with tiny brass safety pins.  Added to that was elastic cut to size and marked with a washout pen.  This avoided the possibility of side-by-side sewists getting their elastic pieces switched.  A spool of matching thread and trim was also added.  I have a huge amount of rick rack and included that on many of the dresses.  But any trim would do, keeping in mind the need for sturdy materials.  Having everything together was convenient.

So we sewed. And laughed and learned.  It was great fellowship.

The children began their sewing journey with teepee bags kits to match some of the dresses. It included  the fabric, zipper, thread, and  ribbon handle. This is my go-to sewing project when teaching children.  These kids LOVE sewing. I hope to do a children-only workshop at our church one day.

Another sewist, unable to join us, used her own more taxing pattern to make this adorable dress.  She added so many details and created a very special garment on her own.

She just happened to have rick rack in the exact shade of green in her stash and used that on the sleeve.  Her pattern required bias binding at the under arm.

I love the baby black rick rack and the layered buttons sewn with contrasting thread. Donna is a perfectionist with fabulous taste.

For the little boy shorts, sizes 1-4, a simple pattern was used.  Iembroidered the pockets on my Brother Dream Machine 2 in order to spice them up a little.  A toy of one kind or another was included.  The cars were considered a choking hazard so they were used only for the 3-4 sizes.

The big boy shorts, sizes 5-10, were cut from the Fuddie Duddie Casey pattern.   was used, but it required printing out each size.  But it worked just find, as there were just 5 sizes cut.

The pocket on the cargo pants offered a place for a toy, usually a finger trap.   I  think the boys will enjoy them.

Can you see the wild horses on the cargo pocket?

Whether sewing as a group or as individuals, you can see how helpful it is to have a variety of fabrics, even small pieces.  For pockets, for shoulder ruffles, for contrasting sleeves and even for added length at the hemline when the chosen fabric is not long enough.

For any readers who would like to participate, shorts or dresses may be sent to me throughout the year.  E-mail me at for the address.

The more remote village where the mission team is going for the next few days, has never been visited by a white person.  The area has no electricity, no running or clean drinking water, no medical care or facilities, no pharmacy and no school.  Can you imagine?  This is the poorest region and the area where the garments will be distributed.  We covet your prayers for these Ghanese people and the mission team.

This post is too long, I know.  But it is what it is.  Sandee, what do you think?  Let me know if you would like to participate or if you have any questions.


8 responses to “How-to: Garments for Ghana

  1. Just saw this. Will u be doing this again? If so I would like to see for another year.
    In regards to patterns, in classes I take we trace the patterns on other paper and mark sizes, pattern #, any other pattern markings for sewing, then the original is in tack to use other sizes.

  2. Yes, Peg, we expect to do this again and would love to have you participate. Tracing the pattern makes sense, but since I was cutting all the kits because all the fabric was at my home, simply cutting down to the next size worked just fine. Because both the dress and the shorts patterns were .pdf, reprinting them next year or whenever will be less time consuming than tracing off 17 sizes. It was not practical to cut out the garments at church because of the location of the fabrics. If you would like to join us, either locally (DeBary, FL) or remotely from your home, let me know. We would love to have you join us! I will notify you when we begin again. Thanks!

  3. Sandra in WA

    Thank you sew much for all the detail. Not too long at all!!!! I would be interested in participating as a “lone wolf”, sewing from my own home and sending in what I can. I bet I could get my daughter and granddaughters interested in helping out too.

    Did you use a specific shorts pattern? I know that Oliver and S has a cute free pattern, but I don’t think it goes up to a 12.

    You said that there was a site with a free dress that does include sleeves? I can certainly do anything that needs a serger in my home if need be.

  4. Sandra in WA

    Oh, can you tell me more about the teepee bags? Is this a free pattern somewhere?

  5. Oh, Sandra, yes I can tell you the teepee bags. I have several blog posts about them, including the simple pattern. Do a search here for teepee bags and you will see a variety of posts and variations on the bag. I’ll send you a link in a minute.

  6. Sandra, this link will take you to the pattern, though I think it was included in more than one of the posts with this topic. Recently, I’ve come up with several variations–more on that later. Just make one! A big name friend in the sewing industry wrote to me recently and said, “Why didn’t I believe you when you said I HAD to make one? Just made a dozen for granddaughter’s birthday party and several others for cosmetic bags for gifts.” Without any special touches, you can make one in 10 minutes. Maybe less for you.

  7. Sandra in WA

    Just checked out your Tee Pee bags and I realized that I have made bags like this! I normally use fusible fleece and line them too, so they have a bit more structure. I call them triangle bags.

    You are right! These are super easy and fun to make, and fun to give when filled with candy or toys. And a wonderful stash buster too.

  8. Sandra, your way does make a much nicer bag. But I just can’t justify putting that much time into the ones I have made–My Little Pony goodies, sports themed bags–birthday party favors. I’ve used prequilted fabric for my sewing machine feet when I’m going to a class, but other than that they are just quickies. I felt sure you would know all about these bags.

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