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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 in not using them.

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.

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