Since 1991, Joyce Kuenning has worked in the foodservice department of Chase County Schools in Imperial, Neb. Kuenning is retiring at the end of this month, and one of the things she’s looking forward to doing during her retirement is sewing dresses for Little Dresses for Africa, a nonprofit that collects dresses and shorts sewed by individuals and sends them to children in Africa.
“I made 65 dresses for Little Dresses for Africa in one summer. Once I retire I hope to get more dresses going again. I’ve got a couple grandkids so that’s kind of slowed things down a little bit in the dress sewing department. Once I retire I’ll have the time. Our local fabric store collects dresses that community members sew for the program and sends them to the company’s headquarters to be sent to Africa. If you go into the fabric store there are pieces of fabric you can pick up to sew your dresses. If I see something I like, I’ll pick it up, but I mostly use scraps and pieces I have at the home to make the dresses. You can also use pillowcases.
The dresses are pretty simple. There is a basic pattern to follow to get the armhole right. You use either elastic or a drawstring to gather and tie the dress at the shoulders. You can put pockets on it or dress it up anyway you want to. It’s a challenge and it’s fun.
I’m also crocheting hats for children going through chemotherapy. I need to do some research and find a place to send the hats to once I’m finished. I don’t think I’ll have any trouble finding someone to take them. If they don’t go for that, the hats could be for people who need a warm winter hat for their kids and they can’t really afford it. One of the reasons I’m doing this is because I was a single parent to six for a long time. I know how important it is to help people in need. It’s to give back for those who helped me out when I needed it.
I made these hats at home when I didn’t feel like doing anything else. I don’t believe in just sitting and watching TV. I started a month or so ago and I’ve got about 12 hats crocheted.
I’ve sewn for a long time. I remember at five years old getting a doll outfit that you hand stitched together. One year for Christmas I got one of those little finger hand-crank machines. I was in 4-H Club at eight years old making clothes. I don’t make my own clothes that much anymore. I have quite a few small grandkids and it’s cool for them to get something grandma made, so I make items for them. They have a ‘grandma can fix anything’ mentality. One Christmas I made six teepees out of fabric with boards that stand up. Right now I’m working on hooded bath towels for their birthdays. This Christmas I’m going to make bathrobes for the grandkids and some crocheted slippers with a great big eyeball on it. Just to be funny, even the adults are going to get slippers like that.
Sewing is relaxing. To me sewing is something that fights off Alzheimer’s. It keeps the brain active.”