South Charlotte

Sewing dresses for little girls in Africa

The concept is simple: Get as many willing hands together as possible to sew basic sleeveless cotton dresses and send them to young girls in Africa who may never have had a new dress.

Then watch the smiles grow.

Covenant Presbyterian Church on Morehead Street, a congregation more than 60 years old, has for many years been active in medical and educational mission work in Kenya. The dressmaking idea seemed to fit with the work already being done.

Logistics were handled by a nonprofit called Little Dresses for Africa, and expertise and materials came from church members.

Suzanne Moyer, 16, said she chose to join the Little Dresses project as part of Covenant Impact Charlotte day more than a year ago. Church members signed up to participate in some 30 service projects, then on a specific day met after church to work on them.

"There were about 15 people in the group, and I was the youngest, probably by about 20 years," said Moyer. Although the Little Dresses group did not include her contemporaries, she was drawn to the project by the thought that there were little girls who didn't have a pretty dress.

"I like sewing and I liked the creative aspect of it. And these girls don't have anything fun and colorful and new," she said.

Armed with some previous sewing experience after having made 10 or 12 costumes for a class presentation of "Oedipus Rex" at Myers Park High School, Moyer said, she saw the Little Dresses project as an extension of a growing interest in creating clothes and costumes.

Kits for the dresses were provided by Covenant Little Dresses committee members; once church members got wind of the project, more people joined. The original goal of 100 dresses was surpassed easily, and even Suzanne's sisters - Wheels, 13, and Grace, 11 - decided to help.

Neither Wheels, whose full name is Mary Wheels, nor Grace, had ever sewn, but they were eager participants. It was Grace who took to the project.

"I always wanted to learn to sew. This seemed like a good opportunity to learn," Grace said.

The Covenant Presbyterian congregation made more than 300 dresses, which were carefully packed and delivered to Kenya in mid-September.

The simple gesture of sharing the joy of a new dress with children half a world away has given three Charlotte girls an opportunity to express themselves through sewing.

It's a simple concept that taught a skill and made a multicultural bond - every girl loves a new dress.