Dresses that make a difference

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Anna Clark, left, helps Mackenzie Heaton set up a sewing machine on Tuesday morning in Dianne Gronley's Textile Designs class at Flathead High School.

Hearing the hum of sewing machines in Dianne Gronley’s classroom is normal at this time of year. Students in her Textile Designs class start working on their first sewing projects, usually bags, in February.

But this year’s projects had a charitable purpose.

The girls in Gronley’s class turned pillowcases and other fabrics into dresses for girls who otherwise might not be able to afford them.

Dress a Girl Around the World, a campaign by Hope 4 Women International, seeks to deliver dresses to girls around the globe. According to the campaign’s website, Dress A Girl Around the World has delivered nearly 19,200 dresses to girls in 36 countries, and people from 42 states, Canada, Uganda and Hong Kong are involved in dressmaking.

There are groups around the country that make the dresses in assembly lines, Gronley said. “They can make a dress in less than 20 minutes.”

Gronley first heard about the program on a news show. The reporter said that little girls with dresses that weren’t tattered and torn were safer than those whose clothing was ragged.

Gronley was touched by the difference a new dress could make. After learning more about Dress a Girl Around the World, she decided it would make a great project for her Textile Designs class.

“It’s a beautiful opportunity to do some community spirit work,” she said.

The students in her class embraced the idea of sewing something that would help little girls around the world. They don’t yet know where their dresses might end up, Gronley said; the garments could be shipped to Africa, Haiti, Japan or even Appalachia.

Not knowing the dresses’ final destination didn’t slacken the students’ desire to help.

“Every girl deserves a little dress,” junior Bridgett Herne said.

The students in Gronley’s class benefited from the project, too, Gronley said.

Making pillowcase dresses would help her students get the beginning sewing skills they needed for a low price, she said. She opened the project up to the school, which encouraged teachers to bring in fabric, gently used pillowcases and decorative notions.

“It didn’t cost anything, and people got to clean out their closets,” she said. “I still find pillowcases in my mailbox.”

The class began making dresses on Valentine’s Day, Gronley said.

Each dress took two to three class periods to complete, depending on how much detail students put into the garments, senior Sarah Aylor said.

For most girls, the hardest part of the project was deciding what to do with the pillowcases, Gronley said. They might start out as rectangles, but the dresses could be as fancy as the students wanted to make them.

Herne said she was thinking of little girls in Africa when she chose fabric for her dress.

“I wanted to make a dress with more tribalish colors, to go with dark skin,” she said.

“It was a good, easy first project,” she added. “You could really go unique with it.”

Aylor said that knowing the dresses were going to little girls who might not have something nice to wear made the class take extra care with their work.

“We wanted them to be well-made so they wouldn’t come apart,” she said.

Some girls in the class said they planned to make more dresses for Dress a Girl Around the World on their own. Several made more than one for the class project.

“They’ve been a delight to watch,” Gronley said. “I’m so impressed with the young women here.”

She said she plans to continue the project with Textile Designs classes in the future.

“I don’t see where this would ever have an end,” Gronley said.

She urged other people to get involved with Dress a Girl Around the World. Additional information about program, including dress patterns, are available at www.dressagirlaroundtheworld.com.

Reporter Kristi Albertson may be reached at 758-4438 or at kalbertson@dailyinterlake.com.

Kristen Hegenbarth, a junior, adds a dress she made to the collection of dresses made by Dianne Gronley's Textile Designs class on Tuesday morning at Flathead High School.


A clothes line strung across the classroom holds nearly 40 dresses made by Dianne Gronley's Textile Designs class at Flathead High School.

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