Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Reminders to self

OK, so here’s the thing I’ve been thinking about.

I made these cute little cotton sundresses last week, just because I was in the mood to do so. Nobody asked for them. Nobody particularly needed them. I have no little girls at home. I have some young great-nieces, but didn’t make the dresses in their sizes. I simply sewed, without regard for eventual recipient, figuring that somebody, somewhere, could use them. Because they were really cute, right?

Now let me go get my eyes checked, because I somehow failed to see the giant red flag that was waving right in front of me.

Something just felt wrong to me as I was stitching and gathering and hemming. Why wasn’t I enjoying making these little things? Summer fabrics are a joy, and the designs were simple and wonderful. Why did I feel vaguely uncomfortable with what I was producing?

By the time I’d put in the final stitches, I’d figured it out. This was a totally self-indulgent exercise. A charitable donation, perhaps, but not the sort of charity I feel good about. Yes, some little girls who accompany their mothers to the women’s shelter where I ended up sending the dresses will have something new and fresh to wear. But realistically, their mothers could get much more good out of a Wal-Mart gift card, getting children’s clothes and a lot more, too (and it pains me to say that, because I really loathe Wal-Mart, but if you have to make a few dollars stretch a long way, there’s no sense in going anyplace else.)

And the shelter itself could benefit more from a check to help buy the food and repair the plumbing and hire the counselors.

The donation of three cotton dresses and a skirt doesn’t exactly equate to kicking puppies. But I still felt a little uneasy about the thoughtlessness of it. And it was a good reminder to stay on track with what I want to do with such projects. Note to self: Begin with the need in mind. Contribute to an organization like a hospital or well-run agency where they’ve already determined this need. And if they need something hand-made, you'll know that you’ll be making things that will be truly useful.

Best of all, self, stick to making things that aren’t easy to find or affordable to get anywhere else. Specialized preemie garments, bereavement outfits, chemo caps, even the odd catheter bags a group of us made last year – they all fall into that category. So do cool ties for the soldiers, and warm knitted garments for groups like Afghans for Afghans or the Dulaan project, where international shipping regulations are more flexible for hand-knitted gifts than for factory-made merchandise.

In other words, there’s plenty of opportunity out there to serve. Sometime we do it by crafting, sometimes by writing a check, sometimes by rolling up our sleeves to volunteer with physical work. The challenge lies in matching our actions with the greatest possible benefit. If we’re lucky, we get it right.

On to lighter topics next week. In the meantime, I'm off to Chicago for a three-day estrogen-fest with my sisters and assorted nieces. Have a great weekend, everyone!


Angelika said...

It was still nice of you to make and donate them, even though it wasn't on your mind while you made them. Don't beat yourself up over it. I'm sure the dresses will be well received. You do such nice work and you are such a motivation for others. Keep it up.

Eljae said...

I respectfully disagree. While money could go a lot further in way of a Wal-mart gift card, wonder how often little girls showing up at women's shelters with their mothers have received something so nice as a beautifully hand sewn sundress. Sometimes it's not so much in the quantity as in the quality and I'd venture to guess that a pretty little sundress for a little girl with lots of ugliness in her life will go a lot longer than 5 cheaply made store bought dresses from Wal-mart.

Devorah said...

I agree about matching actions to need but I also agree with Eljae -- the recipients will feel special and you can't buy that feeling at Wal-mart.

We often do things for us without regard for what is really needed but clothes are always needed. Wal-mart may have been easier but who knows if you just gave a little girl a dress for kindergarten graduation or a stepping up ceremony.

Tracy said...

Obviously if you didn't feel good about this donation, you should focus your work where and how it will do the most good and you'll feel good about it, but I think there is something special about receiving a beautiful dress sewn with love.

Wool Winder said...

Just wanted you to know the previous comment was from me. I was signed in on the wrong account.

Candy said...

Anne, gonna have to go with the others on this. The dresses are absolutely adorable. And, I would much rather have a dress made with love (esp when it is sooo pretty) than a store-bought Walmart one. I can see the little girls that receive these twirling and dancing around now. However, if your heart is not in it, work towards something else, but I truly think you once again did a wonderful thing!! Have a great trip!

tiennie said...

I have to agree too. The dresses were so cute and will make any little girl happy. Things don't always have to be functional (underwear as Christmas presents for example). Your joy in making them will give others joy. You must have happiness in your charity and not let it be a chore.

Joe said...

You are a wonderfully deep thinker, Anne.

enjoy the time with M, K and G and the rest of the gang in Chicago!

ruth said...

While Walmart clothes may be cheaper, sometimes a little girl (especially one in the circumstances you describe) needs a beautiful handmade dress just for her.

Karen said...


These are darling and your comments are noteworthy. I'll add a different perspective.

Recently you published a photo on the "Plastic Bag Thingie" which is identical to one I bought from an 80+ lady. It is handy but most of all it makes me smile while I think of these little old ladies trying to make some $$ for their little church by sewing something useful. Yes, I could live without this thingie, but I enjoy knowing that my $5 helped a cause that was important to these women.

So wherever these darling dresses end up, I do think that a little girl will feel very special wearing it. And when a child feel special, her mother gives her a special smile and everyone is better off. Yes, it will happen!!


Pieces said...

I have mixed emotions about your post. I see why you felt uneasy while you were making the dresses. And I completely admire your commitment to serving others in meaningful ways with your talents. Your post has challenged me to consider the things I spend my time on. You listed many charitable sewing opportunities that I have never even thought about!

I hope that it doesn't undermine your point to say that I think sometimes we need to do what we WANT with our creative impulses. I believe that it energizes us to then do what is NEEDED. I can tell in the short time that I have been visiting your blog that you do a lot for a lot of people. It is okay to do something just because YOU want to once in awhile. :)

The dresses will be cherished, I know. And not just by the first recipients. They are quality items that will be passed down over and over again to girls that will feel pretty and special when they wear them.