Pillow cases are needed to create kids' dresses

Updated 11/9/2010 1:04 PM

Sundresses may be the last thing on your mind as the weather turns colder, but it's just about all Ruthie Ratke thinks of these days.

This local resident and lifelong seamstress is spending her time coordinating an effort to make 1,000 dresses by Thanksgiving, which will be donated to young girls in need in Africa and the Philippines.


Each of these dresses is made out of a pillowcase, with the help of numerous volunteers.

The idea for this project came from, "a friend from my church, Hosanna Lutheran Church in St. Charles," Ratke said. "She heard of someone making dresses out of pillowcases for children in Haiti. I talked with my pastor and he said let's go for it."

Since then, Ratke and her volunteers have been working steadily to reach their goal.

"We're using our own pattern, basically cutting off the top (of the pillowcase). The side seams are already sewn, and the hem is there. Then it's just cutting armholes and binding the armholes and the top, and putting ties on the top. It's a quick and easy sundress and takes about 20 minutes to make," Ratke said.

Volunteer sewers have been adding their own embellishments to the dresses, too, such as colorful ribbons and decorative buttons.

Dress sizes will fit girls approximately 3 to 10 years old, as king-size pillowcases can be used for taller girls.

Ratke has an immediate and ongoing need for donations of new and gently used pillowcases, double fold bias tape, and half-inch elastic.

"As I get supplies, I'm making packets for volunteers. Each packet is one dress. Every Sunday, people pick up packets and bring dresses back to me. We're up to 100, so far," she said. "I am committed to making sure every pillowcase is made into a dress."

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Hoping to set up a sundress "sweatshop," where the brunt of her goal can be tackled in one day, Ratke said she has to receive more supplies before this can be scheduled.

"My church does a ministry every Christmas of shoeboxes filled with toys. We're thinking of adding the dresses into the shoeboxes," Ratke said.

This 1,000 Dresses Project may go on beyond the Thanksgiving deadline, as Ratke would like to see it become an ongoing effort. She also said that extra dresses will be sent to "needy girls in our own country."

This is a ministry project through Hosanna Church, but "it was my idea, and I'm the one doing it," said Ratke, who added, "It is open to anyone; you don't have to be a member of the church."


Ratke began sewing 56 years ago when she was but a child. Over the years, she worked as the wardrobe mistress at a televised fashion show at Navy Pier, as the costume mistress of a local dance studio, and made most of her children's clothing when they were young, as well as drapes and decorative items for her family's home.

She recently realized one of her dreams when she opened her own store, A Thimble Change, 1303 W. Main St., in St. Charles, in March of last year.

"God has blessed my business, and this is my way of saying 'thank you,'" said Ratke. "And the outpouring of people who want to help is awesome."

Among those who are participating in this project are students in the St. Charles East High School Fashion Design class, who are making dresses as part of their Charity Project; St. Charles North High School cheerleaders, who are collecting donations of new and used pillowcases; and local Girl Scout troops.

Anyone interested in helping Ratke reach her goal of 1,000 dresses can pick up packets with everything needed from Hosanna Lutheran Church and A Thimble Change. Donations may also be dropped off at these two locations.

Ratke's store is open from 1 to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. Hosanna! is at 36W925 Red Gate Road, St. Charles.

For details, visit www.athimblechange.com or call Ratke at (630) 234-4794.


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