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Stitching up happiness

Kathryn Erickson is pictured with one of the sundresses she makes for Little Dresses for Africa. (Contributed photo)1 / 2
These girls in Africa received some of the frocks that Erickson makes and donates to Little Dresses for Africa. (Contributed photo)2 / 2

Kathryn Erickson's fingers rarely have a moment's peace. They're always too busy sewing.

"My fingers have to keep busy," said the avid seamstress. "Most of my life is spent sewing."

But there is barely a thread she sews that she keeps for herself. She sews quilts for local charities. She makes caps, mittens and scarves and drops them off at churches and elementary schools.

"I give everything I make away," said Erickson, an Alexandria resident. "It's nice to pass it on and bless somebody."

With her latest endeavor, little girls from Africa are benefitting from her sewing prowess and giving heart.

Three years ago, Erickson saw a woman on a TV program who was sewing dresses for girls in Africa. Thinking how simple it looked, and knowing how much extra fabric people have lying around, she decided to try it herself.

She enlisted the help of her sister and fellow seamstresses. Three years later, they have made 1,500 dresses for Little Dresses for Africa, a nonprofit organization that distributes dresses to orphanages, churches, schools and hospitals in Africa.

Most of the dresses are made out of pillowcases, but Erickson uses any fabric she has available.

"The dresses are little sundresses with ribbon ties over the shoulder so the sizes are versatile," Erickson explained. "We like to trim them up. If you've never had a dress, it should be colorful and trimmed."

An acquaintance of Erickson's from South Dakota picks up the finished frocks and takes them on her yearly jaunt to Africa to hand out to needy girls. The last shipment of 500 dresses went about a month ago.

"These little girls, for the first time in their lives, get a dress of their own," Erickson said. "I love to sew, but I really love to sew something that someone can use."

Erickson says that not a day goes by that she doesn't sew, sometimes late into the night. On Fridays, she and her friends spend a few hours making the dresses at the Alexandria Senior Center. They also work on quilts that they donate to several local organizations. So far this year, they have passed out 90 quilts.

It's not just her passion for the hobby that keeps Erickson's fingers flying. It's her heart for those in need.

"I guess I felt it was laid on my heart by the Lord, my love of children and concern for people who have so little while we waste so much," she said. "It really breaks your heart."

Because of the volume of things she sews, Erickson is always on the lookout for fabric that may no longer be of use. She uses pillowcases, sheets, leftover fabric, lace, ribbon, thread and "anything I can sew with," she said.

"I could not do this without the donations we get," she stressed.

To donate fabric or notions to Erickson's Little Dresses for Africa project, call (320) 762-5486. For information about the organization, visit the website www.littledressesforafrica.org.

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