Sewing Through Lent

I couldn’t give it away. When I sat down at my sewing machine to make sure it still worked, it felt so good, so right. I couldn’t part with my friend and companion of so many years. But how to sew without the painstakingly arduous process of sewing for myself with all the needed pattern alterations?

Internet to the rescue! Online I found Little Dresses for Africa. This nonprofit ships simple dresses made by women across the United States to girls in various countries within Africa. Inspired and excited, I downloaded a simple pattern from a website, Nancy’s Notions. Entering a fabric store to purchase the first yardage was like coming home.

In order to be faithful to my new sewing project, I asked the parishioners who attended my weekly 7 a.m. Holy Eucharist to hold me accountable. I would make a dress a week, or at least close to that.

Once 25 dresses were finished, I brought them to the Eucharist. Sharon and I would set them up in the altar area, attendees would come up to the altar where we would do a liturgy of blessing, and then I would lovingly pack up and send the dresses to Michigan for shipment to Africa.

This momentum, begun in 2017, was interrupted in 2020. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I set the dressmaking aside and made scores and scores of face masks, mostly using the scraps from the dresses that I had made. Then in 2021, I ended my work at the Episcopal church where I was serving and no longer had the group to hold me accountable. The sewing that brought so much joy slowed to a crawl, and life interfered with the joy of making those dresses.

To return to this ministry, in Lent I decided that dressmaking would be one of my Lenten practices. My goal was to make a dress a week or at least every week and a half. I would be delighted to say that I was successful. The truth is, I made two dresses—a disappointment to me. With this “failure” to meet my Lenten promise, I was once again reminded that I cannot do it all. Sigh. Tough when one really wants to do it all and enjoys doing it all (well, mostly all).

When we add a new task to an already busy life, something has to give. That means undermining either the new task or what we are already doing. I had a full schedule to which dresses were re-added. Perhaps my expectations of myself were not realistic. Another sigh.

However, all is not lost! My missing the mark in fulfilling the Lenten practice of dressmaking for the girls has helped me realize that our promises in Lent need not stop at Easter. Perhaps my dressmaking in Lent was a warm-up to get fully back to what I love to do. I am endeavoring to spend even a little time each day sewing. It’s hard given other responsibilities, but I want to serve Christ through this ministry of clothing the girls (Matthew 25:36). My prayer is to be faithful to the girls and to what brings me joy.

Jane Tomaine, Oblate Inquirer

This article was featured on pages 12–13 in the spring 2024 issue of Benedictine Sisters and Friends.

Photo: Dress blessing at Calvary Episcopal Church in Summit, N.J.