Little Dresses for Africa

We moved into our house about 2 years ago. The backyard has a single huge sycamore tree and a large field. In the spring it is beautiful…and to me has always been ideal for a brunch with girlfriends. I pictured lanterns hanging from the tree and puffy white clouds in the sky. Between family and working the brunch never seemed to happen – until this year (except flooding rains moved it inside). You see there are 2 things (other than family & friends & being outdoors) that get me feeling like the most me – the most like who God designed me specifically to be. The first may sound silly to you, but for me it is making things with my hands. I know Lowe’s better than most men – to get my hands messy and create something makes me feel alive. The second is social activism…to be a voice for those that have none or to bring about change in a way that I can. I told Chris I came across a word a while back that resonated with me – CRAFTIVISM. What could be better than combining my love for making things with social activism. Oh yea!

A couple of months ago I came across the organization Little Dresses for Africa and that woman’s brunch I was wanting to have couldn’t wait any longer. It was my joy and honor to have some of my dear friends over for a girly brunch and then we got crafty making dresses out of pillowcases. Some of the girls that came are “DIY-ers”, other are more “why make it when you can buy it” – I think they all had a great time.Β  When I invited the girls I didn’t tell them what we were doing other than “honoring a special group of moms” and to bring 2 pillowcases. The moms we honored can no longer hold their daughters or provide them clothes. Most died from AIDS or other illnesses and their children were left as orphans. We honored those precious moms by putting our hands to work and creating beautiful dresses for their little girls. We may not have changed the world, but for those little girls when they pull those dresses over their tiny heads – their worlds will change.

I was intentional to make sure my boys were home at the beginning and end of our girl time. I don’t know about you, but for me it is easy for me to get caught up in looking around at what other women are doing and try to replicate that instead of being purposeful to discover the unique paths laid out for me. Comparison is a killer. I want my boys to see their mom embracing the unique way God made her and using it to make a difference instead of looking around at what others are doing and comparing myself. I want them to see it in me because I want them to celebrate the unique way God made them…and I want them to do the things that make them feel most alive while impacting the world around them.

If you want more information on Little Dresses for Africa, visit their website. One of the reasons I share this post is I know there are many of you blog readers that will now read this and will go on to host a dress making party with your friends….if you do, let me know!

The logo below is in honor of the girls that attended and joked with me that they were attending a “Sweat Shop” at my home vs. the “SnapShop” (just to clarify)


I attempted to take individual pictures and detail shots of all the dresses, but the wind won the battle…so here are a few and one of nearly all of them…

I think the girls came up with some really cute dresses!

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  • Michele V. - They are adorable. What girl wouldn’t love a dress like that. I pray for great friends, it seems like you have them. You are a blessing to so many.

  • Andrea Jett - What a awesome way to give hope! I am just starting to learn how to sew, so thank you for giving me a project to top my list!

  • Carol - Thank you for inviting me to be a part of this. It was so much fun. You are such an awesome daughter!!

  • Kari Sanchez - What a wonderful idea Ashley! My husband went to Africa last June on a mission trip and this year we have a guy going from our church. This would be an awesome idea for the ladies to do and we could personally send them via our hometown Missionary! When my husband went last year, he left all his clothes there and the people were so grateful. He said they loved the clothes, but when you brought out the bible’s, people would literally flock around you begging for a copy. Part of his heart stayed in Africa! They allowed him to go into the schools and preach- they would turn out school and invite the parent’s, village people, etc…one of the village chief’s accepted Christ and almost every kid too- over 1,500 people got saved in one day! It was amazing! Thanks for the great idea!

  • Rachel - Ash — you truly are an amazing woman with incredible talent! “Craftivist” is a spot on description of you. Comparison is an issue where all women struggle. What a great post to remind all of us that we are uniquely and specially made, and to continually seek and respond to what it is God has for each of us — using our unique talents and gifts. I am certainly not gifted in working with my hands or creativity, but I absolutely recognize that in you and love to watch God’s love shine through you in being who He made you to be. Way to be. Way to live.

  • Lauren - When Addy looked at your post this morning, she said “Oh Momma…pretty dresses!” It made my heart smile!

  • amanda - It made me cry to read this post…all those precious children. We should be so thankful for our health and families. I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED reading about the dresses. Thanks for sharing. The dresses turned out beautiful!

  • Hannah Cooper - Okay, so I think this is the only comment I’ve left on your site except for when my amazing nephew and nieces were on here. Let me just say, I visit the site A LOT more often than I actually comment – I’m sorry! THIS is beautiful Ashley. Social activism is so so important in our world and especially to be sought after among friends. It binds people together in an amazing way. Your soul betters this world in so many ways! Thank you for sharing this πŸ™‚

  • Courtney Connelly - Ash, I am so sorry that I missed the time on Saturday. You have used the gifts the Lord has given you to make a difference, you are truly you and that is refreshing!

  • Jeannette Swan - You are an amazing women and such an inspiration to all of us to strive to be all God designed for us to be!! The dresses are amazing and such a great idea. As soon as I can figure out how to get the sewing part done on my own, I want to make some with Noble so she can appreciate such a simple selfless act of kindness. Thank you for taking the time to “mentor” all of your friends and blog readers and demonstrating God’s glory, love and kindness though all that you do.

  • Mandy - Awesome girl! I love how you allow the Father to use your amazing gifts and talents for His glory! The dresses came out amazing!

  • Rebekah Jean - Amazing idea! I’ve been to Africa, and my aunt and uncle live there as missionaries. I’m definitely going to start something like this with the ladies in our church. It’s such an amazing ministry that anyone can do! Love it!

  • Christina Larsen - Ashley, those dresses are the cutest things I have ever seen. I can’t believe that they were made from pillowcases. If you do this again, I would love to join. I love to sew, but hardly have time anymore. What a great way to use your gifts and help others.

  • Sarah - Those are amazing. Will you be posting instructions on how to make them? Ashley, you are an inspiration to so many. Thank you for letting God use your talent to bless others.

  • meg duerksen - so cool.
    this is awesome.

  • Lesley - I’m so proud to have a big sis like you, let me re-phrase, I’m so proud that you are my big sis – because there are truly none like you. Thank you for sharing your heart and talent with so many.

  • Charissa - This is the best post ever. Do you care if I put a link to it on my blog?

  • Lauren - The dresses turned out so amazing! The little girls that recieve these dresses are so blessed that God inspired you to do wonderful works for others. We all need to truly strive to be the same way.

  • Lisa Keen - The dresses look awesome! What a neat idea!!

  • cindy - You are so amazing… I especially love that this is something that you dreamed about doing (brunch w/friends & showing love to those w/out) and actually did it. So many times I have great intentions, but don’t DO. You are honestly an inspiration and an awesome testomony of how the Lord uses people to bless others. Wow, thanks for being you…. you’re great at it!

  • liz - this is awesome Ashley!!! You have such a giving soul and you inspire all of us!!

  • carrie - WOW – what an idea!! I’m stealing this one. My hubby goes to Africa once a year….. what a gift to give this year. hmmmmm, you are making my head spin!!

  • Laura - What a wonderful idea Ashley!! I want to try to incorporate this for mothers and daughters…. hope you don’t mind if I “borrow” your idea!!!

  • Samantha - Ashley, I never cease to be amazed by you… and simply cannot wait to borrow your idea!!

  • kelly - Amazing!! What an awesome project!

  • Jenn G. - Ash – God has given you such an incredible, amazing gift of creativity and insight. Thank you for sharing it with us in these inspiring, unique, and giving ways. You are truly one of the most incredible women I have ever met. KNOW that you are extremely unique and special and inspire so many of us. Thank you for your generosity and heart for others, esp. the orphans, and acting on it to help these girls and honor the Lord.

  • Emily Beaty - These are so cute! How wonderful to give to someone in need. I’m learning how to sew this summer, and cannot wait to get friends & family together to make some dresses. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Kirsten Hilsheimer - Ashley – you are such a vessel for God! I love it!!! Thanks for sharing and spreading the good news! I am inspired to do something great when I read your blog!

  • Serena - Awesome!….What a great way to Glorify the Lord by ministering to these beautiful little girls!…..Love it!!!

  • Amber - just when i think you can’t be any cooler…you go and pull something amazing like this off and prove me wrong!! I SOOO would have been there to help if I’d known about it! Let me know next time!!

  • Angie - I’m continually awed by you! I love it that you know the gifts God has given you and you’re intentional about using them for His glory and to help others. Thank you for being such an inspiration to me!

  • Rachel O'Neill - I am Rachel O’Neill, founder of Little Dresses for Africa. I wanted to thank all of you for being part of honoring the little girls with your creativity and generosity. These are the most beautiful pictures I have ever seen. I am so grateful for your love for the children. I will be leaving for Ethiopia and Kenya on June 9, 2009 and taking dresses to the villages. I will deliver them personally as well as continuing to send them with mission groups that are going all over Africa. so far we have received over 15,000 dresses and they have been sent to seven countries of Africa. Thank you for making this possible by continuing to get others involved. Zikomo!!! God Bless,
    Rachel O’Neill

  • Laura - How cool! We did a similar project for a school we support through our church in Honduras. We made dresses from standard sewing patterns, but I will definately look into this project! Thanks for posting!

  • Ashley S. - I don’t know you personally (I got here via Rachel Denbow’s blog) but I want to say what an inspiring post this is. I really want to do this with my friends. You seem like an amazing person. It’s nice to know there are people doing great things.

  • Lissy - amazing….what a wonderful thing to do πŸ™‚ I am inspired to do the same here in Australia…would you mind??? Lissy

  • rachel kovac - beautiful dresses! love the idea. thank you for the inspiration. i am going to try to host a party of my own!

  • Sewing Party {Ashley Ann Photography} » My Blog - […] hosted a sewing party for friends to celebrate Mother’s Day. Here’s an exert from her blog post on the […]

  • Crystal Clark - I love this! You are wonderful to do something like this. I want to help.. What can I do? I make bows.. Can I make bows to match your dresses?

  • Tence Pierce - Our class is doing a project like this. We appreciate what you do. Thanks for supporting LDFA

  • dena - do you have the pattern or tutorial you used for the dress here? My moms group is going to do a night in March to make some for LDFA. Thanks for the the vision casting.

  • MB - My whole family loves to sew. Thank you for telling us about Little Dresses!

  • Carolyn - The clothesline shot is the most beautiful, heart-filled shot Ive seen in a long time. The beauty of the colorful dresses is wonderful, but when you know why they were made and who they are going to, it makes for art your heart can see and feel. I wanted to cry when I saw the full clothesline. Keep up the good work!

  • Elizabeth Robinson - How can me a few of by friends get involved in helping with this great project?

  • Sam Sweetman - Loved your story re little dresses. It’s a wonderful idea and I hope every woman that sews will see it a participate as well! We all have shelves of fabric that we bought “just because” and this is such a good way to put it to use! What a great web site you have, love it too. Sam

  • Michelle - I love the fabric lanterns! I’m inspired to decorate my daughter’s room… How do I go about purchasing some (if you sell these!)? Thanks!

  • niki - hey, I was wondering if you could send me some basic how-to’s on how to have a “party” like this. I will, Lord willing, be traveling to Africa in August to pick up our two precious children, and would like to have some of my good friends here make some of these from the home they have been in. Thanks a bunch!

  • Jenn - Brilliant! What a wonderful creative way to make little dresses for those little orphan girls! I wonder if I could talk a few friends into doing one of these parties!! hm…. I love love doing things like this!! So glad Heather sent us your way today!
    blessings! πŸ˜‰

  • morgan tyler - I meant a customer at my job that told me to go to this website, she came back into the store and showed me three dress that she made for the little girls in africa i was so amazed when i seen the dress i like to thank everyone who take there time and heart to make those pretty dress for those little girls made one day i would be able to make some dress too

  • Fran Holmes - I really enjoy making the little dresses and shorts for the boys.
    It gives me great pleasure to help out.
    I have to wait until I can get donations as I am retired and on a fixed income.
    May God bless you for the wonderful work you do.

  • Mary Theo - I went to Nancy Zieman’s website but could not locate the pattern for how to make little dresses for Africa.

    Please send directions.

    Thank you


  • betsy - I just found your website, but wanted you to know that my daughter and I are going to a “Little Dresses For Africa” party this weekend! We’re so excited to go and the little girls will be the ones making the dresses! πŸ˜‰ Your dresses are so beautiful and so is your photography!! πŸ˜€ Very inspirational! Love it!

  • Rose Marie Smith - While I up in Redding,Ca. Visiting my sister. I saw a program on tv, it sewing with nancy and you were on her show. You talked about making little dresses for Africa. So I wrote your name and Little Dresses for Africa down and when I got home I went online. Anyway I would like to make some dresses. I need more information? Do I semd the dresses to you? Where do I got the pattern? I already have one project going it is called Christmas Child by Samaritans” Purse I don’t know if you have heard of it. Franklin Graham started it.Our church is doing it. It is where we take a shoe box and put all kinds of things in it like small toys, hygiene items, school supplies, things like that. I am not saying that you do it. I was thinking I could do the little dresses too. Let me know. thank you

  • Nadia - Madam,

    I think its awesome………….wow so beatiful, creative, do i make these up……..pls advise

    warm regds


  • amy kuhlke - My daughter is a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi. Can she help distribute these dresses to surrounding villages. She can receive boxes of dresses at the Lalongwe Peaces Corps office. Let me know if she can help your your program. I am her mother. Dec.1, 2010

  • Karen Biel - I saw Rachel on Nancy Zieman’s show,and my heart was just broken seeing the sad and distant faces of the little girls. I thought of my son and how hard my husbad and I tried to give him everything we could. We had the toys, clothes and the best doctors but he still died at 7. All I could think of was what kind of hope do these mothers have for their children!! Where do they sleep, eat, where do they get clothes from, what do they play with? It was just heartbreaking to see them.

    I told a friend Doris about what I saw and cried telling her the story. She said she would definately make dresses with me. She donate her huge stash of beautiful fabrics,and we just mailed 104 dresses to Rachel on 12/3/10! I made this a community project with Homemakers Council in my area. We had ladies cutting, ironing, and measuring the bias tape, while Doris and I sewed. We had a ball.

    We will be making more over the winter and plan a big class in the spring.
    Karen Biel
    Doris Lovell
    Massapequa, NY

  • Elaine Lefler - My church has some little girls that want to learn to sew.
    I thought making a dress for a little girl about their age would be a good place to start. I need some directions or a pattern
    to go by . Would you be so kind to sen me some solutions?
    Thank You so much for your work and may God richly Bless you.

  • Marsha E. - I would like to know what these young girls wear underneath their dresses? Would they wear matching “boy shorts” type undies if provided?

    Also, what sizes/ages of boy’s shorts are needed?

  • lynn maust - This is very wonderful…I JUST today was informed about Little Dresses for Africa…at Walmart! The sales lady in their fabric department told me about this organization…I had never heard of it! I had just picked up a pattern that reminded her of the pillow case dresses and that led her to tell me about the ministry. I will be doing some sewing for them right away!!
    Blessings on this fine…and FUN… project!

  • jan donovan - looking for free pattern too dresses for Africa as advertised in Nancy’s notions magazine. I don’t find them on her website.

  • Liz Bradley - could i use some of your pictures to make an ivitation and tell people about my dress making party? i saw your pics on the dresses for africa site so thought it would be ok, wanted to ask!

  • Debra - Very cute dresses! Makes me wish I were small enough to fit inside a pillow case! You and your girlfriends did such a great job on them!

  • jenn - The other day when you posted about the Clean Slate project, I immediately bookmarked the page and then sent a link to my boyfriend telling him I thought something like that would be the perfect use of my skills. I also purchased the book quilting for peace a while back, and I even came across the Little Dresses for Africa site a while back before my hard drive crashed. I guess what I am trying to say is that I have been trying to figure out my way to honor God in doing something that I am good at, something that I am passionate about, and your blog posts are pulling at me.. I love your word “Craftivism”. My roommate calls my sewing area the sweat shop!! I’ve been planning on having a girls crafting day and I think this is the PERFECT way to make it happen. I am pumped and I’m glad that I’m not the only gal out there that feels a sense of purpose when making things by hand, be it with a hammer and nail or needle and thread. Thanks for sharing all this amazing stuff on your blog, I am enjoying going back and reading your past posts.

  • Irene Praus - I have been given a lot of fabric and would like to help out making little dresses. Can I just make simple little dresses of my own patterns? Then, where do I send them?

  • Nancy Alexander - would like to make the dresses for you have a simple pattern

  • Val - I am making the little dresses but would like to make some shorts for the little boys, where can I download a pattern, Thank you Val

  • Cecilia - I am in a handicraft ministry at my church. We are having a Sew-A-Thon on March 1oth to make pillowcase dresses for girls in need. Come join us! Hillsdale Baptist Church, Advance, NC at 9 a.m.

  • Leona J. Trivett - I am from TN. I saw Rachel’s LDFA last year. I used her idea to start a project for the Appalachian Mountain children. The poverty level there is three times higher than anywhere in the U.S. We felt charity begins at home. Thanks to Rachel’s LDFA we have had much sucess with our project It gets very cold there so we make warm clothing and pc dresses. God Bless

  • Nancy - Very inspirational. A group from our Grange in Northern California has had its first Little Dresses for Africa sewing session. A suggestion to all you dressmakers: add one or two patch POCKETS to your dresses. It takes only a little more time, but it will allow girls to free their hands to explore their worlds. Besides, they are pretty if you choose a contrasting color or print. For instance, a solid blue dress can have a blue print pocket or a solid pink pocket. Add a little ribbon across the top if you want to get fancy. the pocket can match the seam binding: e.g. blue dress, green seam binding, blue and green print pockets).

  • Susannah - I just found your blog a few days ago and am so enjoying going through old posts. I’ve been looking for something crafty and meaningful to do with the Jr. High and High School girls at my church and, once I found this, it just fits perfectly! I’m still reading through your blog and wanted to also share how inspirational your posts are for me. You are raising your children so well and I’m sure God will use them to do great things. I’ve already told my husband I want to raise our future children as well as you’re raising yours. πŸ™‚ God bless!

  • Susannah - Oops, my blog website address was written in wrong last time. This one’s the real one. πŸ™‚

  • Judith Maret - I would love to make these little dresses. How can I get a pattern or do I just buy one at the fabric store and proceed? Judith Maret


  • Entering the girl world {the nursery} » - […] The framed pictures include our Dresses for Africa dresses, my pregnant self (will be replaced with a pic of her), a vintage poster my grandma gave me […]

  • DIY {clothes pin magnets} » - […] a little gift to the girls that attended the dress making brunch (previous post), I made them each a set of clothes pin magnets. I found the idea on the Pin and Paper blog. I […]

  • I am intuitively listening | peacelovenfood - […] making little dresses out of pillow cases for the organization called Little Dresses for Africa. Β Read this blog post from Under The Sycamore on how she had a dress making party and invited all her friends over to […]