To celebrate Elizabeth's third birthday, I did a one time blitz of making blankets, gowns, bracelets and hats for the hospital I was working for at the time when I realized that they basically had nothing in their infant bereavement stash. I patted myself on the back and thought I was done. But over the course of that year, every month or so, I'd get a call from someone who knew someone who knew that I made gowns, usually a very last minute urgent type of a need. I would frantically drop everything, pull out my sewing machine, and make a tiny gown. It soon became apparent that the need was great. So for Elizabeth's fourth birthday, I made the commitment to do monthly sewing sessions. I have done it ever since, with only one month missed. Over time, I have managed to get a great group of ladies. Each month we have a different mix, but I generally have at least 3 or 4 ladies that are regulars and can show everyone else the ropes. We've got a great system going, which I will share with you so that you can host your own sewing day.
I set up three tables. One for sewing machines, one for finish work, and one for bracelet making. I do it in my home, so I use my kitchen countertop for cutting. This could be done an an additional table. The sewing machine table has an extension cord with a power strip running underneath it so that multiple machines can be plugged in to it at once. The finish work table is stocked with spools of thread, needles, buttons, embellishments like roses and bows, snaps, liquid stitch to glue the snaps in place before sewing, scissors, a candle and lighter to singe the ribbon ends.
As people arrive, if they bring a sewing machine, I put them to work sewing gowns. If not, then I put a person to work on the ironing board, prepping more gowns and doing the final pressing on completed ones. Another person cuts out gowns, trim and ribbons. Everyone else either chooses finish work or bracelet sets. Finish work involves gluing snaps on, then stitching them once they dry, stitching on little embellishments on the girl gowns and bow ties on the boy gowns, and singeing the ribbon ends so that they don't fray. Three or four people on sewing machines can keep that many people busy with finish work without too much trouble.
Fire Mountain Gems. There's no real right or wrong way to do the bracelet sets - just make some aspect of the mom and baby ones match. For girls I do large pearl bracelet with pink crystals and a charm for the mom and a small pearl bracelet with small pink crystals and a matching charm for the baby. For boys I do a large pearl bracelet with blue crystals and a charm for the mom and a ribbon bow with the charm dangling from the middle set on a bar pin for the baby. Many other people have made sets for me out of different styles of beads. That's great! Just make them match. (Just realized I didn't take any photos of the finished product of any of these. I will add one when I do.)
So, to summarize, here are some tips for success:
- Advertise well in advance. I do this on my blog and on facebook. I like to allow 10-14 days for people to plan, if not more.
- Purchase your supplies well in advance. Use coupons and buy in bulk - it drives the total cost way down. You will need fabric, ribbon, trim, thread, liquid stitch, snaps, buttons, and embellishments for the gowns. For the bracelets you will need pearls in two sizes, crystals in two sizes, charms, jump rings, clasps, crimp beads, beading wire, stretchy cord (for the girl sets), ribbon (for the boy sets), glue gun, bar pins, and little bags to put the sets in.
- Set up tables for each major task. Cutting, sewing and finish work, plus a bracelet table if you are doing that as well. Set up an ironing area. Have extension cords and power strips available.
- Before the event starts, have a few cut out, side seams ironed and trim cut and ready to go so that there is no delay in putting anyone to work.
- If people are unfamiliar with the work flow, put instruction cards on each table. You may also want to print out a copy of the pattern instructions.
- Feed your worker bees. Everyone works better on a full tummy!
- Enjoy the company of other people as you do something wonderful. Take pride in your work and know that you are making clothing for angels :).
When you're all done making a series of gowns, I suggest contacting your local Labor and Delivery unit. Ask for the infant bereavement specialist. This may be a nurse, chaplain or social worker. Arrange a time to drop the items off. You may also contact an area coordinator for Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. Go to the webpage and search for photographers. Area coordinators are highlighted in red. They will then be able to distribute the items to their photographers.