Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Service need - gift boxes

I am contacted periodically by people wanting to do a service project of some sort.  It came to my attention this week when I was doing an angel session that SHARE Parent, a bereavement support organization in my area, is nearly completely out of gift boxes.  Volunteers from this group come and do hand and foot molds at the hospitals that aren't equipped to do it themselves, and they present the finished molds to the families in beautifully decorated boxes like the ones shown.  These photos are courtesy of some of my angel family friends.

Circle, oval and rectangle boxes are all appropriate.  They need to have enough space for some padding as well as up to full term baby size molds (generally of each hand a foot for a total of four).  These are all made of cardboard, the sort of boxes you can readily get at any craft store and decorate to your own taste.

 This family received two boxes - the top one is for the hand and foot molds, and the lower one was from the hospital for their blankets, clothing, and other keepsakes.  It is covered in fabric.

 I think this decoration is beautiful and tasteful.
 If you choose to make some of these, you may donate them to your local hospital, contact a SHARE chapter in your area, or if you're in the Salt Lake area, I will be happy to connect you with a SHARE volunteer here.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Gowns, Hats, Headbands and the whole shebang

Here are some examples of crocheted and knitted items that have been donated recently.  I LOVE the sleeper sack on the top left and the dress on the bottom left.  They are both perfectly proportioned for babies around 20 weeks gestation, and smaller by far than the small size gowns that we sew.  The sleeper sack opens all the way down in the front and the gown opens all the way down in the back - very important when dressing wee little babes with fragile skin.  Across the top row are two more variations of the sleeper sack, both knit, and a dress that opens all the way down the back.  This size of dress is ideal for about a 22-24 week gestation baby.  On the bottom row, the pink dress is beautiful.  The skirt is a little long in proportion to the torso, which is a problem I see with many patterns, but otherwise it's great.  Notice that the skirts on all three gowns are tightly crocheted.  No big lacy holes for little feet to get caught in.

The last two items on the bottom row are buntings.  These are ideal for 18-20 week babies that are not in good enough shape to actually dress in clothing.  One of my angel grandpas has made several of these for me, and I love that I can tell the families that they were made by him.  Notice the open rows of stitching to thread a ribbon through to help tie it shut.  I have also at times added a simple square of flannel inside.  The bunting on the left is beautiful, but a little bulky with the border.  As I messed around with it a bit, I figured out that I can overlap the edges in the front and even thread the ribbon through the corners to pull them down and away from the baby's face.

 Little details like the ribbon belt and tiny bow on the front make a big difference.
 Close up of this gown.  If any of you find the pattern for it, please email me or post it in the comments so that I can post it.
 I have a wide array of hats and headbands that have been donated.  The size up at the top is perfect for 20 week gestation babies.The blue one on the bottom row is normal newborn size.  Most of these hats are knitted and are perfectly stretchy.  The crocheted ones have a little stretch, but not nearly as much.  I LOVE the little embellishments, like the purple flowers and the ribbon threaded through, and the cute things worked in to the pattern like the twisty knot on top.  The headbands have stretchy soft elastic bands and a variety of flowers and bows.  The largest size would fit a normal newborn head, and the small one on the bottom is perfect for a 20 week gestation baby.

 I adore these little matched sets.  I am waiting for just the right family to use them.  Huge thanks to the people who have put the time, effort and love into making all of these items!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

How to hold a successful sewing day

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 spend most of the morning setting up.  I generally scheduled it from 10-3, open house style.  I realize that people are busy, and they'd love to come help, but may not be able to devote 5 whole hours to it.  Starting it at 10 allows me time to get the tables set up, some of the fabric cut and ironed, and the food prepped (more on that later).

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.
 I set up an ironing board off to the side.  Before the first batch of ladies arrive, I make sure that I have at least a half dozen gowns cut out, side seams ironed, and ribbon and trim precut so that they can grab a gown and get started without any delay.

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.
 A very important component of happy workers is good food.  I serve lunch at noon, generally homemade bread and a delicious salad of some sort (not pictured - this time it was a lovely combination of mixed baby greens, pears, blackberries, blueberries, spiced pecans, blue cheese and a lemon poppyseed vinaigrette), and lunch meat/cheese and more fruit for the kids.  I am fortunate to have enough space to turn the kids loose downstairs in the basement.  This allows several more women to participate that wouldn't be able to otherwise.
 Then it's back to work!  No rest for the weary!  Jerri's one of my biggest supporters and enjoys playing hooky from work every so often to come to sewing day.
 Jenn gets a little wild with the iron.  I have to reign her in.  Notice in the background I have bins of ribbon.  My friend Coree helped me find a source to order huge spools - 50 and 100 yard increments - for 5-6 bucks each.  It's been a couple years since I ordered, so I will have to verify that the company is still in business.  If you're interested, send me an email and I will see what I can find out for you.
 Finishwork ladies.  Sewing on snaps and bow ties.  Two of the ladies are fellow NILMDTS photographers (the one at the end of the table is the ever wonderful Julie who took our photos), and the other woman is an angel mama.
Confession:  I hate sewing on the snaps.  I have a hard time seeing the clear snaps against white fabric.  Therefore, I am always grateful to hand that task off.
 Another one of my angel mamas working away.  I order my beading supplies in bulk from 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.)

 We have a good time at sewing day.  Good company, good food, and making things for angels - you really can't get better than that!
 It sometimes gets a little chaotic with kids milling around and stuff everywhere, but really, the process flows pretty smoothly.  We've got it down pat.  Char, in the middle, likes to do things in a stack.  She'll sew all of the side seams of a half dozen gowns, then all of the sleeves, etc.  She's quite efficient at it.  When we get the right mix of ladies, each of us like to do different parts of the gown, so we'll assembly line the process.  Otherwise, we each just do our own individual gowns.  Either way works.
 This is a relic from a church group that did a sewing day for gowns for me.  Since they had women that were all new to the process, the lady in charge separated out all of the tasks even more, and had instructions like this on each table.  I would highly recommend this if you're doing a sewing session on a scale of more than 8 or so people, especially if none of them have sewn this particular pattern before. I'd also like to point out that on the Angel Babies main page under the Patterns tab, I have the pattern downloadable in addition to step by step instructions with photographs.
 Finished products of gowns in both sizes.  I took this photo on top of my cutting mat to show measurements, not because I think the green checkerboard look is particularly nice.

Here's a days' work.  Plus another 12 gowns that just need finish work.  In the past, I would spend three or so days after my sewing day trying to complete all the finish work.  I drove myself crazy.  I finally realized that it's actually good to put everything away right at the stage we wrap up at.  I hang up the complete gowns that have had all the finish work done and a final pressing.  The ones that haven't had snaps put in get put into a bag, and the gowns that are ironed but not sewn get put into another bag.  Then we pick right up where we left off the next month and no one has to wait for someone else to do a step to get started.

So, to summarize, here are some tips for success:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Feed your worker bees.  Everyone works better on a full tummy!
  7. 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.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Partner Organization: Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep

One of my absolute favorite non-profit organizations is Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.  When I was pregnant with Elizabeth 6 years ago, it was just in it's infancy.  A person suggested that I look in to having photographs taken at the hospital after she was born by one of their volunteers.  I will confess that the idea initially sounded uncomfortable and weird.  I had many fears about how she would look, particularly if she was stillborn.  At the time, the handful of webpages I could find of other babies with Potter's Syndrome, none had good photos and some of their babies had pretty pronounced physical quirks.

A few weeks down the road, as I started to realize that this was going to be our only opportunity to make memories with our baby, I finally went to the organization webpage and searched for photographers in my area.  The search yielded exactly one person for the entire state of Utah.  And she happens to live just a few blocks away from me.  What are the chances??  I contacted her, and was immediately reassured by her kind and welcoming nature.

Things got a little mixed up once we went to the hospital.  I made the mistake of not letting her know that I was headed in to Labor and Delivery.  (As a photographer now, I sincerely appreciate as much lead time as possible so that I can make arrangements to leave my kids to go do a session.)   I simply put on my birth plan to have the nurses contact her once I'd delivered.  Well, they messed up.  A couple hours in to Elizabeth's three hours with us, I asked about it, and the nurse got flustered and said she hadn't been able to reach Julie.  We called her ourselves, but by that point, our doctor had taken several photos on our camera, and I told her to not worry about coming, that we had plenty.  This is a mistake that I still regret to this day.  If there's one thing I've learned, you can never have too many photos!  It's your only chance to document a precious time.  Julie felt so bad, and offered to photograph our keepsakes from the hospital, retouch the photos we had taken, and come to the funeral home.

Julie did a beautiful, amazing job on the photos she took at the funeral home.  I am SO grateful that she came and did that for us.  Again, I was afraid of how Elizabeth would look once she had been prepared by the mortician, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that she looked like a gorgeous little doll.

Elizabeth in the hands of her Grandparents

What I didn't know at the time is that we were the very first family to contact Julie.  She'd heard about NILMDTS and signed up a few months prior, but hadn't gotten any calls.  Over time, the hospitals in our area have come to realize what a priceless and compassionate gift we are able to offer the families, and on average, our area coordinators field 300 or so calls per year.  A year ago, I finally got brave enough (after much practice with photoshop and my camera + external flash) to start doing sessions myself.

Not only do our photographers go to the hospitals at any time of the night or day to do a private photosession, but they edit the images.  This is a huge deal.  Many of the babies need quite a bit of retouching in order to help the families remember them in the best possible way.  A disc is provided to the family with images, and usually a slideshow as well, for no charge.  For an average photosession that I do with a baby that doesn't have very problematic skin, it's an 8-10 hour investment of my time, including travel to and from the hospital, shooting time, and editing.  For a difficult editing session, or a session with a large extended family and a higher number of images, that can easily double.  Photographers are responsible for providing their own camera equipment, discs, labels, mailing costs, etc.

NILMDTS has grown from a small handful of photographers to literally thousands of volunteers all over the country.  The organization runs primarily on donations, and has a small staff to manage the volunteer applications, session paperwork, training, etc.  Julie is now serving as a volunteer board member and trainer.  If you are interested in becoming an affiliated photographer, wander around their webpage, and then send me an email if you have further questions.  I am happy to teach anyone what I know in order to facilitate them becoming an infant bereavement photographer.

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss awareness month, and October 15th in particular is a day that we remember our angels.  If you're looking for a wonderful place to donate money in honor of the angels in your life, please consider NILMDTS.