Common Threads 2016 – Sewing for a Cause

Last week, I had to privilege to participate in Common Threads 2016, an annual sewing conference put on by Tacony, the people who bring you Baby Lock sewing, serging and embroidery machines, as well as Madeira thread and many other products (including vacuum cleaners—who knew?).

common threads welcome
Welcome banner at Common Threads 2016, sponsored by Baby Lock.

The conference brings together sewing and quilting bloggers and media representatives from all over the country to meet each other, exchange ideas, try out the latest Baby Lock technology, and share our love of sewing.

On the way to St. Louis, I thought about all the things I was going to get from this conference: new contacts and blog ideas, a chance to sew on some incredible machines, and—to be honest—some serious swag (more on that June 24).

But I had no idea I would discover a sewing-related charity to which I could instantly make a contribution, plus have the opportunity to spread the word to you and others in the sewing community.

The organization is Little Dresses for Africa. With Tacony’s commitment to charity and enhancing the sewing community, they invited the organization’s founder, Rachel O’Neill, to speak to this year’s Common Threads group.

little dresses for africa
One of the recipients of a ‘little dress.’ Photo courtesy the Little Dresses for Africa website.

Through a brief video and her own heartfelt words, we learned what Little Dresses for Africa is all about. At the most basic level, the group encourages people to make pillowcase dresses for pre-pubescent girls in Africa who otherwise would go naked because their families cannot afford clothing for them.

But the dresses do not just protect the girls from the elements. The fact that they have a dress shows that someone cares about them and what happens to them, warning off people who might do them harm, says Rachel.

The dresses also give them hope. For if someone cares enough to give them a piece of clothing—with nothing expected in return—perhaps they can trust that someone who tries to show their village lessons on sanitation, health, and maintaining a clean water supply, to. The dresses begin the formation of a relationship and promise the hope of a better life.

After Rachel spoke, and we blinked back a few tears, Lindsay Wilkes of The Cottage Mama led is through the construction of a dress.

We began by opening bags full of cheerful fabrics from Riley Blake Designs, all pre-cut and ready to sew. Then, we used the Baby Lock Destiny machine to applique a machine embroidery bird and flower motif on the hem of the dress.

After that, we finished up the seams, added bias strips to the armholes to make the shoulder ties, and we hung up the dresses to admire. Soon, they’ll be sent off to little girls in Africa—a little bit of hope from the sewing community.

little dress for africa
I made it myself! A Little Dress for Africa, at Baby Lock Common Threads 2016.

It’s so easy to make these pillowcase dresses and they would be a wonderful project for a group or guild, as an alternative to making quilts. You can use large fabric scraps or just start with a pre-made pillowcase. What a great way to introduce a young person to sewing and do a good deed at the same time.

I know that, for me, this project was fun to do and made me feel proud. I plan to make many more Little Dresses for Africa.

For more on Little Dresses for Africa, downloadable pillowcase dress instructions, tips on how to organize a sewing party, and other ways to help, visit

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4 thoughts on “Common Threads 2016 – Sewing for a Cause

    1. Hi Jean, that’s great! Everything you need to know is on the organization’s website. The link is provided in the blog post above.

  1. We had a missionary lady come to are ladies meeting a few months back {Sue Hoffman}, And she shared about her upcoming mission’s trip to Uganda….Was her second time there…….And had a video on how they turned plain sewing machines into tradel machines….They made there own clothes and school uniforms .after getting good at it they make and sell uniforms to other school kids…..We also got to see the kids open there christmas shoe boxes….And first hand as to what not to send….Was very help full….Soccer balls and stocking hats was a big thing….I guess its pretty cold at night sleeping on the ground or cement pads..So they are not just giving a hand out they was giving the women and young girls a hand up… no electricity…..I never……


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