Students Participate in Little Dress Project

May 24, 2012

ALLIANCE, Ohio — Thanks to the hard work of several University of Mount Union seamstresses, Russian orphans will soon receive their very own handmade dresses.

Deborah Lotsof, Mount Union professor of theatre, launched the Little Dress Project at the beginning of the 2011-2012 Academic Year after seeing a similar project featured on a TV show. The show told the story of a woman who went on a mission trip to Africa and was surprised by how many children had few or no clothing garments.

Lotsof got to thinking about the unused fabric in the costume shop at Mount Union — pieces that are too small to be used for college-sized costumes.

“I always feel terribly guilty when we throw small pieces away,” Lotsof said. “I saw the story on TV, and it got me to thinking, ‘hey, we could use this stuff.’”

In addition to having the materials readily available, Lotsof viewed the project as a way for the Department of Theatre to serve others.

“One of the things about being in theatre is that you have a whole lot of people involved to take theatre out in the community, which has been difficult to arrange,” she said. “I thought this was something that could come out of the costume shop. This was something that we could do to help.”

Prior to beginning the project, Lotsof purchased several dress patterns and asked students if they would like to be involved in making dresses for children in need. Students gave a resounding ‘yes’ and each seamstress picked a pattern they liked before beginning the project.

“What was truly wonderful and remarkable is that every girl really took ownership and a lot of them decorated the dresses beyond what the pattern called for to make them more special,” Lotsof said. “I was just so pleased with how each stitcher took ownership for their dress.”

Participating students included sophomore psychology major Ti Gamble of Cleveland, OH; sophomore early education major Lauren Beil of Poland, OH; freshman criminal justice major Victoria Blankenship of North Canton, OH; freshman communication major Amber Cobb of Copley, OH; junior criminal justice major Mary Wills of Perry, OH; senior health major Megan Jordan of Burbank, OH; and senior theatre major Sarah Hayes of Macedonia, OH.

Students, as well as Lotsof, worked on the dresses between productions, and ended up sewing 17 dresses for girls ages 6-8.

“I picked patterns that were for multi-size wear and adaptable for different sizes and heights,” Lotsof said. “We’re hoping they might be passed down from girl to girl and that over the years more than one girl could wear them.”

As Lotsof searched for an appropriate location to send the dresses, she began conversing with Dr. Mark Himmelein, professor of foreign languages and cultures at Mount Union. Himmelein planned a summer mission trip to Kursk, Russia and has connections with an orphanage there. Himmelein contacted the orphanage and was told the dresses were needed, and he agreed to take them with him on his upcoming trip.

“Whether it’s girls in Africa or girls in an orphanage in Russia, we figured the dresses would be just as useful,” Lotsof said.

Prior to sending the dresses, students wrote notes and safety pinned them to each dress, adding a personal touch to the gift.

“I have this picture in my head of a bunch of little girls getting cute little dresses that they weren’t expecting,” Lotsof said. “The image in my head is all these little girls happy and smiling, and that’s enough for me.”

The project was such a positive experience for her students that Lotsof is already planning to repeat it for the 2012-2013 Academic Year. In addition to making dresses for girls, Lotsof plans to make clothing for young boys as well.

“There is no end to children in this world needing clothing,” she said.

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