the sewing sisters
A passion for caring
If you walk into the fellowship hall of Pocket Presbyterian Church between seven and noon on any given Tuesday, you’ll hear someone bragging about their grandchild over the whir of sewing machines.
A small but dedicated group of women in rural Sanford, North Carolina get together to sew every week. But they’re not sewing for their grandchildren. Using donated fabric, they sew garments for children in impoverished countries, who are more at risk for human trafficking than children with clothes. The women’s operation takes over the whole room, divided into multiple work stations: a few people cut out fabric, some surge the seams, some sew and a couple iron the pants, shirts and dresses before folding and packing them in a second-hand suitcase.
They call themselves the Sewing Sisters.
The Sewing Sisters found out how clothing can be a deterrent against human trafficking from a missionary, Robert Fromme, who shared his experiences in Nicaragua with the group. Fromme told the women that if a child had on any garment, the traffickers would assume they had a wealthier family that could look for them if they went missing.
The women saw how they could truly make an impact. They began sewing shirts, pants and dresses in their homes and sometimes together. As time went on and their finished garments accumulated, they set a time and place to sew together. Since 2014, the women have been using their own machines, and they regularly receive donations of fabric, elastic and ribbons from people who have heard about their mission. Many of them also bring material home with them and sew during the week.
“One wonderful thing is that it has not cost our church one red cent. Most everything we’ve needed has been donated, and if it’s a role of elastic it didn’t break us to buy it,” said Zelda Howington, one of the founders of the group.
Word spread about their project. Members from seven other churches, of various denominations, regularly sew with the group, and they constantly receive fabric donations. They first sent garments to Central and South America, but now they have expanded their global impact to five other continents. The sewing mission also serves North Carolina: The Sewing Sisters recently sent hand-made receiving blankets to a hospital in the Appalachian Mountains for newborn babies.
What motivates them, beyond the fellowship and the pride in their work, is the tangible impact of their fight against human trafficking. As a result, they have made deep and lasting friendships.
I am one of Zelda’s seven grandchildren. Growing up with Zelda and her husband Bob as my closest neighbors, I have spent almost as much time in their loving home as my own. In the past years, I’ve witnessed their dining table amass sewing and serger machines among stacks of donated fabric. Their workstation monopolized so much space that they relocated it to a small backyard shed they bought for that very purpose. Both Zelda and Bob sew in their leisure time, when they’re not working in their garden.
I go to the Tuesday morning sewing sessions with my grandmother whenever I don’t have school, and I love watching the women matching swaths of fabric with buttons and trim to create the perfect design that some child would love. It was during one of my more recent sewing sessions that I thought, “I need to tell this story.” At the time, I didn’t have the platform to do so. I later enrolled in the class Introduction to Digital Storytelling, which gave me the instruction and resources I needed to showcase their work.
“Scale of the Issue.” Stop The Traffik, https://www.stopthetraffik.org/about-human-trafficking/the-scale-of-human-trafficking/
“Regional Findings.” The Global Slavery Index, 2018, https://www.globalslaveryindex.org/2018/findings/regional-analysis/regional-findings/#table:1
Tony-Butler, Tammy. Mittel, Olivia. “Human Trafficking.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430910/