November 2011
Mission: The Church's Heartbeat

Parish Sewing Room Invites Participation

“Phenomenal!” That was the word that parishioners of St. Ann’s, Old Lyme, Connecticut, kept saying as they visited the new sewing room in their undercroft. A converted former nursery school room, it is now a self-service center for sewing and related work in support of the parish’s mission partnerships.

“My dream is to get people to work on these projects anytime, if they have one day a week, or two, they can come here and work and still have community,” said Carole Lamourine, a long-time parishioner who spearheaded the project. “If you want the camaraderie of the parish, you can come even an hour a month.” She said that some people take work home and there was enough variety so that those with arthritis in their hands could also contribute. “People like doing things,” Lamourine said.

Windows and a sliding glass door make the sewing room light and bright. There are workstations for sewing and ironing, tables for cutting, and storage bins above and below counters. Among the work projects set out for visitors were quilts in various stages of creation - from bolts of fabric to packages of 20 ready-to-assemble squares; stacks of fabric bags created to hold knitted items; knit caps; knit cotton washcloths; hand-hemmed receiving blankets; a bin of embroidered linen and lace items; and a bias tape-making machine. Hangers around the room displayed different-sized dresses made from simple patterns for girls to wear in warm climates.  

“Each of these projects has grown from when we’ve been asked for something [from a mission partner],” Lamourine explained.” St. Ann’s needs to be able to sustain its relationships.”
St. Ann’s has a partnership with a group of nuns who serve at a neo-natal clinic in the barrio of Las Florres, outside San Pedro, in the Dominican Republic. Anne Haddad, the parishioner who coordinates the layette ministry, said the parish sends six sets there every two months. Each set includes a quilt (for bed padding), receiving blankets, and knit washcloths, plus cloth diapers, onesies, and other requested items that are purchased with donated funds. Haddad sees the sewing opportunities as a “great way to get people involved.” She’s taken on laundering the finished quilts at home and hemming receiving blankets.  

People also sew backpacks and write curriculum, to support two week-long summer camps for Haitian children, one in Port-au-Prince and one in a batey - on a sugarcane plantation - in the Dominican Republic. The parish usually sends a group annually to visit the city and the bateys. Others, overwhelmingly female, knit caps for the Seaman’s Institute; make cloth “ditty bags” to hold the caps; knit prayer shawls; make “Little Dresses for Africa,” from pillowcases and simple patterns; and make other dresses for girls. In addition the parish sends donated clothing and new school supplies to Holy Trinity Cathedral and School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. And, they’ve also sent kits for Haitian priests that include a ceramic chalice and paten and altar linens, and are exploring how best to make and pack home Communion kits.  

Lamourine also embroiders linens and makes lace, using digital patterns. Last year St. Ann’s made a set of altar linens for a small backcountry church in Ghana when their associate rector the Rev. Stephanie Johnson travelled there.  

“It’s absolutely astounding the things they are doing,” said the Rev. Canon Bob Miner, interim rector. His wife, Glee, has been very involved in the sewing projects. She helped clean and ready the room and enjoys the sewing work.  

“This is an outpouring not only of talent but of God coming through their handiwork and prayer,” Miner said. Before the room downstairs was scrubbed clean and set up, sewing material had been stored in cabinets in the parish hall and taken out and returned whenever there was a common workday. The new arrangement means no more having to put material back, and no need to schedule the room for sewing projects. Getting the room ready meant hours of scrubbing and organizing by Lamourine, Glee Miner, and others.  

There are about 25 people in the parish who participate in this kind of work in some way, whether from home or at the church. In the new space, there have been up to six at a time working there together, but it’s more likely to be two or three.  

Now over 70, Carol Lamourine was born and raised at St. Ann’s, starting when it was Black Hall Mission Station, served by clergy from Old Saybrook and Niantic. Sewing has been her life work and her joy. While her enthusiasm and drive remain strong, she says that her hands don’t work as well as they used to. And a knee replacement that didn’t go well is now affecting her legs and especially her feet. She’s hoping the new, attractive room will help expand the current participation and insure that the work continues when she’s no longer able to lead it. The new bright space, with its organization, efficiency, and opportunities for service and socialization, give her tremendous hope. “They just need to see this place,” she said.  

Karin Hamilton, the director of communication and media for the Diocese of Connecticut is a parishioner at St. Ann’s.

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This article is part of the November 2011 Vestry Papers issue on Mission: The Church's Heartbeat