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Waves of fabric sewn into crates of clothes

Close to 300 Timorese children will – some for the first time – receive the gift of brand-new clothing: Thanks to some clever local crafters and the “astounding” generosity of the wider Wairarapa community.

In December, Martinborough local Annie Woodhams founded charitable sewing collective Stitch 4 Kids, aiming to make “at least 200” dresses for girls in Timor-Leste [East Timor], completed by the end of March.

Stich4Kids made a public appeal in January for fabric donations – and was inundated with support from the sewing community, who contributed both their unused supplies and crafting skills.

Eventually, the group exceeded its original target – presenting 232 dresses and 57 pairs of children’s shorts to the Timorese Embassy in Wellington on April 4.

The clothing will be delivered to Timor-Leste – a country of 1.4 million citizens, half of whom live below the poverty line – later this month.

Woodhams came up with the idea for Stitch4Kids last year, while recovering from a stem cell transplant to treat aggressive bone marrow cancer.

Her daughter-in-law Jane Keig, former staff at the Ministry of Defence, suggested making clothes for children in Timor-Leste, where she had previously travelled with the New Zealand Defence Force. She helped Woodhams secure a meeting with Timorese ambassador Her Excellency Felicidade de Sousa Guterres, who was supportive of the project.

A few short months later, Woodhams said she was “astounded” by the support Stitch4Kids received in Wairarapa – as were Guterres and First Embassy Secretary Ligia Pinto when she handed over the crates of dresses and shorts.

“When Jane and I said we had 232 dresses for them, their mouths just fell open. I don’t think they were expecting that,” she said.

“I’ve been blown away by the generosity people have shown – and all the love and care and attention they put into each piece of clothing. It’s amazing to think an idea I had while lying in a hospital bed has inspired such an outpouring of care.

“I’m very proud of the sewers of Wairarapa – we’ve come together to create something beautiful.”

Woodhams said she was particularly thrilled with the response to Stitch4Kids’ fabric appeal – with a flood of donations arriving from Carterton sewers, including a “huge bag of beautiful cottons” from the Dalefield Women’s Institute.

“Carterton came up trumps in terms of donations!

“We received so much gorgeous fabric. We were given buttons, cotton thread, bias binding – the works. Jane and I spent a lot of time driving back and forth to pick it all up.

“Even if people had only a couple of pieces to spare, they wanted to be part of the cause.”

The Stitch4Kids sewing crew also significantly expanded – starting with five sewers and growing to “about 20” from Wairarapa and beyond.

“We’ve now got seven women from Wellington making dresses – they’d heard about us when they were here on holiday.

“A local woman made about 30 dresses, and wants to keep going because she enjoys it.”

Woodhams said Guterres plans to deliver some of the clothing to a Catholic women’s organisation in Dili [the capital city], where it will be distributed among local orphanages. The remainder will be delivered to children in remote rural areas.

Stitch4Kids plans to continue supporting Timor-Leste, making deliveries to the embassy “every six months”.

“In Timor-Leste, if you can’t feed and clothe your children, you take them down to the orphanage. And they stay there until you can afford to take them back,” Woodhams said.

“For some kids, these will be the first new clothes they’ve ever had.”

Woodhams plans to organise monthly crafting sessions for exisiting Stitch4Kids members, and welcomes more local sewers to join.

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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