- Associated Press - Sunday, January 4, 2015

RAVENNA, Neb. (AP) - On the second floor of a farmhouse south of Ravenna, the world is being clothed, one dress at a time.

At least, that’s how it feels when speaking with Delores “Dee” Keaschall, who has sewn over 400 pieces of clothing for impoverished children, the Kearney Hub (https://bit.ly/1zMLrne ) reported.

It’s there, in a sewing room with a large south-facing window, that the 80-year-old spends up to six hours every day painstakingly designing and sewing simple cotton dresses and shorts.

The room is full of color and texture, with bright, patterned fabric laying in neat piles and boxes of rickrack and lace and spools of thread in every color stacked on the countertops.

Along the north end of the room, wooden rods hold dozens and dozens of dresses in all colors and lengths, contrasting with the cold whiteness of the farmland outside.

But before Keaschall starts talking about her project, she warns of her enthusiasm.

“I get so cranked up when I start talking about all of this,” she said.

Keaschall and five of her friends sew dresses, shorts and baby blankets that are primarily distributed in Haiti through the Kearney group Mission II Haiti.

She first started the sewing project about three years ago. Through her membership at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Ravenna, she learned about the importance of clean water in the Caribbean nation. And while Keaschall couldn’t build wells or improve the sanitation conditions in Haiti, she found a way to help through her passion of sewing.

Keaschall has been sewing all of her life. When she was a child, she would fashion dresses for her dolls with scraps of material. She has made quilts and decorative wall-hangings and clothes; she had taught dozens of children how to sew as a 4-H leader. But now, she discovered, she could make a real difference in the lives of other people by providing them with a clean and beautiful dress.

So, setting a goal of making a hundred dresses a year, she starting piecing together the simple dresses.

Three hundred dresses and 100 pairs of shorts later, Keaschall is as passionate as ever about the project.

The dresses are made of cotton fabrics, which will be cool and breathable for the wearers. Each dress requires at least three-fourths of a yard of fabric. They make them in sizes 2 to 12, embellished with lace, rickrack and, for the older girls, pockets. Keaschall trims the arm holes and neckline by hand, taking care that each pieces coordinates and is up to her high standards.

One dress takes about two-and-a-half hours to create. Sometimes, deciding what fabrics to use together can be the most difficult part of the process.

After years of sewing, Keaschall said that she has a real sense of color and texture, and how the two work together.

“If you listen to your fabric, you hear what it wants you to do,” she said.

Most of the fabrics and materials for the dresses have been donated. She has received lace from former wedding dress creators, leftover fabric from quilters and just about every color of rickrack under the sun.

Her daughter Julie is a nun, a member of the School Sisters of Christ the King in Lincoln. When the order’s house was getting all-new bedspreads, Sister Julie gathered the old ones and gave them to Dee for dress-making purposes. The lightweight fabric, which is white with colored flowers, is simple and the perfect dress material. She received over 30 bedspreads and can make about six per bedspread.

The only thing she usually has to purchase new is elastic for the tops of the dresses.

When she first started the project, Keaschall’s grandchildren decided to take up a collection among their peers to raise money.

About four times per year, the group holds packing parties, where dresses are separated by size and individually placed in a large resealable plastic bag. Once they are all separated, they turn them over to the Mission II Haiti group, who places them in the luggage of individuals who are going to Haiti for volunteer work.

Most of the dresses go to Haiti, but they have also been sent to places such as Honduras.

“We don’t care where they go,” Keaschall said. “We feel God will guide this for us and get where they are needed.”

Keaschall has lived in the Ravenna/Kearney area her entire life. She graduated from Kearney High School and married her husband, Korean War veteran Marvin, when she was 20 years old. They raised four children; three sons and a daughter.

Her husband passed away in early 2013 after a long illness that required him to spend time in a nursing home. Creating the dresses began as a way for her to keep busy during the difficult time.

“It gave me something to do, and it made me feel good about what I was doing,” she said. “It helped fill a lot of time for me.”

Today, Keaschall said, it still keeps her busy, and gives her a reason to wake up in the morning, especially in winter.

Summer, she said, is full of gardening and lawn care. But the colder months are her “vacation and playtime,” when she can focus on her sewing and making dresses.

And after having mostly male children and grandchildren, she gets to live out her creative side for little girls.

“I never got to make a lot of dresses. I’m catching up now,” she said, laughing.

It’s also a way for her to live out her faith, hours at a time, behind a sewing machine.

“In the Bible, it says ‘When I was naked, you gave me clothes,’ and we are just living that out,” Keaschall said. “If you can touch a few people in this world, give them a little hope…”

She paused, trying to find the words to express what this experience has meant to her. “It’s just been a labor of love.”

They have received cards and thank you notes with pictures of people in both Haiti and the Honduras wearing their dresses. Seeing people actually wearing the identifiable dresses fills her heart with love, Keaschall said.

“I find as much joy in doing it as they do in receiving,” Keaschall said. “That’s what giving is - you receive more most of the time than you give.”

___

Information from: Kearney Hub, https://www.kearneyhub.com/

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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