Some Biblical characters are so vivid it seems I know them personally. Acts 9 records the miraculous resurrection of Dorcas, also known as Tabitha. Through her kindness, Dorcas endeared herself to the church in Joppa. Every time I read the passage, it jumps off the page at me! The kinship I feel with Dorcas is due to a calling we share: to minister by creating clothing for others.
I’ve received strange looks when saying I felt custom dressmaking was not only my business, but also a God-given ministry. Sewing is not usually included in the list of “callings.” However, as young women striving toward Biblical womanhood, benevolence, “giving to others’ basic needs without having as my motive personal reward” , takes many forms.
HISTORY OF SEWING AS A MINISTRY
It is impossible to write anything on biblical womanhood without citing the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31. This lady not only ministered to her family’s needs, but to the poor as well. “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.”  Though it doesn’t say how she helped, she probably ministered using skills mentioned in other verses. Perhaps she wove blankets, knit sweaters, or sewed cloaks, in addition to delivering a delicious meal to a needy neighbor.
Later, we read that a worthy woman “does not eat the bread of idleness.”  Women of the 19th and earlier 20th centuries took this to heart, combining their love for fellowship with productivity through sewing circles. Amid chatter, needles flew as ladies met in homes to stitch baby clothes, quilts, and other necessities for needy members of the community and for missionaries far away.
Another cooperative social event among women of the past, especially on the frontier, was the quilting bee. Traditionally, before her marriage a young woman assembled thirteen quilts for her home. This sounds like a monumental task. However, with a group of ladies working, it was possible to quilt one in a day—never mind the good time of fellowship and the memories woven into the quilt with stitches, straight and small.
BENEVOLENCE FOR TODAY
“[A] single hand’s turn given heartily to the world’s great work helps one amazingly with one’s own small tasks.” 
The tradition of women ministering by the fruit of their hands is long-standing. The rewards are many and well documented, but with the Industrial Revolution and the rise of feminism, we’ve lost ground in this area. How can we restore this vital aspect of Biblical womanhood? With ready-made goods available to us at low prices, why should we bother creating something by hand?
The question often plagues me as I while away the time in my sewing room. It is easy to spend eight hours on a dress. Wouldn’t this time be better spent elsewhere? I don’t think so. Each of us invests her life in something. I realized that what I invested in people would make a difference for eternity. Miraculously, we touch the spirit when we minister to the material need.
For me, dressmaking began as a ministry. When I saw an expectant mother of my acquaintance who lacked maternity clothes, I realized I could help! After her baby’s birth, she commissioned me to sew nursing dresses for her. Lillibeth, newly wed and a young mother, was thrilled with the dresses I sewed her and told me that other women would enjoy being pampered by a custom dressmaker. It finally struck me that designing modest, becoming clothing for motherhood was something I desired to do all the time.
As I sit and sew a nursing dress for a young mother, I’m praying that she will raise her children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. As I take a tuck in a little girl’s jumper, I’m asking God to prepare her for His calling on her life. Being paid to do it is a plus, but if that were my only motivation, I would have moved on to “greener pastures” long ago! I find great fulfillment in ministering to ladies who spend themselves on their families.
Maybe you don’t excel at sewing. I personally have no patience for crocheting or knitting, but I know of a lady who enjoys knitting socks for Russian orphans. Several members of our local knitting guild fashion beautiful hand-knit hats for cancer patients. God has given each of us unique gifts for ministry. What do you enjoy doing with your hands? Do you see how that skill could bless others? One of the boons of doing handwork for others is that it affords many opportunities for improving your skills!
Knowing that I would be writing this article, I asked several ladies of my acquaintance for their thoughts on benevolence sewing. I’d like to share some of them with you. Mrs. Stanley Sherman (“Lady Lydia”) has been a wonderful example to me in this area. And good news: for those of us who grimace at the thought of donning a thimble, she includes ideas for non-sewing benevolence!
WISDOM FROM LADY LYDIA
“Benevolence sewing is so easy to find that you can easily fall behind on your own assignments! When someone discovers your sewing abilities, they always have a need you can fulfill. Crisis pregnancy center always need baby blankets, which are very simple to sew. In the winter, the elderly people have cold feet and legs, and lap blankets are a wonderful gift for them.
“Benevolence consists of anything you do to help someone else. I’ve sent my homemade soap to people, as well as packages of various household things that I no longer need. These things consist of clothing, knick-knacks, dried foods, stationery, etc. Though small, I know these care packages will bring joy to someone less fortunate.
“I also enjoy sending new homemakers cookbooks and homemaking books, as well as books on Biblical womanhood, to help them grow as godly women. New mothers like to have their house cleaned, their hair done, and their freezers stocked with meals.
“For several years, I’ve sent clothes and other items to a little girl and her mother in the Ukraine. They live in squalid conditions in a cold, wet climate on the coast of the Black Sea. I enjoy hearing from the local preacher of the area that he delivered my package to this family, and I love reading their responses by email.
“You don’t have to go to an agency to find benevolence opportunities. In my opinion, personal benevolence is much better than donating to an establishment. It keeps you in touch with the recipient and allows you to better recognize their needs.”
ELIZABETH STEWART CLARK SHARES
Elizabeth Stewart Clark, an accomplished period dressmaker, is a member of a church with a strong humanitarian wing. “I’ve had the opportunity to do both local and large charity sewing projects.” she declares. “We take very seriously Christ’s admonition to love and care for others. We feel we are following in His footsteps by sharing what we have with others, and meeting the needs of His children wherever we can.” The Relief Society, whose motto is “Charity Never Faileth”, meets monthly to promote humanitarian and charity projects.
Projects the group did recently include the following:
- Quilts—they went to Afghanistan last winter, earthquake victims in South American and Russia, refugees in Africa, and homeless kids in the US.
- Newborn kits—these include diapers, baby caps, a blanket, booties, and a sleeper. The kits are given to families who have nothing, both overseas and in the US.
- Fleece caps and gloves—our recent batch went to a homeless shelter in Michigan.
- Dresses—one of my favorite projects! Using plain T-shirts, we add a calico skirt to the hems and ruffles to the sleeves for an easily washed but pretty Sunday dress. These are sent to South America and to some depressed areas of the Appalachians.
Other projects Mrs. Clark enjoyed were sewing things for newborns through the local hospital, and refurbishing dolls for the family shelter’s Christmas needs. I asked Mrs. Clark whether she ever heard directly from the recipients of her kindness. “Not often,” she replied. “It doesn’t seem to make a difference to me. The church does have a monthly magazine, and often there are stories related to humanitarian efforts. Reading the responses of those interviewed and knowing that I helped with that brings a very warm glow. It’s sometimes hard to read the whole story without becoming misty-eyed!”
She says the greatest enjoyment comes from using her God-given talents and skills. “I can’t imagine anything better than to be able to stand before Him and hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” With so many blessing, my gifts seem a small portion indeed, but in God’s Kingdom, even small portions count. I love the fact that even my small contributions make a difference for eternity.” Whether you are in a large church or you meet in a home fellowship, I pray the Lord will show you ways to make a difference in other’s lives with the fruit of your hands.
RESOURCES TO EXPLORE
Since I prefer ministering to people of my immediate acquaintance, I have not participated in any charitable sewing organizations. However, the ministry opportunities are endless, so if you don’t see an immediate need in your community, visit these web sites.
~ Sewing Charity (Comprehensive list of organizations accepting donations of handmade items.)
~ Newborns in Need, Inc. (A ministry that accepts hand-made preemie clothing, blankets, etc.)
~ Socknitters (Distributes hand-knitted socks to Russian and Lithuanian orphanages)
Achieving True Success
 Proverbs 31:20
 Pr. 31:27b.
 An Old-Fashioned Girl by L.M. Alcott.
All scriptural references from the NIV.