Little Dresses for Africa—Thank You for Helping!

Little Dresses for Africa/Nancy Zieman's Blog

Little Dresses for Africa—Thank You for Helping!

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Little Dresses for Africa/Nancy Zieman's Blog
Little Dresses for Africa has an amazing story that continues to astound Rachel O’Neil, the founder, and many of us who follow her mission. Beginning as a grass roots effort in 2008 with a goal to take 1000 pillowcase dresses for little girls to a single village in Africa, Little Dresses for Africa has grown to numbers well over 4.5 MILLION. Little dresses and Britches for Boys are currently sent to 81 countries in and around Africa, plus Central American countries. Collection and distribution points are now found all around the globe, changing lives here and across the ocean. One of those distribution points is Nancy’s Notions.

The Sewing With Nancy and Nancy’s Notions Connection

In 2011, I first interviewed Rachel O’Neil on Sewing With Nancy. After watching and hearing Rachel’s compelling story, many of you went through your fabric stash and started sewing. Nancy’s Notions soon became a distribution point, collecting and then shipping thousands of dresses or britches in just a few years. To date, 167,646 dresses or britches have been sent to Little Dresses for Africa. Thank you!
Little Dresses for Africa on Nancy's Corner hosted by Nancy ZiemanNancy’s Notions collects several thousand dresses, then makes a shipment to Little Dresses for Africa. Dresses and britches are organized by sizes and categories by a great group of volunteers. Our sewing community is extremely generous!

Photos from Little Dresses for Africa’s yearly trip

DressesForAfrica NancyZieman2

DressesForAfrica NancyZieman1A New Little Dresses for Africa Pattern

Ms. Lillian Weber from Iowa had a goal to make 1000 Little Dresses For Africa by the time she turned 100.  She made and surpassed her goal, making 1,234 dresses before passing away on the eve of her 101st birthday.
One of Ms. Lillian’s favorite styles of dresses to sew included raglan sleeves—a pattern given to her by Geraldine Lowery. We have adapted these directions and included them in a FREE pattern project sheet. Download the FREE pattern project sheet HERE.
Rachel is pictured with Ms. Lillian on her 100th birthday. Ms. Lillian lived a productive, meaningful life!
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman3
Little Dresses for Africa, Ms. Lillian WeberNancy’s Notions  has kits available for the featured dress styles. The raglan sleeve dress kit has fabric for three dresses.
ThreeDresses NancysNotions 3The pillowcase style dress kit includes templates to make the dress in one of four sizes.

How to Sew the Lillian Dress Style

DressesForAfrica NancyZieman FirstImageDownload the free instructions

Draft the Pattern Pieces

Dress Body: 

  • Tape four pieces of paper together to create a sheet 17″ x 22″.
  • Draft a rectangle measuring 10″ x 19″.
  • Along the top edge, measure 5-1/4″ from the left edge; make a mark.
  • Along the right hand edge, measure up 14″; make a mark.
  • Connect the two marks and add a 1/4″ seam allowance to the diagonal sleeve line.
  • Cut away the corner.
  • Along the remaining 19″ edge, write on the pattern piece “Place on Fold” and “Cut two on fold.”
DressBodyPattern LittleDresses NancyZieman3Sleeves:

  • On one sheet of paper, draft a rectangle measuring 8-1/4″ x 9″.
  • Along the top edge, measure 5″ from the right edge; make a mark.
  • Along the right hand edge, measure down 5″; make a mark.
  • Connect the two marks and add a 1/4″ seam allowance to create a diagonal line.
  • Cut away the corner.
  • Along the remaining 9″ edge, write on the pattern piece “Place on Fold” and “Cut two on fold.”

Sleeve LittleDressesRuffle:

  • Draw a 5″ x 10″ rectangle.
  • Along one 5″ edge, write on the pattern piece “Place on Fold” and “Cut two on fold.”

Lillians Dress Ruffle

  • 1-1/4 yd. 40″ wide cotton fabric OR 5/8 yd. for dress body and 5/8 yd. for sleeves and ruffle
  • 17″ of 1/4″ wide elastic
  • Coordinating all-purpose thread
  • 1 pkg. 1/2″ ready-made single fold bias tape OR make your own bias tape
  • Optional: Bias Tape Maker
  • Optional: 5-in-1 Sliding Gauge
  • Optional: Flex ‘n Glide Bodkin and Elastic Lock Set
  • Optional: Fuse ‘n Gather Tape 
  • Optional: Little Dresses Fabric Kit from Nancy’s Notions
FuseNGatherCut Out Dress

40″ fabric folded twice

  • Fold selvages of fabric to the center of the fabric on each side.
  • Fold the fabric in half lengthwise meeting folded edges.
  • Place pattern pieces on the double-folded edge.
DoubleFoldedFabric NancyZiemanNote from Nancy: The illustration above will create a dress in one single fabric. Consider cutting two dresses at a time, of coordinating fabrics, to mix and match sleeve and ruffle pattern pieces with their coordinating dress body pattern pieces.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 2

  • Cut two of each pattern piece by placing patterns on the double-folded edge of fabric.
  • Place ruffle pattern on the double-folded edge of fabric TWICE, cutting a total of four (4) ruffle sections.
  • Use 1 pkg. of ready-made bias tape OR cut one bias fabric strip 1-7/8″ x 40″ for bias tape.
  • Press all fabric pieces.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 6


  • Open hem and press edge to the hemline, about 3/8″ to create a double-folded hem.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 8

  • Match right sides together, pin the sleeves to the dress body front and back.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 9

  • Stitch the sleeves to the dress body using a 1/4″ seam allowance. DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 10
  • Stop sewing 1/4″ from the armhole edges. Leave this unstitched.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 26
  • Press seam allowance open.

DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 11Create Bias Tape

  • Use the 1-7/8″ x 40″ bias cut strip of fabric and Clover Bias Tape Maker to create custom tape.
  • Following the directions on the bias tape maker, feed the bias cut strip into the tape maker.
  • Press the strip as it comes out the narrow end; edges folded toward the center.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 11a

Finish the Neckline and Sleeves

  • Unfold one edge of the bias tape and pin to the dress neckline opening starting at center back. The bias tape forms casing for elastic.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 12

  • Carefully pin around the curved edges.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 14
  • Use the fold as a guide; stitch the bias tape to the neckline with a 1/4″ seam allowance. Leave the first and last 2″ unstitched.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 13

  • Fold the unstitched portions of tape onto themselves, making their folds meet. Press.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 15

  • Open the unstitched tape, match right sides together and pin.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 16

  • Join the tape ends by stitching directly on the pressed mark.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 17

  • Use a rotary cutter to remove the excess seam allowance; 1/4″ past the stitching line.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 18

  • Press the new seam allowance open.
  • Join the unstitched portion of tape to the dress body.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 19

  • Press seam allowances towards tape, pressing tape up.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 20

  • Press the bias tape to the wrong side of the neckline.
Note from Nancy: Notice, on the left-hand side of the bias tape (pictured below), you can see a small amount of the dress body fabric. This is called favoring the seam and creates a more professional finish to the neckline edge. The bias tape will be completely concealed.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 21

  • Unfold the bias tape edge.
  • Clip into the seam allowances at the curves to allow the tape to lay flat once finished.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 22

  • Working from the wrong side, edgestitch the bias tape.
  • Leave a 2″ opening at the center back edge.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 23
  • Unfold the pressed sleeve hem.
  • Stitch front to back, right sides together, using a 1/4″ seam allowance.
  • Press seam allowance open.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 24

  • Refold and topstitch the sleeve hems.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 27

  • Using the bodkin elastic tool, glide the 1/4″ elastic through the bias tape casing at the center back opening.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 28

  • Use a piece of scrap fabric to join the elastic cut ends. This reduces bulk.
  • Zigzag stitch over each elastic cut end, where they meet.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 29

  • Trim excess fabric.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 30

  • Gently stretch the neckline to ease the narrow elastic into the opening.DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 31
  • Evenly space the neckline gathers; edgestitch the opening closed.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 32

Ruffled Edge

  • Sew ruffle ends together to create a circle.
  • Press seam allowances open.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 33

  • Hem the lower edge by turning up a double-folded 1/4″ hem; press.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 34

  • Edgestitch hem, working from the wrong side.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 35.DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 36

  • Use an iron to apply the Fuse ‘n Gather Tape to the wrong side of the unhemmed edge.
Note from Nancy: I like to use Fuse ‘n Gather Tape for gathering. The results are fast and easy to accomplish. Press Fuse ‘n Gather, with blue threads facing up, to the top edge on the wrong side of the ruffle fabric. Pull blue threads to gather.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 37
  • Divide the bottom of the dress into quarters, placing a pin to mark at each quarter mark.
  • Divide the ruffle into quarters, placing a pin to mark at each quarter mark.
  • Wrap the blue thread of the Fuse ‘n Gather Tape around a pin and easily pull to create gathers.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 38

  • Pin ruffle to bottom of dress, right sides together, matching pins. Adjust gathers to fit.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 39

  • Working with the ruffle-side-up, stitch ruffle to the dress using a 5/8″ seam allowance.
DressesForAfrica NancyZieman 40

  • Press the seam allowances toward the dress body.
How to Sew Little Dresses for Africa with Nancy Zieman | Sewing With Nancy
Ship your donations to:

Little Dresses for Africa
c/o Nancy’s Notions
333 Beichl Ave
Beaver Dam WI 53916-0683

Watch the Little Dresses for Africa interview on Sewing With Nancy online.

Bye for now,

Nancy Zieman The Blog

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  • LindaB
    August 9, 2016

    I’m confused about the drafting of the pattern. In my mind, the math doesn’t add up. It states that you are to tape 2 pieces of paper together along the 8 1/2 inch edges. So I’m assuming you are referring to standard size printing paper which is 8 1/2 x 11 inches.
    If you are taping them along the short edge, that will give you a total length of 22 inches. But the width will remain at 8 1/2 inches.
    You now have a total paper size of 8 /12 x 22 inches.
    How can you cut a rectangle of 10 inches by 19 inches when you only have a width of 8 1/2 inches?
    Even if I tape the 2 pieces of paper along the long edge, I would get a total paper size of 11 x 17 inches. Still not a big enough piece of paper to cut a rectangle 10 x 19 inches.
    Dress Body:
    Tape two pieces of paper together along the 8-1/2″ edges.
    Draft a rectangle measuring 10″ x 19″.
    Along the top edge, measure 5-1/4″ from the left edge; make a mark.
    Along the right hand edge, measure up 14″; make a mark.
    Connect the two marks and add a 1/4″ seam allowance to the diagonal sleeve line.
    Cut away the corner.
    Along the remaining 19″ edge, write on the pattern piece ”Place on Fold” and “Cut two on fold.”

  • Barbara Lussier
    August 9, 2016

    What size does this pattern make? How would I adjust the pattern to make various sizes?

  • Jean
    August 9, 2016

    This past Spring our church sent over 200 dresses with our team that went to Haiti.

  • Lesa Scott
    August 9, 2016

    How do you become involved in this movement and send dresses?

  • Jessy Rushing
    August 9, 2016

    Good question, Barbara. How do we do that?

  • Esther C Martinez
    August 9, 2016

    what address do I use to send my dresses to if I want to send them to Nancy’s

  • Joan Gagnon
    August 9, 2016

    Please send an address to where these dresses can be send and is there a deadline or is this ongoing?

  • Joan
    August 9, 2016

    Hi, Nancy.
    I’m not much of a sewer, but joined in on a sewing bee at a church nearby, and was ‘bitten with the bug’ to start a group at our church. We are just a small number of ladies (most of us aren’t real sewers), that get together periodically. Our dresses go off to Zambia with the Seeds of Hope ministry to children affected by AIDS. I’ve just downloaded the new dress pattern and will also get the Britches for Boys one, so we can branch out a little at our next sewing bee.
    Thanks, Nancy, for bringing this ministry to our attention.
    Bless you. I’ll continue to pray for your good health.

  • Joelyn
    August 9, 2016

    At the top of the Free Pattern Instructions you can download and/or print, the size is given as “…one size 6 dress – the size
    most often requested.”
    I bet there are size charts available on line to size up or down.
    These are adorable, loose fitting dresses, so small additions in circumference and varying additions in length would be sure to fit some child who would love this dress! Smaller would be even easier.
    Is the britches pattern available, also ?

  • Donna Wilson
    August 9, 2016

    Ms Lillian Weber is quite an inspiration for all of us! Even if a person doesn’t sew, Ms Lillian showed us how having a goal can lead to much success. And you are never “too old”.

  • M B Pazdernik
    August 10, 2016

    Hi Nancy,
    On the second page of the pattern the numbered illustrations do not match up with the numbered steps. But other than that, this pattern is so cute and a nice change from the pillowcase dress when you are trying to make a lot of them.

  • susan
    July 1, 2018

    If you note the pictures, all the girls have a skirt or dress that is longer than the “little dresses” dress. Please consider making a longer dress or a skirt. It is “protection” and needs to not allow easy access. Thanks.

  • Lora-Lynn Schlosser
    February 16, 2019

    Years ago I made about 25, or so, of these dresses and sent them to her and didn’t even receive a response that she got them. I did not want a thank you or anything except to know that my dresses had been received. I was quite disappointed in that lack of courtesy.

  • Daphne murray
    March 15, 2019

    Can you send me information on dress for Haiti or around the world, love to make some pillow case dress,

  • Tami
    April 7, 2019

    Do you have a pattern for the boy britches?

  • penelope
    January 8, 2021

    What a great lady to sponsor this project. I made about 75 or so out of pillowcases and had fun doing it. So glad some child got a dress and felt good in it.

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