Sewing for Days for Girls

Most quilters are lucky: we’ve got our basic needs met and can spend time (and a little money) on a hobby that brings us pleasure. Quilters don’t hesitate to use that hobby to bring comfort to others. Making something to give to someone else is at the heart of so many sewing projects.

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One organization that benefits from the skills of quilters and helps girls and women meet their basic needs is Days for Girls. The organization was founded in 2008 by environmental educator Celeste Mergens. Back in the U.S. after working at an orphanage in Kenya, she realized she’d never asked what products the girls used when they had their periods and was stunned to hear the answer: “Nothing. They wait in their rooms.” She soon realized that girls around the world were missing up to a week of school each month and eventually dropping out, and that women were not able to feed their families because they were missing work, all because of a lack of feminine hygiene products. “Having a basic biological function becomes a devastating handicap,” says Celeste.

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Celeste Mergens with girls in Kenya

Celeste was scheduled to return to the orphanage and she and a group of volunteers started stitching. “Some sewed until their fingertips bled,” says Celeste, but in three weeks they’d stitched reusable pads for all 500 girls. Using input from the girls, Days for Girls (DFG) has honed their designs: each girl now receives a kit containing a colorful cloth drawstring bag that contains a pair of panties, two moisture barrier shields, eight tri-fold pads, two zippered plastic bags, a washcloth, soap, and an instruction sheet. The kits are distributed through organizations like the Peace Corps, Rotary, and educational and church groups. They’ve been distributed on six continents, in more than 60 countries, including in the United States (the New Orleans school district contacted DFG for kits last year).

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Some of the kit components: Drawstring bags, shields, and tri-fold pads

Sewing events organized by DFG chapters and teams are held around the country, and the world. (Individuals also contribute their efforts to the organization.) We’ve held two DFG sew-ins in my area, a one-day event at Home Ec Workshop and three-day event, held at both Home Ec and Inspirations in Hills, Iowa, for which Moda donated some lovely fabrics. Top quality quilting cottons and flannels are important for DFG items: they hold up to repeated washings (kits will last up to three years). Patterns are useful for hiding stains, and Celeste notes that often these kits are the only thing a girl owns and that like girls everywhere, they appreciate bright, pretty fabrics. It’s easy to imagine the smiles these beautiful Miss Kate, Best. Day. Ever, and Fancy fabrics will bring to girls’ faces.

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Days for Girls sew-in at Home Ec Workshop, Iowa City

It isn’t just the girls who benefit from these events. Participants who came to sew pads, attach snaps, and cut out the waterproof PUL fabric are of all ages and backgrounds. There’s lots of conversation, laughter, and camaraderie—people come with old friends and make new ones. This project is one that appeals especially to younger women, who identify with the kit’s recipients and the impact that having nothing to use during their periods would have. The classroom at Home Ec Workshop is small and at one point we had 20-plus people elbow-to-elbow, sewing, serging, applying snaps, cutting, talking, and laughing. People came for an hour or stayed all afternoon—some were shop regulars, while others were first-time visitors: nearly 50 volunteers came on one or more days.

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At the end of our three-day sew-in, participants had created 134 bags, 886 liners, and 433 shields. The satisfaction they felt was clear: people asked to be notified of other sew-ins and many said they’d love to get together monthly.

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Some of the completed kit components

And the need, of course, is ongoing. As DFG founder Celeste Mergens notes, whenever a family has to choose between buying food or buying feminine hygiene products, food always wins. Celeste admits that she never imagined she’d spend her days talking to people about menstruation. But she also never imagined that something so simple could provide dignity and help break the cycle of poverty for girls and women worldwide. “We all deserve to have what we need for our basic biological functions, and if we don’t it affects how we feel about ourselves,” she says. “These pieces of fabric literally transform lives and help women and girls say ‘I have value.’”

Days for Girls sew-in at Inspirations in Hills, Iowa

Days for Girls sew-in at Inspirations in Hills, Iowa

For more information about Days for Girls and having a sew-in, visit their website www.daysforgirls.org

Girls in Kenya receiving their Days for Girls kits

Girls in Kenya receiving their Days for Girls kits

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16 comments on “Sewing for Days for Girls

  1. gale keffer says:

    WONDERFUL WAY TO HELP ALL UNDERPRIVLEDGED GIRLS…BUT CANT THEY BE SUPPLIED WITH DISPOSABLE PADS..SUCH AS KOTEX..?

    • Linzee McCray says:

      Celeste originally fundraised to send pads to the orphanage and returned several months later to find them littering the grounds, stuck in fences, etc. Many places don’t have the sanitation/facilities necessary to deal with disposables, so reusables work much better in these situations. They’re also more environmentally friendly, overall.

  2. Melanie Rudy says:

    Wonderful project – I belong to a guild in Calgary, Canada and we are going to consider scheduling this project as a sew day. Thank you for posting this and drawing attention to this need.

  3. Thanks for bringing this project to our attention. I would have never known the impact that “that time of the month” can have on someone. It’s amazing to think that this could be what provides them with the opportunity to attend school (regularly) and learn with confidence.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Linzee McCray says:

      I didn’t know either, Stephanie, until I heard about Days for Girls. We’re so lucky to be able to take for granted having what we need for “that time of the month.” It feels great to be able to provide others with something so simple and to realize what a huge impact it can have!

  4. Alice Stoltz says:

    I am a quilter. I was looking for a charity to help 3 yrs ago and found Days For Girls. I started sewing shields, liners, and bags, and my little mole hill turned into a state wide mountain. Nebraska has proved to be a state of givers!

    • Linzee McCray says:

      Yay, Alice! Sounds like you’ve been a catalyst for a wonderful cause. Congratulations, and thanks for all you do!

  5. Eugene Team says:

    You can go to http://www.daysforgirls.org/#!days-for-girls-chapters/c12zw to see if there’s a Days for Girls team/chapter near you. Ciick through by country, state, etc. I guarantee you that they’ll be delighted to have you join them! Clicking on the underlined team or chapter addresses an email to them. If you aren’t able to sew with them and still want to help, ask about donations!

  6. Darlene Walhof says:

    Sioux Falls SD is a new chapter that has already completed about 500 kits since their inception about a year ago and have an incredible support system to complete many more. Speaking from experience along with the kits, a very needed commodity is funds to send the kits to other countries. Way to go quilters!

    • Linzee McCray says:

      So wonderful to hear about your chapter’s success, Darlene. We were amazed that during our sew-in we had several people who simply came by to drop off checks. They couldn’t sew or didn’t have time to stay, but they wanted to help in some way. So generous!

  7. Heather M says:

    One other small way to support Days for Girls–if you use Amazon–is to designate them as your charity of choice on Amazon Smile!

  8. Maggie Howell says:

    Lovely fabrics. Here in the UK we make kits for Days for Girls too & find it hard to get nice flannel fabric. What is available here is very expensive. It is a big problem for us as we fund the kits from our own pockets.

    • Linzee McCray says:

      Hi Maggie: So much of what DFG does is based on donations, financial and otherwise. We, too, use donated fabric, which mostly comes from the stashes of quilters and I agree that finding appropriate flannel can be a challenge. So wonderful to know that DFG volunteers are sewing around the world!

    • Kim says:

      Try going online and using Joann Fabrics and their specials. Ditto Hancock Fabrics.

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