Verndale woman has sewn 5,000 dresses… and counting

Joyce Wold makes dresses from donated pillowcases and donates them to little girls in less fortunate areas of the world. Contributed photo

Joyce Wold, of rural Verndale, sews with a song in her heart. While she trims the folded ends off donated pillowcases, cuts the shapes for armholes, adds elastic and trim, she listens to the Christian radio station KTIG 102.7 out of Pequot Lakes. She repeats the motions hundreds of times each week in her tidy sewing room in the lower level of the home she shares with Clarence, her husband of more than 60 years. In the last six years, she has made about 5,000 colorful sundresses to delight little girls in less fortunate areas of the world.

Joyce sewed for her daughters when they were little and made home decorating items over the years. She got her start in sewing for the missions when Lanette Peterson came to a retreat at her church. Lanette demonstrated how to make the simple dresses. Joyce told herself, “This is something I can do!”

Joyce gave her name and phone number to Lanette and started with 100 dresses which were sewn while she and Clarence wintered in Michigan. She didn’t have an outlet for the dresses until she called Lanette. The two arranged a meeting. Lanette was pleased with Joyce’s work and accepted the dresses to take to missions in the Philippines and Haiti.

When she started sewing the dresses, Joyce looked for pillowcases, elastic, bias binding, thread, lace and other trims at garage sales and secondhand stores. Now people donate to her project, and she has tubs, shelves and racks of supplies. “The Lord keeps me supplied,” she said. She uses lots of standard size pillowcases but also makes larger dresses from queen and king size pillowcases. Bed ruffles, no longer the fashionable bedroom items they once were, are easily transformed to sundresses.  She can also convert a queen size sheet into eight dresses.

Joyce’s goal is to make 100 dresses each month, and though she has estimated that she produces 1,000 each year, it’s actually more like 1,200 in the last few years. When she needed carpal tunnel and other hand surgeries, friends pitched in to keep production up.

Joyce Wold has made more than 5,000 sundresses in the last six years, including the one pictured left wore by a happy recipient. Contributed photo

Admittedly a pink, purple and peach person, Joyce gravitates to those colors when adding trim and pocket details. But, of course, she chooses the most appropriate colors to go with the pillowcase prints. She loves eyelet, either as added trim or when it happens to be the bottom edge of a pillowcase and becomes the hem of a dress.  The occasional hand-embroidered pillowcase becomes a very special little dress.

Joyce sews six days a week, occasionally taking a break for a Hallmark movie, but doesn’t exactly rest on the seventh. She and Clarence have their own mission of providing church services at two long-term care facilities each Sunday. Clarence, a retired high school English teacher, takes care of the “preaching” while Joyce handles the music. She plays the piano and took up the violin about 10 years ago. Clarence plays the banjo and mandolin. He also is on the board of deacons at First Baptist and works at his computer.

On Sundays, they leave early. The first stop is  to lead the service at Edgewood Baxter Senior Living, then they go to the First Baptist service. They eat with friends and then offer the second service at Woodland Good Samaritan. That’s followed by choir practice, church orchestra, evening church service and dining with friends. While Joyce treasures her alone time in her creative space, she clearly chooses Sundays as her favorite day of the week.

“Our nursing home ministry is so much fun,” Joyce said. “I won’t be rewarded in heaven because it’s so much fun here!”

Joyce was a preschool teacher for 21 years and feels she’s gravitated to the other end of the age spectrum, at least on Sundays. Her weekdays are certainly still spent with children in mind. Family is very important, too, since she and Clarence have five kids, 21 grandchildren and 26 great-grands.

Outlets for the dresses have changed over the last six years. She always talks with missionaries who visit her church. A recent connection with Franklin Graham’s Shoebox Ministries has become a new outlet since they

 will be sending a truck to pick up supplies from a number of places. It gets expensive to mail or ship clothing, so finding people with mission connections is preferred.

First Baptist collects supplies for Joyce’s project, but Joyce also encourages anyone who has a need for the dresses, or is planning a mission trip, to call the church at 218-829-5767. She will gladly arrange a donation of dresses.

“I just sit here and sew,” said Joyce, which brings us back to that song in her heart. As she pulled her chair up to the sewing machine one day, words came to her to the tune of I’m Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.

I’m gonna sit right down

and sew some little dresses

for Jesus’ little girls in the world.

I’m gonna make them oh so sweet.

It’s gonna knock them off from their feet.

A little trim around the bottom,

they’ll be glad they got’em.

I’m  gonna sit right down

and sew some little dresses

and tell them that I love them so.

I’m gonna sit right down

and sew some little dresses

and tell them Jesus loves them too!