Manhattan isn’t known for its fashion, but one woman is taking her designs around the world.
And for the best possible reason.
Aurelia Pacey, 85, has made more than 700 dresses for girls in developing countries since fall of 2010. They have been sent to girls ages 3-14 in Haiti, Africa, Nicaragua and India.
Pacey, a member of the Saint Thomas More Catholic Church, makes the dresses on behalf of “Dress a Girl Around the World,” a program started by the Christian organization “Hope 4 Women International.”
The fabrics used include sheets and pillow cases. “This king-sized flat sheet really made some good dresses,” Pacey said, while admiring a couple of floral dresses she’d recently made.
The program’s web site, dressagirlaroundtheworld.com, provided the template for Pacey’s dresses. She became involved after a neighbor brought a dress during a breakfast.
Since starting her dresses, Pacey has made five dresses a week, 50 weeks a year. She only has two occasions when she doesn’t make dresses: the week of Christmas and the week she takes a trip with her six girls (four daughters and two daughters-in-law).
Anyone who travels with the dresses is taught how to tie a square knot – so the girls receiving the dresses can learn how to adjust their straps.
“I learned that from my Boy Scout husband,” Pacey said. Her husband, Franklin, died nine months after they moved to Manhattan in 2003.
They were high school sweethearts at Miltonvale Rural High, graduating in 1945.
During that time, Pacey took home economics at school. “My home ec teacher used to come during the summer to check up on what I made,” she said.
After marrying in 1946, they farmed for 58 years, raising beef cattle, wheat, alfalfa and prairie hay.
They also raised six children, which meant that Pacey put a lot of her sewing abilities to use.
Sue Chavey, Pacey’s daughter, said her parents bought socks and underwear. Her mother made the rest of their clothing.
“She had six kids,” Chavey said. “She had to sew everything.”
The sewing machine Pacey currently uses to make the dresses is the same Kenmore device she’s had for 60 years.
The machine’s paperwork indicted it has a lifetime warranty from Sears, but apparently that lifetime has already passed.
“It does me no good,” Pacey said. “They don’t have the parts to make repairs on it anymore.”
Pacey said it doesn’t give her any trouble, as she becomes a one-woman assembly line every week.
She said she tries not to use same fabric design for more than two dresses at a time, so the girls receiving them have unique looks.
Chavey said the family tries to help out in whatever way they can. “As her daughters, we try to keep her supplied with fabric,” she said.
Pacey said others in the community also have been good with bringing fabrics as well.
Thanks to the various sources of donations, Pacey said she only has to buy tape, thread and elastic.
Pacey doesn’t just spend her time making dresses.
She also participates in Saint Thomas More Third Age Group, Thomas More Ladies Group, the Welcome Club of Manhattan and two book clubs.
In honor of her work, Pacey’s daughters made a quilt for her 85th birthday in February. The quilt, “Pillowcase Dreams,” was patched together using leftover fabric from dresses Pacey’s made.
Pacey said she doesn’t intend on traveling to deliver the dresses herself.
“One lady told me I ought to go,” she said. “I said she doesn’t know how old I am.”