“My bridal gown is 61 years old today,” the 80-year-old lady had written on the note. “It is as elegant as the day I bought it. A little yellowed, but just as beautiful. It is in better condition than I am, hardly any wrinkles and still a size 11. I couldn’t possibly squeeze into it, and sorry to say, I am quite wrinkled. Soon it will be cut into pieces and recycled into burial gowns for babies that were too sick or born too soon to survive. I appreciate the opportunity to send my happy memories to heaven with those little angels. God bless the seamstresses who restyle this satin and lace. The gown is gone, but all that goes with it lives on.”
The seamstress who transformed the wedding dress into tiny ensembles is Kim Zeigler of Lexington. She is a volunteer for Angel Gowns, a Texas-based non-profit organization that provides beautiful garments to babies who were born at rest or didn’t survive their time in the NICU. The outfits are packaged into keepsake boxes and sent to hospitals around the country offering grieving parents a bit of joy during an unbearable time of their lives.
“I say a little prayer over every one that I make,” Kim said. “That’s one less thing the parents have to worry about. They get these final photos with their baby, who they will never see going to prom or having a wedding. Here’s this last final chance to do this for their infant. I feel blessed to be able to provide them with that opportunity and to take one thing off of their shoulders.”
Kim, a former K-12 music teacher and wedding gown seamstress, has volunteered for Angel Gowns since October 2013. Angels Gowns is an outreach of NICU Helping Hands, a non-profit organization started by Lisa Grubbs of Fort Worth, Texas. Lisa’s husband works as a neonatologist at Baylor University Medical Center, and she started this organization to support the families with premature babies.
Kim heard about the organization from her daughter, who had read a story about Angel Gowns on Facebook. At that time, the organization was seeking wedding dress donations and volunteer seamstresses.
“She thought this would be a good ‘job’ for me since I had nothing else to do,” Kim joked as she was making her daughter’s wedding dress and bridesmaid gowns at the time.
Kim decided to pursue the volunteer opportunity and completed an application. She was accepted. Now, she is one of three Angel Gown seamstresses in Nebraska and one of 222 around the country.
Since then, Kim has created more than 200 garments for Angel Gowns. She receives about 12 donated wedding dresses at a time and then creatively uses as much of the dress as possible to craft dresses for baby girls and suits for baby boys. She can usually create 6-8 outfits from a small wedding dress but has made as many as 24 outfits out of a larger dress with a massive train. The finished garments look much like elaborate baptism outfits.
Kim finds ways to use appliques, beads, lace and buttons to create a beautiful memory for grieving parents. After she cuts out the garment patterns, Kim spend 2-3 hours sewing each little outfit. She has four sizes to make – micro-preemie, small, medium and large. She also creates a bonnet to match each outfit. For the babies too small to fit in a dress, she make wraps, which are small square pieces of beautiful satin with a pocket and ribbon. Babies too fragile and small to dress are tucked into the pocket, and the fabric is wrapped around them and tied with a bow.
After Kim finishes the garments, she sends them to the warehouse in Texas where volunteers inspect the finished outfits. They fix any flaws, iron the finished garments and package them into keepsake boxes.
“We have very stringent quality control,” Kim said.
In fact, one volunteer’s sole job is to press the tissue paper that is packed in the box with the outfits. The box also contains a keepsake charm and informational materials about grieving and grief support groups.
Gowns are then shipped to participating hospitals around the country to keep on hand for whenever the need arises. Any hospital may participate by contacting NICU Helping Hands.
Wedding dress donations are not currently being accepted as volunteers are working on honoring the 3,000 dress donations that are already in the warehouse. But, Kim said, by the end of 2018, there may be a need for more dress donations. And, since they are keeping up with the current requests from hospitals, they are not currently seeking more seamstresses, but that could also change in the future.
Kim said the outfits are provided at no cost to parents, and the organization is run completely by volunteers. For more information about Angel Gowns or to give a donation to help with shipping costs, please visit www.nicuhelpinghands.org