"All I want is a mommy. I promise I'll do whatever she says, I'll be such a good boy! Why can't I just have a mommy who loves me? That's all I want...that's all I want..."
These words would be heart-wrenching enough coming from a lonely orphan boy, but they become indescribably painful when one watches a grown man in his 40's repeat the general idea of those words over and over again. A man who grew up in a decrepit Bulgarian orphanage and who remains institutionalized today. I do not know the details of his medical or mental condition, but he clearly is painfully aware of his lonely world on the very fringe of society, and it simply breaks my heart that this is happening by the thousands in Bulgaria, which has the highest number of abandoned/orphan children in Europe. There has got to be something we can do halfway across the world to ease the suffering and mind-numbing conditions of these disadvantaged children.
For those of you who read my post a few weeks ago regarding the orphans of Bulgaria, you'll know what this is about. For those of you who haven't read it, please do!
After working closely with Deborah Gardner, Co-founder and President of One-Heart Bulgaria, I've come up with a little plan to help provide comfort to the thousands of abandoned, seriously ill, and/or special needs children currently warehoused in Bulgaria. I'm creating the organization Sewing For Orphans to rally volunteers to help me sew these large drawstring bags to send to the children who are crowded into the overwhelmed and under-funded orphanage facilities.
Words cannot express the pain I feel when I watch their plight on various videos posted on YouTube. Some facilities are better than others, but all suffer from insufficient funding, understaffing, and primitive conditions. Not to mention the incredibly damaging psychological effects of 1) Knowing that they will likely never have loving parents or a "normal life" and 2) Being stuck in a small, sometimes unbelievably worn down building their whole lives with very little attention or care and almost nothing to break up the mind-numbing monotony of every single day. Can you imagine living your whole life in one or two rooms, sleeping with a crowd of lonely, parentless children crammed together, or being left in your crib practically the entire time for the first several years of your life?
That's where OneHeart Bulgaria has stepped in, providing not only for their physical needs and upgrading facilities, but they work hard to provide enriching activities for the souls of these children as well. Things that will help them to see the joy in living, and to help them understand that they are cared for and loved - that they are important. They are also learning life skills so that when they are old enough to leave the orphanage they will be able to be contributing members of society instead of being sucked into gang culture, prostitution, or other negative lifestyles.
So where does my little Sewing For Orphans project fit into all of this? Well, by providing these handmade bags for each child, they will hopefully be able to take comfort that somebody, somewhere knows about them and loves them enough to have made a special bag for them to keep their meager possessions in. It just might make a difference in their lives, and help them hold on to a glimmer of hope that they are going to be okay, that life will turn out alright. At a minimum, the bags will provide a cheery and colorful symbol of love that will give them a bit of their very own space in the midst of crowded institutional conditions.
I have already given an updated PDF version of the tutorial for a small drawstring bag to Deborah, which she will translate and make available for the orphans involved in a sewing program over there to use. The children will make and sell the bags as part of a broader mission to help them learn self-sufficiency and life skills.
The best way we can help is to make these larger bags for boys and girls ages 7 - 18. Each bag takes one yard of fabric (1/2 yard for outside, 1/2 yard for liner) and if you're at all involved in sewing I KNOW you have extra fabric lying around! I have yards and yards of fabric that I will never have time to use for its original intent but I don't want to just get rid of it. I keep holding onto it thinking that it will come in handy someday....Well guess what? NOW IS THE TIME TO CLEAN OUT THAT FABRIC! :-)
The bags are very simple to make and go together really fast. You can either make some on your own or, better yet, get a group together and have a sewing party!
Here's a photo of the Circle Sewing Studios storefront. The owner, Parker Chiudioni, has kindly agreed to be the drop-off/mail-to destination point for the drawstring bags....thanks Parker!
I'm collecting the bags here in the USA and then shipping them to Bulgaria when I have enough to give to each child in a particular orphanage so nobody feels left out. If you would like some tips on organizing your own sewing party, please contact me as well.
Click on the link here to download a PDF version of this tutorial that can be more easily printed off and used while sewing.
PLEASE NOTE: If you use this tutorial to make a bag/bags for yourself, please also make a bag/bags for the orphans. It doesn't take long and the orphans are the reason I'm posting this tutorial. They need our help, please give a little of your time and talents to make this happen. Thank you!
1) Cut out 2 pieces of fabric, each piece measuring 18" x 42". It's okay to make it a little bit smaller than that if necessary, but make sure both pieces are the same size.
Cut 2 pieces of ribbon at 19" lengths. Ribbon can be 3/4" to 1.5" wide.
You will also need some sort of nylon rope cord for the drawstring. This mason line can be purchased for less than $3 in the hardware section of Walmart, or you can buy it at any hardware store.
NOTE: If you don't want to go buy the string, just send the bag(s) to me without it and I will insert it before shipping it to Bulgaria.
2) Fold each fabric in half with right sides together. Stitch 1/4" seam up both sides of the outside fabric.
On one of the sides of the liner, measure down about 11" from top and mark a gap about 2 or 3 inches wide. Stop and start your stitching between those marks.
3) Once side seams are sewn, pull front and back apart so that side seam is facing straight up and the front and back create a triangle at the base of the bag. Mark the lines for the box corners, 2.5" down from peak and about 5" across. Stitch on that line.
Repeat for all corners on both bags. They should now look like the photo below.
4) Turn exterior bag right side out and tuck it inside the liner, which is still inside out. This way the right sides of both bags are facing eachother. Match up the side seams and pin like photo below.
5) Stitch 1/4" seam all around top edge.
6) Through the gap that was left in one of the sides of the liner, gently pull the exterior fabric completely out so that it looks like the photo below:
7) Stitch the gap in the liner closed either by hand or by sewing very close to the edge with machine like photo above.
8) Tuck liner inside bag, and press the top edge so that it lies flat. This is best accomplished by fitting the bag over the tip of the ironing board and pressing one bit of it, rotating bag, press another bit of it, and repeat until you have come full circle.
9) Press one end of each ribbon under about 1/2".
10) Fit the bag over the arm of the sewing machine with one of the side seams facing up. Place one of the ribbons (pressed-under end facing down) along the side seam about 1.5" away from top edge of bag.
11) Stitch, backstitching a little bit at beginning, all along top edge of ribbon. Stop stitching when you get almost to the end of the ribbon. Fold under raw edge of ribbon so that it lines up with the second side seam. Stitch to the end of the ribbon and backstitch.
12) Leaving needle in down position, lift up presser foot and place second ribbon in place. Align it with the first one and make sure you start with the pressed-under end just like you did with the first ribbon.
Stitch all the way down and repeat process of folding under excess ribbon, stitching, and backstitching to secure.
Lift up needle, clip threads, and stitch all around the bottom edges of both ribbons, backstitching for extra reinforcement in side seams areas. You have now created a casing for the drawstring.
13) Cut 2 lengths of string that measure about 42" long each. This nylon string unravels quickly, so I recommend tying a temporary knot at each end.
14) Attach a large safety pin to one end of string. "Scoot" the pin and string all the way around the entire casing so that it comes full circle and meets up with the tail end of the string. Remove the pin, and tie the ends together in a firm knot.
15) Repeat process on other side of the casing, so that you have 2 separate strings going full circle around bag on opposite sides.
You may want to use a match and singe the loose ends of the nylon string to help prevent unraveling.
Congratulations! You have now created a tangible gift of love which will brighten the life of a lonely, disadvantaged young person in Bulgaria. Doesn't that feel great?
If you don't have time or skills to sew the bags, please consider donating money (even a few dollars at a time would really add up) by clicking on the paypal button in the right sidebar so that I can get help shipping the bags over to Bulgaria, which is going to be expensive. I am also going to be using donated funds to purchase and ship Pellon Durabond interfacing to the Bulgarian sewing class to use for cute little purses they will be making to share with other orphan girls. Hmmmm...perhaps I should write to Pellon and see if they would donate some interfacing? I just thought of that. It's worth a try! Of course, 100% of all funds donated to Sewing For Orphans will go to shipping the bags and/or buying and shipping the interfacing.
PS. If making drawstring bags is not your thing, perhaps sewing pajama pants is! Deborah recently became aware of an orphanage hospital which has requested cheery PJ pants for its patients. The facility is struggling to provide basic medical care and cannot afford to buy adequate clothing for the suffering children in its care. Please contact me to know where to send your PJs.
ONE MORE THING...I've created this page of 3 bookmarks for you to download here if you'd like to include bookmarks with your bags, or if you would like to send them without bags. There is lots of blank space in case you want to personalize them with drawings, stickers, a photo of you or your child(ren), etc. Please print them out on cardstock and send them to me, with or without bags, so I can laminate them, punch a hole in the top, tie a ribbon, and tuck a bookmark into each of the bags before sending to Bulgaria. If you would like to do the laminating and ribbon tying yourself, that would be great too! This would be a great idea for a school or church project, and would help involve our children in reaching out to the orphans.
I truly hope that we can all step outside of our busy lives for a few hours and take the time to either donate a bit of money or make a priceless gift of love in the form of this simple bag and/or pajamas. I promise you that you will feel happier about yourselves and about life in general as you give up some of your time and/or resources to benefit these precious children. It will also increase your gratitude for your own blessings, I just know it. Service is magical that way. Please join me in making life a little better for the orphans of Bulgaria. Thank you!