OZARK, Ala. (AP) — Katie Mitchell spent decades sewing in Wiregrass textile plants. She hated just about every minute of it.
"I didn't like sewing," she said. "Every day when I came home I said I wasn't going back again."
Time and a change of purpose have given Mitchell a different attitude toward the craft. Today, Mitchell is a part of a sewing ministry at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Ozark. The group makes a variety of clothing and other items, such as gowns for hospice patients, cancer caps, adaptive clothing for Alzheimer's patients and covers for walkers. Mitchell, who once saw sewing as just a way to make a living, has now embraced the craft. She spends about two or three hours each week at her church's sewing facility and many hours at home.
"There's a purpose behind this," Mitchell said. "There's a purpose in helping someone else and doing God's mission."
Mitchell's group of about seven seamstresses work in a converted storage room at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. By Mitchell's count, her group has made more than 5,000 garments since 2007.
Among Mitchell's band of seamstresses is Betty Peters, who at age 91 has turned out about 95 quilts in the past year. Mitchell said Peters had knee surgery this year, but was chomping at the bit to get back to work sewing.
"Every time I see her, she thanks me for letting her sew," Mitchell said. "I feel like I should be the one thanking her."
One of the sadder jobs Mitchell's group has taken on over the years is making burial gowns for infants. Mitchell said her group began making them after hearing of a demand in hospitals for gowns for premature babies who died.
"It was sad, but we were happy to do gowns because we knew the need was there," she said.
Lindsey Deavers Andrews, of Dothan, knows the value of sewing ministries like Mitchell's. In 2004, Andrews gave birth to a premature daughter weighing just one pound and 13 ounces. Andrews' baby, Kynlee Scott Andrews, didn't make it, leaving Andrews and her husband in need of a gown to bury their child in. A local sewing ministry stepped up and donated a burial gown as well as a matching handkerchief made of the same material.
Andrews said the gown made a difficult chapter in her life easier.
"It was truly a blessing," she said. "No one else around was doing that."
Today, Andrews is the mother of two children, including another child who was born prematurely but survived. Andrews said she finds the fabric square to be a comforting keepsake.
"It just gave me a peace of mind, she said. I liked that I had something to remember her by."
Mitchell's group has gotten away from making burial gowns, as other sewing ministries have contributed to fill the need. Today, her group focuses largely on other projects.
Mitchell is particularly proud of adaptive clothing her group has made for Alzheimer's patients. The clothing has a variety of buttons, pockets and ribbons on them to give Alzheimer's sufferers something to occupy themselves with, as they can often become restless and fidgety, Mitchell said.
Mitchell's group has also recently completed work on dresses for women in the Appalachians who have been impoverished by the closing of coal mines in the area. Mitchell said she was touched to learn that the dresses had been well-received by their recipients.
"There was one woman who was so proud that she got a handmade dress and not something handed down," she said.
Mitchell and her group's work have inspired other local churches to begin sewing ministries. Mitchell's daughter, Pam Dawsey , helped organize a sewing ministry at Ridgecrest Baptist Church. While Mitchell's mother was not always fond of sewing, Dawsey fell in love with the craft at an early age, piecing together creations from scraps her mother brought home.
Dawsey said as a child she always dreamed of being a fashion designer. Participating in the sewing ministry has allowed her to fulfill that dream in a way that serves others.
"I design clothes and sew for Jesus," she said.
Dawsey said she enjoys doing charitable work that has a local impact.
"We always think about Third World countries, but we don't think about our own sometimes," she said. "The need is great."
Mitchell said she's happy about how what was once a tedious chore has turned into a passion project.
"Sometimes I think God takes us through jobs to equip us for the mission he really wants us to do," Mitchell said. "I honestly hated sewing in a sewing factory. Now I have a passion for it."
Information from: The Dothan Eagle, http://www.dothaneagle.com