Nearly every day, Lillian Weber makes a one-of-a-kind dress for a little girl she will never meet.
“It keeps me going after 99 years,” she says. “I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t found this to do. I have been blessed with this.”
Lillian gets to work on a new dress every morning at her home in the small town of Bettendorf, Iowa, to benefit Little Dresses for Africa, a Christian nonprofit that sends dresses overseas to impoverished girls in Africa and beyond. Each dress takes four hours from start to finish and it’s been a daily hobby for the past three years. To date, that has amounted to 855 dresses.
A mother of five, Lillian was born and raised on an Iowa farm with three siblings, and all of her dresses were made by her own mother.
“We went without a lot of things because we couldn’t afford it,” Lillian says. “And these little girls, I can imagine that they have a lot of feelings maybe even worse than what we had to go through.”
She takes the time to make each dress extra special, personalizing each design with a pattern, applique or stitching detail.
“I think that’s very important to have something different for these little girls,” she says. “I imagine four or five of them standing in a row, and they got a little dress on and they’re all different.”
To the folks at Little Dresses for Africa, Lillian is their ‘sewing celebrity.’ The organization has even launched a personalized shipping fund for Lillian’s dresses.
“I never get tired of looking at them,” says Rachel O’Neill, founder and director of Little Dresses for Africa. “She likes to do the little extra, and believe me, [the little girls] love it.”
O’Neill will personally deliver some of Lillian’s dresses to Malawi later this month.
“She’s my hero,” O’Neill says. “When someone like Lillian goes the extra mile, it shows.
So far, the organization has distributed more than 2.5 million dresses to 81 different countries.
Meanwhile, Lillian will celebrate her 100th birthday next May with her 1,000th dress, but she has no intention of slowing down.
“If I’m still able to do it I’ll continue all the way through,” Lillian says. “Because I know I’m making little girls happy. And that is very important to me.”