Jessica ordered her first sewing machine out of a catalog in 2008, just before the birth of her son. She says she read the manual and then "just went for it."
Ten years later, she is the founder of Gracie's Gowns, a non-profit organization that has produced and delivered over 4,000 hospital gowns to children across the globe with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. Last year Jessica was honored as one of L’Oréal Paris' Women of Worth.
Learn more about Jessica, Gracie's Gowns and how The Ultimate SewingBox has helped turn a room of boxes and containers into an open and organized workspace.
Did you ever imagine that Gracie's Gowns would be where it is now?
Never, not in a million years. Honestly, when I first started Gracie’s Gowns, I was just hoping to get enough financial support to donate 100 gowns each year to one hospital at a time. Instead, we make around 600 gowns a year just for individual children, in addition to NICU Smocks that are given to a variety of hospitals each year as well.
Do you sew all the gowns yourself?
Currently, I have three steady volunteers that help on a regular basis besides myself. There are many months, and especially in the beginning years where it was just myself working on gowns. Even if I have not personally sewn the gown, I still work on it somewhere within the process. All the embroidery and snapping is done in my home, as well as the packaging and mailing.
How do you pick the fabric and personal touches for each gown?
A family member of the child requests each gown, and on that form, there is a section about what they like. This could be their favorite colors, characters, foods, places to be…it is a spot for them to tell me who they really are on the inside. The fabric is chosen from this section, and then we personalize even more by embroidering their first name on it as well.
Are there any particular experiences that have stuck out to you?
My absolute favorite experiences with Gracie’s Gowns have been the interactions I am able to have with families. Being able to deliver gowns in person is one of the greatest rewards of my “job.”
I think my other favorite memories are when I hear our gown was the first thing a baby could wear in the hospital, and not because there wasn’t clothing that would fit them, but because there wasn’t anything that allowed the staff to care for their child without being in the way. Knowing that on the flip side, our gowns are sometimes the last thing a child wears as well…it’s heartbreaking, and yet such an honor. I have received a few e-mails and messages about some of the children who have passed away and they were buried/cremated in their gowns, because they became such a part of their child’s life and personality they didn’t want their child to be without it. Those moments remind me over and over on how much of a difference our organization is making in each child’s life.
Besides sewing, what are some of your other creative interests?
Is there anything besides sewing to be interested in?! All joking aside, somehow, I inherited my mother’s creative DNA. I enjoy drawing, mostly using charcoal, and helping my children with their hands-on projects for school. I’ve painted, made some scrapbooks, and I am almost always up for taking on new projects. I even did a fundraiser over about 18 months to help pay for our wedding costs too!
How has organization made your life easier?
Organization is so critical in my life, and as I say that, my desk is a wreck and my office has a wee bit of chaos too, but being able to know where everything is located, is beyond imperative. I am a mother to four children, we have two pets, I run a nonprofit organization, I’m currently completing a Master’s of Arts in Executive Leadership degree, we have two different visitation agreements, and everyone seems to have one activity during the week, not to mention, anything we plan to do as a family or to help out friends…maintaining a mostly updated schedule is a must, and having clutter everywhere else causes anxiety issues for me at times, so organization is a big thing we have been stressing as important as a family to work better on.
What is your favorite thing about using The Ultimate SewingBox?
My absolute favorite thing about using The Ultimate SewingBox has been the containers themselves. I can see where everything is, and I can quickly get to it…it is a timesaver for tracking inventory on frequently used supplies to make gowns, but they have also allowed me to save time in production as well. The space it has given my living room office was quite unexpected. The room is larger, but small at the same time, and I have yet to ever close the Ultimate SewingBox when not in use, I was amazed at how open the office feels with it wide open. I was living and working out of containers in that room until we received the Ultimate SewingBox and I didn’t realize how much time I spent searching for all the parts and pieces to projects until I didn’t have to do it anymore.
What is the best way to support Gracie's Gowns?
Currently, our organization is trying to clear out our requested gown wait list of over 250 children. We received hundreds more requests this year than in years prior, and in turn, we did not receive the monetary support needed to support it. Our organization had to stop taking new requests on June 30th, 2017 and we have yet to be able to reopen our request form because of monetary limitations and decreased volunteer numbers as well. We’re working on creating a stronger local volunteer basis through creating a sewing academy, but we are still in desperate need of financial support as well. The best way we’ve found to do that, is by donating through PayPal Giving Fund, while it does take a little longer to receive the funds, we are not charged any fees, so every penny of each donation can be used for our organization’s needs.
What is the best part about what you do?
The best part about what I do with Gracie’s Gowns is empowering children to see themselves beyond their diagnosis…to see who they really are, what they want to become, and how much they can accomplish despite the situation they are in.
Visit graciesgowns.org to learn more. To donate, click here.