It was the images of children — poor, hungry, wearing little more than rags — that changed Marelle Gardner's life.
A member of the Welby 8th Ward, West Jordan Utah Welby Stake, she lives close to the Latter-day Saint Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City and one day decided to take a tour of the facility. While there, she stopped in front of the photographs displayed of boys and girls who had so much need and so little opportunity, and she began to wonder if there was something she could do.
The more she pondered, the more an idea began to form. She had an old sewing machine. She was a pretty good seamstress. With five boys, she'd never had much reason to make little girls' dresses. Perhaps what she could do was sew a dress for a little girl who didn't have one of her own.
That enthusiasm gave way to a recent resolution. For a period of one year, Sister Gardner committed she would make 365 dresses, one for every day of the year.
The Humanitarian Center wanted simple patterns with few buttons; buttons can get lost and make the dress unusable. So Sister Gardner began searching for a pattern. She found the perfect one at Deseret Industries and paid 10 cents for it.
Then she began searching for fabric. She had some at home, she purchased some at Deseret Industries and friends began bringing their remnants to her. Soon Sister Gardner began her work.
She loved it.
"It takes about two hours to make a dress," she said. "When I finish one, I think about the smile on the face of the little girl who will have something new to wear."
She said she enjoys her sewing work so much that she considers it a reward after finishing other obligations.
"My sewing machine is the same one I used to make my wedding dress 30 years ago," she said. "It's so old, I pray over it every day hoping it will last long enough for me to complete another one of these dresses." So far, the sewing machine is working well. During the last six months, Sister Gardner has made more than 200 dresses.
"I've always been a busy person," she said. "I didn't think I would have time to do this. But what I discovered was that when you're interested in something, you find the time."
Not only is it satisfying to complete a dress, but Sister Gardner says the process is a tremendous stress reliever. "It's amazing what you can do if you use the spare minutes in the day.
"My husband and sons want constant updates on how many dresses I've done. They cheer me on and 'ooh' and 'ah' over my latest creations. It feels good to know I'm doing something for someone."
For Sister Gardner, turning cloth into dresses has transformed the fabric of many people's lives — perhaps not the least of which is her own.