Ann and Jerry Wright’s Nashwauk home is filled with gowns — from the living room to the kitchen, the dining room and the middle bedroom, which was converted into a sewing room last summer.
Some are large, long and fluffy, while the smallest one fits in the palm of one’s hand.
But the gowns aren’t a nuisance. They are Ann’s passion.
For just shy of two years, Ann has been transforming wedding red prom dresses into tiny christening gowns for babies who don’t make it into this world or are taken away too early.
“They get sent to missions and hospitals around the world,” said Ann while sitting at her sewing machine. “…They go everywhere these days. I’m blessed.”
It’s just about noon, and it’s just about quitting time for the day. On average, she sews three hours a day, which gives her enough time to make anywhere from three to 10 gowns, depending on size.
“I do it to keep busy,” said Ann, noting that she has a bad hip which somewhat limits mobility and activity level. “I like to feel useful. There are things in this world that I can’t do and things that I can do. I can talk, and I can sew.”
A former nurse, the 78-year-old said the sewing endeavor took off after she saw a Facebook post by a gal in Duluth who was requesting wedding dresses. Curious, Ann messaged her as to why she wanted the dresses.
“I was snoopy, asked questions and she told me she makes baby gowns,” said Ann. “I had sewn christening gowns for all my grandbabies and great-grandbabies. I told her to send me a pattern.”
The effort also touched Ann on a personal level.
“We had lost a little boy. He was about five months,” she said. “I know the feeling. I feel sorry for others going through it.”
Beginning with her own materials, Ann quickly pumped out hundreds of gowns. Once word of her effort spread, donations of wedding dresses started rolling in.
“I’m so blessed to have yet to run out of anything,” she said. “The only expense we have is shipping the gowns out to the various hospitals. Everything else is donated.”
That includes her sewing machine.
The donated wedding gowns are taken apart and re-sewn into christening gowns. The dresses – each with their own story — are donated for a variety of reasons.
“This one was imported from Italy,” said Ann while glancing at the extravagant dress strewn over her living room recliner. “It’s worth thousands. Sometimes I cringe thinking about undoing all the hard work that went into it.”
The steady stream of wedding dresses has been through word of mouth and thanks to her presence on Facebook. Family, friends and fans follow her on her page “Threads of Blessing.”
“People from all over have donated, and it keeps me going,” said Ann. “If not for them giving me material, I wouldn’t be sewing.”
To date, Ann has made 1,135 baby gowns — and that doesn’t include the 300 to 400 she’s already cut out, nor the wedding dresses yet to be touched.
“If it puts a smile on someone’s face, that’s all that counts,” she said. “People keep telling me to sell them, think of the money I’d make. But, you know what, a smile is worth more than those dollars.”
Each wedding dress can lead to anywhere from seven to 30 baby gowns, depending on the size of the wedding dress.
Ann doesn’t use a pattern, per se, and she likes to make the baby gowns resemble the wedding red prom dresses uk it came from.
“I don’t tell many people this, but I darn near flunked home ec because I couldn’t embroider,” she chuckled.
Ann’s big heart and crafting abilities likely came from her mother, Deloris Pintar, who made and donated more than 1,000 quilts before passing away in February 2008 at the age of 90.
“My mom was a special lady,” said Ann. “She had a purchased quilt on her bed, and I asked her why she didn’t keep one of her own quilts for her bed. Her quilts were made with love and prayers of keeping people warm and safe. She said she couldn’t waste her time on her bed.”
Pintar was a scrappy lady and made pot holders out of leftover materials, said Ann.
Although she had slowed in her later years, Pintar’s determination and desire to provide for others was unwavering. It kept her mind going, her hands busy and her heart warmed.
Such is also the case for Ann.
“She does this from her heart and as a passion, and surely not for recognition,” said Ann’s son, Rick Wright. “She doesn’t take a dime for her efforts or for her expense. Like her mother before her, she has a giving and caring heart.”
He also mentioned her talented hands.
“My mother is a gem, as was my grandmother,” added Rick. “The apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.”
Ann’s daughter, Rashell Wright Schmidt, concurred.
“She (Ann) came from a time when you made everything from nothing, and she’s still doing it,” said Rashell. “… Everything just falls into place for her.”
Ann and Rashell said they had no clue the effort would get this big, nor be so embraced. Rashell applauds her mom for diving in head first.
“She’s an amazing woman,” she added. “She gives to everybody and to nobody specific, and she gives wholeheartedly.”
As long as she has the materials, Ann will sew.
“I’m doing it for me,” she said. “It’s very therapeutic for me to sit and feel useful, and to make my kids proud.”
Not-so-surprisingly, Ann would prefer her name not be associated with the gowns.
“A nice part is that nobody knew who the gowns came from,” she said. “The hospitals knew, but the receivers didn’t know and I liked that. I’m doing it, and it’s my mission. I’m enjoying it.”
Yet she also fears the day that she can’t do it anymore. With so much material cut out and more donations coming in, Rashell said she’s leaning toward taking over when necessary.
Unfortunately, the demand will always be there, added Ann.
“My wish is that they dry rot on a shelf,” she said. “We can look at them, adore them, say they are pretty and let them rot there, but there is a need for them. It’s something we need to do.”
For now, she’ll just continue on her Threads of Blessing mission.
“They say put a label on them (the gowns), but I say no because I don’t need it,” said Ann. “All I want is for my mother to recognize the sewing and the stitches when it gets up there.”