Twice a month, the basement of the Baptist church in the small Washington County town of Danforth thrums to the beat of sewing machines, the swish of scissors moving through fabric, and the lively chatter among the Dorcas Sewing Sisters. There are dozens of “sisters” in the group, ranging from teenaged to nonagenarian. Some pitch in seasonally, others year-round, and by a recent count, 13 core members were over the age of 70. The church lends the sisters a storage room to pack full of vibrant fabrics, yarns, and threads, plus space to sew dresses, shorts, baby booties, and more for orphans around the world, in Haiti, Moldova, Ecuador, and elsewhere.
Ja-Net Cronkite founded the group in 2017, after reading about the plight of Haitian children growing up in orphanages ever since a 2010 earthquake killed hundreds of thousands of people in the island nation. Cronkite had been sewing as long as she can remember, and it occurred to her that sewing could be a way to make a difference. Her network of needlewomen grew quickly as she recruited at her home church in Pittsfield and at the church in Danforth, near where she spends lakeside summers. Now, Danforth is the base of operations. “Our motto: ‘We can’t go, but we can sew — one stitch at a time,’” Cronkite says.
The name Dorcas derives from scripture. In the Bible, Tabitha, known as Dorcas in Greek, was reputed for her good works, in particular for clothing the poor. Over time, the Dorcas Sewing Sisters have broadened their focus to also assist people in nearby communities, through churches, nursing homes, and other organizations — last year, they made masks for the staff at Houlton Regional Hospital.
The group relies on their community for donations of materials and money — the latter helps cover shipping costs, which can get prohibitively high for sending boxes overseas. “There are so many in need, so many hurting people,” says Lydia Preston, the only member of the group who still sews on a pedal-powered treadle machine. “And there’s so much to do. Everybody has a heart to help other people.”