The proof isn’t in the pudding for Margaret Adams. It’s in the seamstress’ homemade shirts, pants, coats, chair covers, grocery bags, Roman shades and quilts. It’s in her pajamas made of fabric saved from an old couch, and in napkins she uses at dinnertime made from sheets.
The proof of her commitment to her faith and concern for the environment is also in the diapers she made out of old T-shirts and little girls’ dresses she volunteered to sew out of scraps and pillowcases for St. Jude Parish in Haiti, the twin parish of Gesu Parish, Milwaukee.
“Jesus said the path is straight and narrow – there’s no other way to live,” Adams, 68, said of her motivation to reduce, reuse and recycle, including fabric, and to use her sewing skills to benefit her life and the lives of Haitians connected to her parish.
Lynn Connolly, a member of Gesu’s Twinning Committee and chair of St. Jude’s Health Committee, met her last year when Adams responded to an ad she placed in the bulletin asking for people to sew cloth diapers for the clinic.
“We actually got a pattern to make diapers out of T-shirts, and just ordinary cloth T-shirts, cotton T-shirts, and she’s whipped up a couple dozen already,” Connolly told your Catholic Herald in a phone interview, noting that once she learned Adams sewed her own clothes, she also asked her to make sundresses.
“So, she made some sundresses for us and she’d like us to take them to Haiti the next time any of our committee members visit Haiti and see how the dresses work with the kids, and if they work fine and they seem to do the job, then she said she would make some more for us….” Connolly said. “She’s been very generous with her time.”
The twinning relationship between Adams’ parish and St. Jude in Mon Opital, Haiti, began in 2002, and Adams was happy to help, but said she hopes the people will become more independent.
“I’d love them to be food independent and sewing independent,” Adams said, describing her life as “raising children and making them independent….” She hopes that someday the parish might provide a sewing machine for women in Haiti to sew their own clothes or even clothes to sell.
“I mean, I shouldn’t be sewing for women in Haiti; they should be doing it themselves,” she said.
Adams said she’s been sewing since she was 14 or 15, thanks to her mother. She remembers working on her grandmother’s treadle model machine as a child.
“I learned to sew, because if I didn’t make my own clothes, I wouldn’t have clothes to wear, and that’s kind of, think it through – that’s life,” Adams said. “You either make it, do it yourself, you pay somebody else to do it, or you do without.”
Making her clothes as a young woman was not only thrifty, but also cost effective, said Adams, who spends time with her Huskylock sewing machine almost every day.
“Then, after I had money, I hated paying twice as much for something half as well made, and now I do it because nobody else does it right,” she laughed, adding that she recently saved $50 making her own white denim capris.
Her husband, Albert, a retired physician who continues to work at a free clinic some days during the week, walked into the kitchen carrying groceries in bags Adams made out of old curtains. More hung from hooks on a wall leading downstairs, decorated with butterflies, flowers and leaves made using her programmable embroidery machine.
“I’m amazed at the things God has let us do,” she said of the machine that allows her to design and digitalize just about anything.
Adams said she enjoys the creative process of sewing, from the quilted apron she made using scraps, to the knit dress she sewed to match an extravagant, handwoven jacket she purchased at a fair in Oneida – she’s able to purchase exquisite and expensive pieces because she saves money sewing.
“Mary probably handwove every garment that Jesus ever wore, you know, think about it,” Adams said.
If something can be made with cloth, Adams said she can probably make it – and that anyone who learned to ride a bike or drive a car can also learn.
“Sewing is a matter of sequence and measurement – it just isn’t that hard,” she said.
Adams’ suggestions for becoming more eco-friendly (or green):
But Adams also has environmental concerns, and cloth is one way to reduce consumption, she said.
“When something gets shabby looking, I just cover it up…. One of the fundamental things I learned at Mundelein College was form follows function: Does the chair feel comfortable to sit in? Are the clothes comfortable to wear? If there’s a rip in your clothing, put an ornament over it, if it’s still good,” Adams said. “So, you’re reducing, reusing and recycling all the time.”
Adams also had a pile of cloth scraps on the kitchen table, left over from making the diapers, that she uses as “special tissues.” She said they can be sanitized and reused or thrown out.
“You can take that with you, you can use the tissue once and throw it away; I mean, after all, you were going to throw it away anyway, may as well use it one more time,” she said.
Even scraps of material should serve her one more time, according to Adams.
“Make it work, and what I mean by that is you own it, it should serve you, it should work for you, it should work for you one more time,” Adams said.
Adams, an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and lector at Gesu, shared her sewing skills and ideas on living green in a section of the parish bulletin called “Green Notes,” explaining how to make cloth napkins, sanitize “special tissues,” start a compost bin and live healthier.
Connolly said Adams has helped the mission of Gesu Parish, and the Jesuit mission: to reach out to the community, serving the poorest of the poor and those who are experiencing challenges in life.
“So, I think in that respect, she’s helping us live out our mission by helping those who are poor and, particularly, working with our twin parish,” she said.
Eileen Ciezki, director of social ministry at Gesu Parish, said Adams serves in small, quiet ways.
“Margaret is one of those faithful parishioners who does things behind the scenes,” Ciezki told your Catholic Herald in a telephone interview.
She first met her when Adams volunteered to help sort through hundreds of mittens, gloves and hats Gesu collected for, mostly, women’s shelters during Advent – a three-hour task with just a couple of parishioners, according to Ciezki, who said Adams does the little, yet important, things in ministry that nobody sees.
“The fact that she’s involved in both this servant ministry and also involved as a eucharistic minister in liturgy and also as a lector, I mean I think that that’s just a wonderful model,” Ciezki said. “She’s reaching across both what we do on Sunday and then what we do for our neighbor, and using her beautiful talents for that.”