By JOY CRIST
Lynn Hartshorne, a Frisco resident, has found a unique way to utilize her creative talents into a project that does a lot of good, and fulfills a small but important niche for the volunteering community of the Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters (CHKD) in Norfolk, Va.
She creates burial gowns for babies who have passed away out of wedding dresses and bridesmaid dresses, and while the endeavor seems like a melancholy one on the surface, for Lynn, it provides her with a lot of satisfaction.
“At first, my daughter said ‘Isn’t this going to make you sad, knowing where they are going?’ But I said no, I’m doing something good for these parents, and giving them a way to remember their child, whether it’s in a memory box, or knowing that their child is buried in a beautiful gown instead of a blanket.”
The CHKD lost 57 babies in 2015, many of which were miscarriages that hadn’t yet come to term, and Lynn and an additional volunteer group from the Norfolk area created burial gowns for every one.
Now, she needs the Hatteras Island community’s help to ensure the project can continue.
Up until now, Lynn had received wedding and bridesmaid dresses from the volunteers at CHKD, as well as some more unlikely sources that took her by surprise.
“I had a lady in California who contacted me via e-mail. She has Googled ‘donate wedding dresses’ and she said ‘I picked you because I liked the philosophy of what CHKD did,’” says Lynn. “I made a couple gowns and sent her pictures of what they looked like.”
But now, the materials for her dresses are starting to run short – she is down to her last wedding dress – and she needs donations of wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses that will be transformed into something beautiful and meaningful.
Lynn’s unusual but valued contribution to the CHKD began roughly two years ago, when she was looking for an outlet for her collection of intricate handmade cards. She sent an initial batch of 20 to the pediatric ward of the Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters, in hopes that they could be used to brighten someone’s day. “I thought they might be interested in passing them out to children or parents who might need a boost,” she says.
The cards were a hit with the Volunteer Services Department, and Lynn started to send them in quarterly batches. “The word [about the cards] got around, and they asked me to make cards for the bereavement program,” she explains. “Then I saw online how one group makes bereavement gowns, and I asked them if they did that. They said they didn’t, but they would like to, and I volunteered.”
Lynn made her first garment from a wedding dress that was picked up at a thrift store, with a pattern that she found from another organization. “My concept was I wanted to make them look like christening gowns,” she says. “I wanted to make them white with as many embellishments as possible. The first dress I used, I hated cutting into initially, but then the gown turned out so nice.”
And Lynn can work with veritably any material to produce something beautiful. “The wedding dress gives me the inspiration,” she says. “I have made dresses out of cotton, satin – whatever the wedding dress material is. The only request for bridesmaid dresses is that I can use any color except for black.”
Lynn always sends pictures of the gowns to the donors so they can see the finished product. And for folks who donate a dress, it’s a surprisingly uplifting feeling knowing that an old dress can provide a little comfort.
And Hatteras Island residents and visitors alike are encouraged to help. Anyone who has dresses to donate can contact Lynn at 812-664-6909 or email her at [email protected] for shipping and / or drop-off information.
With the community’s assistance, Lynn can continue her work on a project that, for her, is undeniably rewarding.
“I love volunteering, and making these gowns is just a passion,” she says. “The more I can do, the more I want to do.”