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Ryman's Glenda Harris sews for underprivileged girls

Written by Alan Wood
on September 07, 2023

Glenda Harris has never had to upgrade or replace a major part since buying her original Husqvarna 2000 sewing machine, though now she is wondering if the Swedish machine will last through all the new charity dressmaking work she is doing.

The charity Dress a Girl Around the World provides underprivileged girls and young women mostly from countries in Africa and the Pacific islands with dresses, and Glenda has reserved a fair bit of her a Kevin Hickman townhouse for sewing and other crafts.

It was a chance mention from a craft-loving friend Tracy Wood. Tracy, from Woolston, had come to visit Glenda and talked about the Dress a Girl Around the World charity. Glenda then made contact with Invercargill-based Karen Wilson, who has featured on 1News for her work leading the sewing cause in New Zealand.

Dress a Girl Around the World has grown as an international charity for dress makers, who have created and sent out more than two million dresses to girls in 90 countries.

Glenda grew up with two brothers and a sister in Hoon Hay, Christchurch, with her father working as an engineer for Mace Engineering and her mother being a sewer and homemaker. “Mum was a lovely sewer, she always did my sewing then all of a sudden she stopped (which) forced me to do it. I think that was the general idea.”

After schooling in Spreydon, Hoon Hay and at Hillmorton High she married Roger Harris and they brought up five children including a set of twins. Most of her career was spent in arts departments, initially doing window displays and ticket writing, and later hand-painting posters.

When the children were youngsters Glenda says she would make many of their clothes. While that practice fell away when the family members reached high school and uniforms became the norm, she has never stopped sewing or doing other crafts. She is an accomplished painter, uses a spinning wheel and makes Christmas, birthday and other celebratory cards.

Glenda says after growing up in Hoon Hay, she and Roger built in Hornby then moved Ben Nevis Drive, just opposite Kevin Hickman village.

Roger, who had a career as a policeman in Hornby, passed away 12 years ago. Glenda has since downsized a few times including the move into the village in September 2022.

Both the fellow residents and team members have been wonderful. “I’ve settled in, and feel quite happy here... there’s really good people, everyone seems to get on well. You can’t ask for more than that.”

Reflecting on her sewing work, since buying the Husqvarna in the early 70s, Glenda says Kiwi seamstresses were much more common back in the day, given the expense of new clothes.

“When I had the children I sewed and knitted all their clothes.... (nowadays) because I’m a craft-aholic, my garage is a craft room and I have got that rather full with all sorts of craft stuff,” she says.

“I do little crocheted sheepskin slippers. I’ve been doing those for over 40 years.”

During the COVID-19 lockdown periods, Glenda made lots of face masks, and with some of that material left over she was able to start the dress project. Making 115 or so dresses of all sizes for the charity Dress a Girl Around the World, has been a real task, she says.

It has required the sourcing of dress material at bargain prices and of course tenacity in cutting out patterns and putting together the pieces at the sewing machine.

“I took this on as a winter project, intending to make 30 dresses. I had huge big cut out session over a few weeks, (for girls) from 18 months right through to 15. So I’ve got a range of sizes,” Glenda says.

“I’ve made all my dress yokes double thickness so they’ll last for ages. They should be able to be passed down. Cotton is preferred as it’s cooler.”  

Glenda would like to encourage other Ryman residents and team members to put their sewing skills towards the ‘Dress a Girl’ charity, part of an initiative by Christian organisation Hope 4 Women International. The organisation has an awareness programme warning girls and their parents/guardians of the traps of human trafficking.

She is grateful to the residents who have donated fabric and underwear.

Kevin Hickman Sales Assistant Sharon Maich says Glenda is a lovely lady with a beautiful smile and a big heart helping out this charity. “Sewing such wonderful and colourful dresses, with their matching pockets and collars. I can just imagine the big smiles on those girls’ faces when they get on one of Glenda’s special dresses.”

About Ryman Healthcare:

Ryman was founded in 1984 and has become one of New Zealand’s largest listed companies. The company owns and operates 45 retirement villages in New Zealand and Australia which are home to more than 13,900 residents and the company employs 6,800 team members.

Media advisory: For further information, photos, interviews or comment please contact Group Corporate Affairs Manager Silke Marsh on +64 27 294 3609 or Communications Advisor Maryvonne Gray on 027 552 0767.

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