Shelly Redhage of Britton is pictured with craft items she donates to the Orphan Grain Train project that include pillow case dresses, T-shirt diapers, and grocery bag mats.
Shelly Redhage of Britton is holding up a mat made from 500-700 grocery bags that she donates all around the world.
Crafts Have World-Wide Impact
Since 1992, Orphan Grain Train’s 27 regional locations have delivered more than 25 million meals and 3,202 shipments of humanitarian aid to needy people in various states and 68 countries on five continents, and a Britton woman is part of that effort.
Rochelle Redhage, or Shelly as she is known to most, spends much of her free time crafting. And many of her labors eventually get donated to the Orphan Grain Train organization. Orphan Grain Train is a recognized service organization of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
Shelly and her husband of 45 years, Lloyd, moved to Britton when he was called to serve as pastor for St. John’s Lutheran Church. He also serves a church in Ferney and the couple has a hobby farm near Andover, which they travel to daily to take care of their animals that are kept there.
“I have a dog, a horse, two sheep, and some chickens. Someday I hope my husband will retire, and we will retire to the farm.”
Many of her crafts are made for the sole purpose of donating to the less fortunate. She has been working with Orphan Grain Train for several years and has multiple projects that she prepares or has taught others to prepare for donation.
Around 2011 she began the process of putting together sleep mats made from just your average plastic shopping bag.
“You cut the handles and the bottom off of the bag and then continue cutting into about 1 1/2 inch strips until you get a bunch of rings. The rings then get looped together into one long rope and are wound into a ball to be crocheted with a large hook to make the mat.”
It takes 500-700 bags to make one 5 1/2 by 3 foot mat. The mats have been distributed all over the world. In the U. S. they have been donated to a daycare center that had very little funding and only cement floors. The product is particularly helpful in that the mat is just rolled up and contained with a carrying strap. Most recipients carry their beds along with them wherever they go.
Shelly passed her mat making know-how on to a couple of women’s groups in the area.
“I taught the ladies of St. Paul’s in Ferney. For about a year and a half we would get together and have a potluck and work on the mats. Then the ladies of Our Savior’s in Aberdeen were interested in learning how to make the mats and they really got rolling with it.”
Orphan Grain Train sends out a newsletter every few months and Shelly noticed there was a need for simple sundresses made from pillow cases and diapers that could be sewn from t-shirts. So she decided to move on from the mats to a new project. The diapers and sundresses are also made from mostly recycled materials and once word got out that she was working on these projects people started giving her supplies.
“If you can sew a straight line, you can make diapers.”
Her LWML (Lutheran Women’s Mission League) group out of Aberdeen has been buying her thread, elastic, and the bias tape that she needs to make these items. People from all over the area and even her hometown of Sheboygan, WI, have brought her pillow cases and t-shirts.
The diapers are very simple.
“If you can sew a straight line, you can make diapers.”
Shelly has taught a couple of ladies how to make them, so they have been helping her with that project. They have completed 296 diapers made from adult sized t-shirts. When donating the diapers, she packages them in groups of five and includes the necessary pins that the recipient will need to fasten the diapers.
Shelly doesn’t do much sewing in the summer because she likes to be outside.
“I was thinking about stopping doing this about two months ago, I’ve done 456 dresses . . . maybe someone else can do it. Then I came across this article in the newsletter about a lady taking the sundresses to these girls. It said sometimes a new dress is the only thing that makes them smile for awhile. There were also photos in that article picturing little girls wearing some of my creations. So it was like, okay, I get the hint. I gotta keep doing it.”
It takes Shelly less than an hour to fabricate a dress. There isn’t much to it, and pillowcases come in so many designs, colors, and fabrics.
“Some already have natural embellishments,” as she pointed out a completed dress that included a ruffle.
She will also adorn the dresses with rick rack for a little something special if she has it on hand.
She has a well equipped craft room in Britton where you will see her works in various stages and of many different mediums, but she also has a 12x32 shed that she uses as a craft space in Andover where she keeps a stash of fabric, yarn, a sewing machine, and a loom. Shelly has also been known to road trip with her spinning wheel.
Not all of Shelly’s hand crafted goods get donated to the Orphan Grain Train.
Once a year her two sheep are sheared and she makes clear that she is “not going to be winning any sheep shearing competitions.”
When the shearing is complete she washes the wool in hot water with dawn dish soap to break down the oils and lanolin.
“I have an old ringer style washing machine, and it doesn’t agitate. I let the wool soak for a few hours and then move it to rinse tubs before finally putting it through the ringer. Then it needs to dry and I can just lay it outside for that. Of course, I bring it in at night because any dew will get the wool wet again.”
She dyes some of the yarn using everything from Koolaid to commercial dyes and other natural resources.
“I’ve used purple onion skins, thinking I would get purple yarn and it turned out to be a dark green. Lilac leaves gave me a golden yellow.”
The process doesn’t end there. After the wool has thoroughly dried, she cards it and spins it into yarn for various uses. She has used her carding and spinning techniques to incorporate and re-purpose many natural hairs and fibers.
Shelly does her own sheep’s wool from start to finish, but she has also used hair from alpaca, Angora goat, camel, dog, llama, horse, and even cotton balls as a starting point to spin fabrics for her weaving, knitting, and crocheting projects.
She has several stuffed bears that have been crocheted and earmarked for donating to law enforcement and emergency responder agencies to help provide comfort to children in stressful situations.
She has also had people ask her to make keepsake projects for them. She is weaving strips of a white bedspread that somebody didn’t want to throw away, into a rug, on her loom in Britton. She did a similar project for somebody wanting to preserve her son’s childhood blanket.
Shelly is also known to work with denim and many people donate jeans to her knowing that she will be cutting them up and making them into something beautiful and useful for somebody else to love.
The latest call from Orphan Grain Train is for children’s quilts. She already has two ready to send.
In addition to her charitable crafting, Shelly does substitute teaching at Britton-Hecla School and is a member of both the Britton and Rural Aberdeen Area LWML groups. She has three grown children and seven grandchildren.
Even though she keeps plenty busy, she is always willing to teach individuals or groups to do any portion of the Orphan Grain Train projects that she has participated in.
Anyone interested in donating gently used pillow cases, adult size up to XL t-shirts (NOT BLACK), or any embellishments, rick rick, or sewing supplies may contact Redhage at email@example.com.