Bay City woman, 98, sews to help those in need

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By ANNA LIZ NICHOLS
The Bay City Times
AP Member Exchange
BAY CITY — Victoria Williams tirelessly sews colorful garments for those in need. She’s 98 years old, but isn’t letting that slow her down.
“Not to brag, but I can thread a needle first shot, every time, even now,” Williams said, holding one of the hundreds of Christmas stockings she said she’s sewn for charity over the years.
Williams, a resident at Sheffield Bay Assisted Living in Bangor Township, just outside Bay City, sews garments day in and day out for charity.
Recently, when a hospice nurse announced she was going to an orphanage in Guatemala, Williams asked how many girls were in the orphanage and got to work on a dress for each of them, totaling 12.
“She’s going to make it an annual mission, so guess I better be healthy because I have to make more dresses,” Williams said.
She started sewing the dresses without a destination in mind, but with the hope that someone who needed them would receive them. Williams said she is glad the dresses now have a destination and is eager to hear about the girls who will wear them.
“I love making the dresses. Each one has a little story to it,” Williams said.
She can read each dress like a chapter in a book, just as each stitch is carefully placed, every part of the dress’ story is accounted for.
One dress was made after housekeeping asked Williams if she could do anything with some leftover sheets. Williams rose to the task, adding red trimming.
Another dress is made from materials sent to her from a gerontologist studying Alzheimer’s in Connecticut.
It takes her one day to make a dress with no distractions, but 76 distractions happen a day so it takes two days to make a dress, Williams joked.
Williams is always working on something, Nikki Westerby said. Westerby does Williams’ hair every week. During each appointment, she says they talk just like best friends.
“If you pass by her room, she’s always sitting by the sewing machine and working,” Westerby said. “It’s always for somebody else.”
Williams is Detroit-born, having moved to Alpena County during the Great Depression. She participated in her local 4H program, eventually becoming a 4H leader, teaching sewing in the community.
She doesn’t remember anyone teaching her how to sew.
“I’ve sewn, I think, ever since I was an embryo,” Williams said. “I can’t remember when I haven’t sewn.”
Williams said she was always interested in fashion, putting colors and patterns together perfectly. She planned to go to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York, but said she never quite got there.
She became a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in Alpena County, got married and had five children.
When Williams tried to pass down the art of sewing to her only daughter, it didn’t quite work out. Williams, a self-proclaimed perfectionist, wanted every stitch to be straight, everything aligned and her daughter became discouraged and didn’t pick up the craft.
“I wish now that I would have accepted any quality of work that she had done, but I just demanded perfection,” Williams said.
Williams said she, in some ways, had similar expectations of her students in her one room schoolhouse. Anything a student did, the next one was going to do even better.
That pursuit of excellence translates to the care she put into the 12 dresses for the girls in Guatemala.
She read about people who thrifted old pillowcases and T-shirts into dresses for orphans and said that wouldn’t do.
“Is that all you can do? Buy fabric, buy something colorful,” Williams said.
“Why give them something old? The orphans deserve better.”