Keeping her Cape Verdean heritage alive with needles and thread

Mar 23, 2012

Mary Montrond had been waiting ten years to go back to her ancestral land of Cape Verde.

She had always wanted to go, but felt an even stronger need in the early 2000s when a cousin of hers returned from a trip with stories of family members Montrond had never known.

In July of 2011, the 86-year-old mother of eight finally got her chance to visit Cape Verde for the first time with the help of her daughters Martha and Michelle.

"Can you imagine to go back and to find relatives you didn't even know you had," exclaimed Mary Montrond in her Onset home while surrounded by photo albums of her trip. "What a trip. We went there and we found family."

Now Montrond is keeping the connection to Cape Verde alive by embarking on an ambitious project to make 1,000 dresses for Cape Verdean girls in need and, if time permits, 1,000 shorts for the boys.

That equals 100 pieces of clothing for each of the 10 Cape Verde islands.

Montrond has finished the first batch of 100 dresses by using cloth lying around in her house and from donations of material given by family, friends, and the Busy Bee Quilters, a group in which she participates.

At least 75% of the material is from donations, Montrond said. But it is not just donations of material that makes the project go forward, but donations of time.

Many of the dresses were made by Montrond's godchild, Juliette Roderick of West Wareham, and a number of dresses were made over a two-week marathon session by members of the Busy Bee Quilters of Wareham.

The rest were made by Montrond in her "comfort room," a sun-filled former deck enclosed with glass windows and filled to the brim with needles, spools of thread, and even paintbrushes for when she wants to paint.

Making the "sundresses," so called because Cape Verde is "90 degrees, 365 days a year," Montrond said, is not a chore, but a true pleasure for the Onset resident who was born in Wareham.

"I enjoy every minute of it," Montrond said. "It's so relaxing for me," Montrond said.

Montrond usually cooks her evening meal in the morning and sits in her comfort room around 11 a.m. to start sewing. Before she knows it, it is 5 o'clock and her son is calling her to get out of the room, Montrond said. She usually gets  two dresses done per day, though on good days she can make as many as seven or eight, she said.

Montrond got the idea for the project at the end of her 2011 trip to Cape Verde. Her friend Lottie Ferreira from the Bethany Church of the Nazarene in Providence, Rhode Island was also on the trip, and somebody had asked Ferreira while they were in Cape Verde to make the dresses as part of a charity program of the church.

Montrond immediately asked if she could help, and that's how the project got started, she explained.

The first batch of dresses will be sent in April, Montrond said, and she's already made strong headway into her second batch.

Some of the clothing that Montrond has made with the Busy Bee Quilters is on display at the Wareham Free Library, along with pictures of the club working away at their sewing machines.

"My mother always wished that one of us would go back," Montrond explained. "I want to keep that family line alive."

Donations of fabric can be made by calling Mary Montrond at 508-295-0476.