A curious onlooker walking by the classroom of The Cotton Patch in Lafayette may hear the buzzing of sewing machines as a group of women feverishly sew to their heart's content.
There is an array of colorful, matching outfits tacked to a wall, only they aren't meant for human wear. They're miniature, designed for 13-inch Corolle Les Cheries dolls.
Caroline Archer poses this question to those curious about what she's been doing for the past four years: "Picture yourself as a young child in a hospital room, alone with your family unable to visit often. How would you feel? Scared and lonely."
Archer created a solution: Give the child a new toy or doll -- with lots of clothes.
It is for these children who may have received a transplant, treatment for cancer or facing multiple surgeries after an accident and required to stay in the hospital for an extended period of time, that Archer and fellow volunteers have gathered for Stitchin' for Kids "Doll Day."
Held monthly at The Cotton Patch, volunteers sew and knit colorful outfits for brand new dolls to be given to girls 4-12. Quilts, carriers for toy cars and toy snakes made out of fleece are given to the boys.
"I've heard the girls would take their doll friends with them for medical procedures and treatments," said Archer, who delivers the dolls and outfits to the various Bay Area children's hospitals.
"These children are well enough to play but are in the hospital for an extended stay. The dolls give them something to talk about besides their illness. I heard that sometimes they sleep with their dolls."
Archer's early sewing influence stemmed from her mother.
"My mother had lots of yarn," she said. "During World War II, she cut up her own wedding dress and made doll outfits for the girls in the neighborhood."
The idea for Stitchin' for Kids "Doll Day" came about four years ago when Archer, an avid quilter, started making doll outfits for her granddaughters.
As the doll clothes kept piling up, Archer's husband suggested she find a place where she could take her doll outfits. So Archer contacted Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto where she delivered her first four dolls with 10 outfits each.
Archer enjoyed making clothes for the dolls and said that the recipients were so gracious that she realized she could make more clothes and reach out to more children in other hospitals.
Realizing the enormity of the task, Archer contacted former co-worker Christie Batterman, who's taught quilting, and soon word spread about the project as volunteers stepped up to make doll clothes.
While some of the women gather at The Cotton Patch once a month to sew or knit clothes, most of the clothes are made at their homes. Archer and volunteers deliver dolls and clothes to hospitals twice a year.
"Parents are uptight because their child is sick so the quilts and toys made out of fabric gives them something therapeutic to talk about with their children," said Batterman.
Archer said that hospitals' Child Life Specialists, who act as a liaison between families and the medical staff, know the children well enough to decide which child gets what kind of doll or toy. A typical gift box for girls includes a Les Cheries doll with two dresses, jeans, five sweaters, hats, skirts, shorts, assorted blouses, jewelry, handbag, hair brush and other accessories. Each doll also comes with a bed roll for the doll to sleep on.
"It fits on top of the steel tray near the hospital bed," Archer said of the bedroll.
She said that the girls dress their dolls appropriate to the weather outside.
"The dolls and toys are a link to the outside world," Archer said.
All fabric used to make the doll outfits, quilts and toys are required by the hospitals to be washed before they come into contact with the children.
Archer said she's grateful to Carolie Hensley, owner of The Cotton Patch, for providing the space for "Doll Day" and to the volunteers who have gathered monthly or sewn from their homes. There's still a need for more volunteers to help make clothes, quilts and toys for the next "Doll Day" on Oct. 8 and beyond.
"Not only do the dolls provide comfort but also ensure that play and socialization continue during the children's hospital stay," Archer said.
WHO: Stitchin' for Kids
WHAT: Doll Day"
WHEN: Tuesday, Oct. 8
WHERE: The Cotton Patch, 1025 Brown Ave., Lafayette