Sewing gowns for angels

Going home empty handed after childbirth is heartbreaking, but two area women are using donated wedding dresses to provide comfort to grieving families.


Several of Barb Shahan’s angel gowns that will later be donated to Lima Memorial Hospital or Mary Rutan Hospital are shown above. Barb-Angel-Gowns

FRONT PAGE PHOTO: Retired nurse, Jill Neeley, sews an angel gown at her home in Lakeview, to later be sent to Ft. Worth, Texas to be redistributed to hospitals for use. ABOVE: Lakeview stay-at-home mom, Barb Shahan sews an angel gown dress together for donation to Mary Rutan Hospital in Bellefontaine. (EXAMINER PHOTOS | HALEY COOPER)

The dresses are used to make infant burial gowns known as angel gowns.

Stay-at-home mom, Barb Shahan and retired nurse of 37 years, Jill Neeley, both of the Lakeview area, just recently saw the idea on Facebook to make and donate angel gowns and have started to make them.

“It’s essentially a burial gown, and I didn’t know if I wanted to start making them, so I thought about it and prayed about it,” said Mrs. Shahan.

Mrs. Shahan has had friends who have had babies pass away, so she was aware of what comfort the clothing may provide.

Both women make three sizes of gowns: micro-preemie, small and a medium. They also add a touch of blue to the gown for boys who have passed, and can add a blue vest as well. There are also wraps that can be made to wrap babies in that are even smaller than the micro-preemie.

Mrs. Shahan has made roughly 30 angel gowns in the past two months. Between dress retailers and private donors she has collected more than 24 wedding gowns. Mrs. Shahan donates the angel gowns she makes to Mary Rutan Hospital and Lima Memorial Hospital.

With any wedding gown that is donated to Mrs. Shahan, she makes sure to take pictures of the angel gowns made from it and sends them in a thank you card to the donor.

Mrs. Neeley has collected 3 wedding gowns and can make up to 16 angel gowns out of one dress. She then sends her angel gowns to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Helping Hands headquarters in Ft. Worth, Texas, for distribution to hospitals who are affiliated with that program and in need of angel gowns.

“I’m getting better, it takes me four to five hours (to make one angel gown) and if I want to bead it, then that takes longer,” said Mrs. Neeley.

Mrs. Neeley is a member of the Logan County Piecemakers, a club which makes quilts for donation to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus.

The money for the quilts they donate comes from their own pockets. Mrs. Neeley says quilting can get expensive, but because the wedding gowns are donated to make the angel gowns, she is able to spend her time, not money.

As a nurse, Mrs. Neeley worked in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric unit in Troy. She says this has inspired her to continue to make the angel gowns.

“If I could, I would still be working,” said Mrs. Neeley. “It feels good to be doing something with my time to benefit others, and it gives me fulfillment, too.”

According to Tamara Allison, vice president of community relations at Mary Rutan Hospital, there have not been any fetal demises since Mrs. Shahan’s donation has been made to provide the gowns for a baby and a family.

“In addition to the gown, for quite some time, we (MRH) provide other special services for the family, (including) pictures and footprints,” wrote Mrs. Allison in an e-mail. “Then all of these items are placed in a memory box that we provide the family along with a small ring in memory of the baby. In addition, we also have a book that we provide the families that speak about loss (these books are donated by two area women who lost a grandchild) as well as a peace bear.”

Anyone who wishes to donate wedding gowns can e-mail Mrs. Neeley at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call Mrs. Shahan at 844-2281.