Joni Riemann said the perfect job for her and her husband Dell would be to gently rock with babies in a neonatal unit.
This job probably does not exist, so Riemann has combined one of her other passions to care for newborn infants.
She made her first quilt at 9 years old. She has produced and sold baby clothes since she and Dell first got married in 1976. She slowly built up her skill attending a variety of craft shows.
Riemann found her niche even before she had a storefront in Phillipsburg — making clothes for prematurely born babies. Designed for babies weighing from three to five pounds, the clothes require a delicate touch to make sure they fit and look right. She also conducted thorough research to find normal measurements, like diameters for heads and arms, for babies born up to six months premature.
“I feel like I’m doing what I was meant to do,” she said.
Riemann does not skimp on any accoutrements. She has bolts of lace to add a frilly layer to girls’ clothes. She boasts that she sews each of her buttons on by hand, instead of gluing the buttons in place.
There are precautions to take. On some outfits, she makes sure to make Velcro openings at the top of sleeves to provide easy accesses for IVs. No snaps or zippers can be used for babies still spending time in incubators.
Riemann does not care that the babies will only be able to fit into the outfit a month. She hopes they will grow rapidly to a healthy size.
“They can still have nice clothes,” Riemann said.
A growing customer base agrees with her. From mid-July through Christmas, Riemann works 12-hour days at her sewing and embroidery machine at 100 Washington St., Marion, to keep up with the demand. She makes Halloween costumes year-round. They range from a simple three-piece black and orange, pumpkin patterned outfit, to items that are a little more elaborate.
There is the chili pepper costume that has been popular on one of her two websites — http://www.atticangels.com and cradletokindergarten.com. She recently received one of the strangest requests for a preemie costume.
The mother, planning to dress as a can of Diet Coke for Halloween wants her baby dressed as a lime squeeze. Riemann started formulating the idea for the costume, using an infant outfit of a lime wedge she found online. She has a dark green for the rind, a light green for the fruit, and white fabric to create a lining. She is hoping to add some intricate stitching on the inside of fruit to provide a realistic texture.
Riemann predicted that she should complete the lime squeeze oddity in about a week. She said that is her normal turnaround for any outfit. She still receives a variety of custom orders online, even though she works purely online and by shipping since working out of Marion starting in 2003.
The Riemanns moved to Marion because they wanted to be closer to their grandchildren. Their youngest son, Terry, lives with his wife Angela and 18-month-old son Parker in McPherson. Their oldest son, Tim, lives with his wife Kristin and 14-year-old daughter Leah in Osage City. Only middle son, Tom, with wife Shawna and 3-year-old daughter Madison live out-of-state in Wellington, Colo.
“They’re on their own,” Riemann said.
She added that the couple spoils their grandchildren. If mom and dad say no, grandma and grandpa are likely to say yes. Riemann said that she has not started a shop because she wants the freedom to drive to her grandchildren whenever she wants.
However, her grandchildren are not the inspiration for her business. Madison was born a month early and weighed 5 pounds, 10 ounces. Other than a low birth weight, she was completely healthy, unlike many of the babies of which Riemann designs clothes.
Riemann wished she could go into a neonatal unit and observe the premature babies in person. She has yet to make any inquiries at hospitals to do so.
Yet, she knows her work is important. Some of the outfits Riemann produces are meant for bereavement. She saw that normal bereavement gowns are as simple as a T-shirt. She wanted to craft gowns the parents would be proud to dress their baby in for the last and only time.
“It’s the only time they’re going to dress that baby,” she said.
When she lived in Phillipsburg, she had a call from parents that asked her to bring them a bereavement outfit herself. She drove an hour and half into Nebraska to deliver the gown face-to-face with the mother.
When the mother received the gown, she felt the smooth fabric and the lace. Even through the tears in her eyes, Riemann could see the appreciation on her face for the work the tailor put in.