Four-week-old Kaleb Abair shook his gumball-sized fist as he squirmed slightly in his new clothes.
"It's really cute," his mother, Lisa Abair, said of her two-pound-eight-ounce son's tiny red and white shirt, booties and cap. "It's hard to find clothes that small. They're adorable."
Kaleb is one of hundreds of babies born prematurely at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital who has benefited from the work of Judith Florian. The Bakersfield woman has sewed and donated hundreds of miniature outfits for the preemies. Florian and her friend and student Rosalinda Medina spend hundreds of hours a year making lace-trimmed shirts, fringe-topped caps and cozy quilts for the teeny babies.
They work together to fill a tiny niche.
"I know the babies don't really see it, but maybe it cheers up the parents," Medina said.
Dr. Madhu Bhogal, head medical director of Memorial's neonatal intensive care unit, said it helps parents of preemies to see their babies in real children's clothes. The hospital only puts the outfits on babies such as Kaleb once they're in stable condition, she said.
"Once they see the clothes, they feel their kid is getting better," Bhogal said.
The women have donated hundreds of items to Memorial over the years. Florian, who's now semi-retired, began making the miniscule outfits about six or seven years ago at the suggestion of Dr. Bhogal. The two met through a sewing class. Bhogal, who sews as a hobby, was one of Florian's students.
Bhogal mentioned to Florian it's sometimes difficult to find clothes small enough to fit the preemies.
"She always tells me how many babies she has in the ICU," Florian said. "I thought it would be nice to help out."
Florian makes the clothes out of cotton and takes extra care to make sure the seams are soft on the babies' delicate skin. The shirts tie on the side, so nurses and doctors can undress the babies quickly. Florian also makes Isolette (incubator) covers and cuddlers. The hospital puts the covers around where the babies sleep at night, so the lights of the hospital don't disturb them.
The cuddlers look like large slippers, except nurses put the babies' legs in the end where toes might go. The idea behind the cuddler is to make the babies feel warm and secure.
"It keeps them like how they are in their mom's womb, kind of confined, like someone's holding them," Bhogal said.
Each outfit --shirt, cap and booties -- takes Florian, who's worked as a sewing teacher and professional seamstress most of her life, about 21/2 hours to make. Creating each quilt takes Medina, an elementary school teacher, about two to three hours.
Florian said she sewed and donated 113 outfits and accessories in 2006. Medina sewed and donated 79 quilts. All of Florian's shirts bear tags that say, "Custom made with LOVE by Judith Florian."
It's long, detailed work, but the women say they love to do it and love to know they're helping families during what can be a bittersweet time.
"It's really shocking to see how tiny they are and how fragile they are," Florian said. "It's so rewarding to see I'm helping."
How to help
Judith Florian is always looking for people to help her sew outfits for the premature babies at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital. If you know how to sew and would like to donate your time and skills, call Florian at 324-9236.