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Seamstress dolls up miniature Di
Remember a wedding dress with 10,000 pearls and sequins and a 25-foot train? Nona Renn is here to make sure you never forget Princess Diana's wedding dress nor her Enchantment Dress nor her polka-dot period.

The Princess of Wales was famous as a fashion trendsetter, and Renn has gained a small measure of fame in memorializing those fashions through doll clothes. She's created several original patterns and by replicating them made some 450 outfits she sells to special clients and on eBay.

Her latest is called The Enchantment Dress -- a navy blue drop-waist taffeta and net skirt and bodice covered with hand-sewn stars. Others of Renn's Princess Di doll clothes include a white-pleated dress, a flowered empire-style dress, a red-and-white polka-dot dress with a red hat and an elegant floor-length purple velvet off-the-shoulder evening gown.

"I've done some kind of craft all my life, really," said Renn. "I think I've done every craft there ever is, from macrame to stained glass. I always say sewing is therapy for me."

Renn, 66, threaded her first needle when she was a child at the family farm in Brighton, Iowa. Her mother taught her how to embroider, knit and crochet, and sew on their old-fashioned treadle sewing machine. As a girl, she spent many evenings sitting by the radio, stitching. She started sewing her own clothes when she was a teen.

After college, Renn became a teacher, eventually meeting and marrying Jack Renn, then coming to Alaska through his military career. They drove a motor home up the Alaska Highway, arriving just before Christmas in 1977. Jack Renn served with the U.S. Army at Fort Richardson and worked in the oil industry after retirement. Nona Renn held a civilian job on Elmendorf Air Force base for 20 years and after retiring got back into crafts. She sold stuffed bears, elephants and beavers at Saturday Market in the 1990s and made the rounds of holiday bazaars. Eventually, she began to make doll clothes for American Girl and My Twin dolls, turning her attention to the Princess Diana doll a couple of years ago.

Diana, Princess of Wales, is of course a doll-clothes seamstress's dream. Both criticism and compliments came Di's way, as the world eyed, mulled and weighed in on everything from puff sleeves to polka-dot hats, frilly blouses, tweed suits and romantic gowns.

"She was easily the most influential fashion icon of the 20th century, exhibiting flair and a dash of daring," according to Web site. A similar description could apply to the life of the "people's princess," who died in a car accident Aug. 31, 1997.

Princess Diana's style and imagination live on through doll hobbyists like Renn. Early this week, Renn paused after a fabric store run to show her big plastic caddy filled with outfits in plastic baggies. She leafed through the book "Diana: Her Life in Fashion," by Georgina Howell, one of about a dozen from which she derives inspiration. She pointed to a picture of Di in a blue silk flower print dress and unfastened a plastic baggie to show the miniature duplicate she made. "They call it The Caring Dress," explained Renn, looking over her glasses with a smile. The princess often wore it during her charity engagements, Renn said, adding that she got the matching material from a colleague who makes it through computer techniques.

Renn rummaged through a box of little plastic hangars and a score of original outfits in individual baggies. Each had a matching clutch purse the size of a folded stamp, and some had other accessories like hats made from bottle lids. The collection showed Diana's gusto for fashion: two-tones and prints, stripes and plaids and polka dots, drop-waist or empire, taffeta and voile, the military look or strapless, feminine accents like bows, ruffles, pleats and rhinestone buttons.

Most days find Renn working on the doll clothes at her home near the Tudor-Muldoon curve. Keeping company with her husband and watching TV, she sews and works on marketing them through Nona's Crafts and Things. First, she studies up on a given outfit -- who designed it, what it's made of, where and when it was worn. When choosing material, she has to keep in mind how a print will appear when reduced in scale. She uses an assembly line technique to make several versions of each outfit: for eBay, her clients in Germany, Austria, Indiana, California and Florida and one to keep for herself.

Renn even translates the measuring skills she uses in sewing to the football field, where she can sometimes be seen measuring the yardage at high school football games. Her husband referees the games, and both of them keep score at high school basketball games. Nona also volunteers two mornings a week at the United Way and sells doughnuts on base as a fund-raiser for her former unit, the Missions Support Squadron.

The Renns love to travel, and Nona always takes along her Di sewing baggie with a needle, thread, clippers and trim. Last year, she sewed braid on a hussar military-style suit on an airplane en route to China. When she and her husband float down the Danube this spring, she'll be beading another Diana doll dress.


20 Jan 2005

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