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Seamstresses going 'a stitch back in time'

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Lynn Reaume, left, helps Hayli Shropshire work on a frock.

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MONROE - Not too many 10-year-olds yearn to spend their summer mornings sewing frock coat reproductions, but Hayli Shopshire looks forward to it.

The Monroe girl is one of eight pre-teens and teens spending many of their summer mornings at the Monroe County Historical Museum.

Under the tutelage of Lynn Reaume, the children have learned the basics of cutting and sewing and are putting their new skills to work making 30 coats for historical re-enactors. They have already finished 15, which have been used for War of 1812 events.

For Hayli, the lure of lazy mornings can't trump the temptations of living history. Not only does she enjoy the current project, she'd enjoy time-traveling to experience the 19th century.

"I'd love it," she said, taking a break from pinning and ironing a black linen collar. "It was just a fascinating time. I like the clothes they wore. It would be exciting to see Custer and people we think of as being heroes in person. To see them, you'd be, like, 'Whoa, I saw you in the museum.'●"

Imbuing the children with an appreciation for history was one of the points of the summer program, run by the museum and funded by a grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, plus matching funds from local agencies.

The project includes Monroe County 4-H and the vocational school A Perfect Stitch, which supplied the sewing machines.

"This is not what a beginning sewer would normally start on," admitted Ms. Reaume, who learned to sew as a child herself. "The kids are learning valiantly about machines, pins, needles, irons, and constuction techniques."

The frock coat designs is based on those worn by Kentucky militia members who fought in this area during the War of 1812.

No originals have survived, so Ms. Reaume did some research and came up with a best guess, simple enough for children to make but close enough to the originals to satisfy the exacting re-enactment community.

Indeed, the coats feature red fringe accents made the old-fashioned way, by picking off thread after thread from a piece of cloth, as pre-made fringe simply would not do.

Many of the children's mothers work on fringe as their kids sew.

"I do fringe at home too," said Lyndee Shopshire, Hayli's mother. "It passes the time, and it makes it easier for the kids. I'll do whatever to support the kids and Lynn."

Some of the coats have already seen some action, appearing at the recent Liberte Fest and a couple of other events, Ms. Reaume said.

Contact Vanessa Winans at:

vwinans@theblade.com

or 419-724-6168.

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