Revisionism suits 19th century sewing group at Pearson Park

10/22/2012
BY CARL RYAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Angela Metcalf, left, and Robert Stewart, right, from Toledo, participate in a sewing circle at the Johlin Cabin at Pearson Metropark. Mr. Stewart has sewn for theater productions.
Angela Metcalf, left, and Robert Stewart, right, from Toledo, participate in a sewing circle at the Johlin Cabin at Pearson Metropark. Mr. Stewart has sewn for theater productions.

Pearson Metropark North's Johlin Cabin is an authentic home from the 1860s, and programs there strive for historical accuracy, but some activities just can't keep modernity at bay.

Sewing is one of them. The cabin in Oregon has a small but dedicated sewing circle that met Sunday to stitch and iron period clothing, and the members cheated a little.

"We don't do the sewing circle very accurately," acknowledged Angela Metcalf, program production specialist with the Toledo Area Metroparks. "We use sewing machines."

The volunteer sewers had a lot of brand new fabric they had to prepare to be made into dresses such as the 1862 pink homestead dress in the Metroparks' collection. It falls down below the ankles, Ms. Metcalf explained, because in those days, "you have to cover your ankles," she explained. "It is inappropriate to show your ankles."

The sewers had a newcomer who was a little unusual in being a man. Men had shown up before, but they couldn't sew, and after they were put to work doing other things, they never returned.

Ginny Giuetter of Oregon mends the seam of a historical dress while participating in a sewing circle at the Johlin Cabin at Pearson Metropark.
Ginny Giuetter of Oregon mends the seam of a historical dress while participating in a sewing circle at the Johlin Cabin at Pearson Metropark.

But Robert Stewart not only sewed, he did it very well, and with his own Brother sewing machine, which he obligingly brought with him.

He sewed for a living, he explained, working out of his Toledo home, and specialized in Renaissance costumes that were used in stage performances and festivals, including the Michigan Renaissance Festival, in Holly, held over several weekends each year. He also did ordinary tailoring, he said.

With a practiced hand, he plugged in his machine and sewed a ruffle on a heavy cotton petticoat. How does this compare to putting together doublets?

"It's pretty much the same," he said.

Janet Trease also made the drive from Toledo to put her sewing skills to work. She learned of the sewing circle, which meets monthly in spring and fall, at a pancake breakfast at Wildwood Preserve Metropark.

"I told myself I do a lot of sewing and this is something I should volunteer for," she said.

The 20-by-26 foot Johlin Cabin, dating to 1867, was was built by German immigrants Anna and George Johlin, and was donated to the Metroparks by their great grandson, Frederick Johlin, of Woodville.

The two-story structure, with its original hand-hewn timber frame, was moved from its original location on Corduroy Road. It was the centerpiece of Pearson's $5 million, 2009 northward expansion, and is the site for a variety of programs such as the upcoming Food for Thought on  Nov. 9 that will introduce children to the way food was harvested and preserved for winter in the 19th century.

Another sewing volunteer, Jeannette Beeler, lives on Seaman Road across the street from the Johlin Cabin in a farmhouse that she said is even older. Another concession to modernity, she explained, is the cabin's geothermal heating and cooling system, which does a good job of keeping the place comfortable.

"People can be funny," she said. "They come inside on a hot summer day and say 'Oh, these log cabins are so cool. No wonder they built them.' "