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LeDuc hosts needlework competition

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

It's hard to think of two local ladies of 1880s as being "tough," but when the LeDuc family needed money, Alice and Florence LeDuc began their own business, called Hastings Needlework.

No small business, the company thrived for 34 years, employing women throughout the community and selling needlework with original designs across the United States. The business closed in 1922, not for lack of business but because Alice thought it wasn't suitable during World War I.

The LeDuc is hosting a needlework competition, seminar on the LeDuc sister's company, and exhibit of original pieces done by women working for the company.

The competition opened about a year ago, with women using their artistic skills to complete a project utilizing one or more of the designs of Alice LeDuc chosen for the competition. Twenty-two artists submitted 33 pieces, not all needlework. The artists worked in their own medium, and some of the designs are needle work, but others are painted pieces, rug hooking, or felting. There is a pair of mittens on which the design has been worked. There's even a headpiece, much like a crown, that would have been popular for evening wear in the era of the needlework company. There is a dress in a closet at the LeDuc house that one of the LeDucs might have worn with such a piece.

The competition pieces will be on display throughout the season, and visitors will be the judges. Prizes will be awarded at the end of the season for first, second and third places.

Along with the modern pieces, there will be pieces on display from the Minnesota Historical Society of original LeDuc textiles. On the backs of pieces of crazy quilt work, which was popular during the early years of the company, there are notes written about where the pieces came from, identifying the owner and what piece of clothing it was from. The quilts are, in themselves, the history of what the LeDucs, and other women in town, wore. The exhibit will be at the LeDuc house, also, throughout the season.

Dr. Ann Braaten, textile curator and professor at North Dakota State University, wrote her doctoral work about the Hastings Needlework Company. While a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota, Braaten interned with museum collections at the Minnesota Historical Society.

Last season, Braaten gave a talk about the company at the LeDuc house, and there was a standing-room-only crowd. Braaten has done more research and will discuss the pieces of needlework, the LeDuc sisters and their company at the opening of the exhibit. There will be lectures by Dr. Braaten at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturday, June 27. Linda McShannock, curator of textiles at the historical society, will also be at the exhibit. While McShannock will not be giving a talk, it's a great opportunity to ask questions of textiles and women's clothing.

The lectures are free and open to the public, but reservations are required. Seating is limited; call 437-7055 to reserve a spot.

Heidi Langenfeld, LeDuc house director, Cindy Smith of the Pioneer Room at City Hall, and Margaret Goderstad, with Friends of the LeDuc, together with other staff and volunteers, put the exhibit and lecture together, but they all "blamed" in on Jane Darsow, who does embroidery and sells it at the house.

Darsow was asked to demonstrate her embroidery to illustrate a talk Dr. Braaten gave to the National Park Service. Darsow saw the opportunity to showcase the talent of women, past and present.

"When Janey has a goal, she's a force (to be reckoned with," Langenfeld said. "She had a luncheon, and invited Linda (McShannock) and Ann (Dr. Braaten).

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Smith contacted the Ladyslipper NeedleArts Society in the Twin Cities, whose members were more than willing to help plan the competition. A committee chose the patterns from Alice LeDuc's vast array of designs (now at the Pioneer Room), and the competition was launched.

There are plans for a pattern book or CD (what would Alice think?) in the future. And there may be a T-shirt soon, with one of the designs.

The house will also be open for tours during the opening day of the exhibit.