To talk to her, you wouldn’t think the quiet needleworker Karen Nicloux was once in the upper echelons of our local drug circuit.
Her journey from maximum segregation at Whitehorse Correctional Centre to sobriety is an intricate tapestry.
Central to it is Nicloux’s signature motif, the butterfly.
“If you think about it, a butterfly starts out as a caterpillar, a ground crawler. That’s what I was when I was on coke. Then there’s the process where the caterpillar is cocooned, which you could consider my time in jail, and now that I’m sober it’s like the cocoon opened for a beautiful butterfly to emerge.
“When I was using, the last thing I wanted to do was sew. I only wanted to get high.” After her arrest and conviction, Nicloux spent days alone in her cell, isolated from the entire population.
Shortly after her release, her mother gifted her a piece of melton (stroud) six feet long and six inches wide. It became the base of her recovery belt.
“I used sewing to focus.”
She learned the skill from her mother, who learned it from her grandmother.
“My grandmother (the single-named) Alice, was married to Big Dave Hagar in Mayo, brought the sewing tradition with her from her childhood in Fort McPherson, where embroidery is more popular than it is here,” says Nicloux.
“The elders told me that long ago we used to use sinew dyed with berries and plants and moose hair as thread to make fancy goods for the chief.”
Embroidery kept her hands busy and calmed her angry nature.
“I became excited to see the finished product.”
Nicloux was stitching 14 hours per day and estimates a thousand hours of labour went into the belt. “Embroidery takes twice as long as beading because thread is thin.”
Nicloux’s connection between the butterfly and recovery is the essence of her belt.
Starting with a central butterfly reminiscent of a sampler Nicloux stitched for her mother, seven distinct butterfly wheels are depicted on a baby blue background of tight embroidery that, in the Old Crow style, completely infills the once-white melton.
Where her mothers and sisters took up beading, Nicloux prefers the sharp detail of embroidery. Today she embroiders mitts, slippers, mukluks and does beadwork and assembly.
Nicloux’s slippers are recognizable by her use of traditional construction methods that make smooth, hidden seams and small pleats around the tongue. Liners, piping and laces will match the colour of the main flower. Butterflies and other animals will appear from a new angle.
Her wolf motif often emerges from the “bushes” of the fur ruff; her ravens squawk, her fireweed drops a few petals across the toes at the base of a stem that grows up the shin to the full flowering bloom. Her colours are vibrant look-at-me neons that pop.
She was one of two debut artists chosen to display work at the newly opened Art House Carcross, a permanent visual showcase to promote Yukon art in the Carcross Commons in partnership with Carcross/Tagish First Nation and Southern Lakes Artists Collective, among others.
To view a sample of Nicloux’s work in Whitehorse, take a look at the Yukon crest hanging in Lorraine Joe’s Indian Craft Shop on Main Street, or meet the artist in person at the upcoming holiday craft fairs. Nicloux is also taking special orders for Christmas via her page Facebook.com/knicloux. Allow 10 days for production.