Have you got a beading project you’ve been trying to finish? Do you want to learn more about First Nations traditional sewing?
Florence Moses hosts a sewing circle Wednesday evenings from 5-9 p.m. in the office of the Nacho Nyak Dun Development Corporation, located in the Yukon Inn Plaza on 4th Ave. You can come for the whole evening or just drop in when you can. Everyone is welcome.
When I dropped by last Wednesday, Dianne Olsen was trying on a garbage bag, and Moses was cutting parts out for her – the group was making patterns to prepare for the upcoming three-week shawl project. By the time I left, the shawl shape had been refined and the pattern cut out in light cloth. Then it’s ready to be cut out of wool melton fabric and embellished with beads or applique, according to each participant’s vision.
The group has undertaken a number of projects since it started in September 2015. They’ve made scissor cases and learned how to embellish eagle feathers with peyote stitch over leather. They’ve learned how to draw a wraparound moccasin pattern to fit their own feet. Moses also offered an introduction to porcupine quill work. Materials are often made available at cost, or participants bring them.
You can also just bring whatever sewing projects you’re working on. Either way, if you have an open mind and a listening ear, there is a lot to learn here.
As the shawl pattern emerged, I heard a discussion of the importance of symmetry. Patterns are folded in half to check that they are symmetrical. At other times, the group has discussed pricing your crafts, as well as cutting leather, how to use its grain, and how to get the most out of each piece. The group also learns a few words of Northern Tutchone, and often compares them with the same word in whatever other First Nations languages other people present know.
Before Christmas I had mitts I needed to finish, so while I watched the quill work, I worked on those. Elder Mary Code suggested I run one more row of beads around the outside of the beaded applique I was using. I tried it, and liked it very much. Even though I wasn’t directly taking part in the instructed project, and although I wasn’t able to get there till after 7 o’clock, I still learned something very useful.
This sewing circle grew out of the Walking With Our Sisters sewing circles that led up to the April 2015 exhibition. Walking With Our Sisters is an ongoing exhibition of moccasin tops that will be touring for seven years. It is a grassroots initiative that commemorates missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada and the United States. It is much more than an exhibition; in Whitehorse (in April of 2015) and in the other cities it visits, community conversations and sewing circles lead up to the exhibition itself, making a space for many important conversations.
Elder Mary Decker, who had taken part in Walking With Our Sisters sewing circle, also encouraged her to host them again. The Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation and Development Corporation sponsor the sewing circle.
As I sat and sewed, I asked the group what they liked about the sewing circle. They asked not to have their voices singled out, but told me that they like getting out of the house and enjoying other people’s company. They like learning techniques from each other, laughing, and having a cup of tea. They find it productive and go home at the end of the night with a sense of accomplishment. They find it a place of positive energy, kindness and sharing. Decisions are made with everyone’s input.
Participants feel it builds community.
“It’s good for getting to know your cousins you didn’t grow up with!” said one stitcher. “It’s open to anyone who wants to come and sit and sew with us.”
That could be you.