Warm As Tea

Dang. I thought I was early. Practically the whole class is here already, heads bowed over their work.

I look at the clock.

It’s only ten to.

Aha. All these ladies (and one gentlemen) have lots of beading to do.

I’m taking part in a moccasin-making class. Shelby Blackjack shares her skills with easygoing encouragement. The registration fee – a steal of a deal – covers our materials and the Yukon Arts Centre has subsidized Blackjack’s instructional fee.

Blackjack acquired the beads, needles, thread and lining from the Indian Craft Shop on Main Street. Tutshi Tanning in Porter Creek sold her the home-tanned elk hides.

Smoky home-tanned elk perfumes the Yukon Arts Centre lobby.

We trace copies of Blackjack’s home-made cardboard patterns so we can make more slippers in the future. Blackjack learned her beading and moccasin sewing from her grandmother Bessie Blackjack and her auntie Eileen Fields. They told her, “Anyone one who wants to sit down and learn how to do it, teach them.”

The class filled so quickly, a second class was scheduled for early November at The Old Firehall. Before the end of October, that one fills, too.

Blackjack encourages us to design our own beading patterns. We cut out cardboard to trace the shapes onto the hide or woollen cloth we’re beading onto. She tells us to keep the designs simple. We do not all succeed. Hence the keeners, working before class.

Beading takes a shockingly long time. Once you have an area beaded, the colours and the beads’ textures are very exciting. But for me, at least at first, each square centimetre cost an hour’s work.

Yukon Arts Centre gallery intern Jessica Vellenga says the course has given her a better understanding of the pricing on beadwork you might see on sale at the Indian Craft shop or the Trappers’ store. Every member of the class gained a new appreciation for the “talent and time” in each piece.

Leighann Chalykoff will take home some little cuts on her hands, as well as her beautifully beaded fishes. Despite the hide thimbles we made, most of us caught the tips of our fingers with the needle, forcing it through the hide.

Snap. Another needle broke.

Garnet Meuthing reflected, “I think it gives you the ability to see the possible patterns in beads.” Fellow participant Judy Forrest found that beading gives her “permission to slow down” and just focus on that one task.

To put the moccasins together, we divided strands of imitation sinew, which falls apart into parallel fibres like string cheese.

Gallery Director Mary Bradshaw stitches away at her Calgary Flames logo. The moccasins will be a gift for her sweetheart.

She was keen to offer this course, as the Yukon Arts Centre hasn’t been offering many workshops for adults recently. “We wondered – would it fly?” So she made it as affordable as she could.

The instructional part of the November course will be subsidized by the Yukon Arts Fund.

Will there be more workshops? “Absolutely.” People are still calling up enquiring about spaces in the second workshop.

“Maybe we do mittens?”

Someone jokes, “You have to finish both of your moccasins as the prerequisite for the mukluk course.”

Although the Arts Centre added one additional day to the four-evening course, only one slipper from the whole group was fully completed the final evening. We took away knowledge and materials to finish them.

In addition to her beading, Blackjack studied painting at the Victoria College of Art. She made a collaged painting called Grandmothers, incorporating slippers, teacups and photos of her grandmothers.

Blackjack brought in a small slipper she’d recently made for a niece and spoke of family beading projects for upcoming weddings.

One student rises, stretches, and fetches a cup of mint tea. Blackjack associates tea with beading and provided some for the class. “It reminds me of my grandmother. It’s a comfy sense.”

It is 12:30 a.m., the night after the course – one slipper complete! Well, the fur’s not tacked down yet, but it works. I put it on. My right foot is warm as tea.

My left foot wants me to get sewing.

Nicole Bauberger is a writer and painter living in Whitehorse. Find out where you can see her work at www.nicolebauberger.com.

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