'A big achievement': Come Sew With Auntie teaches parka making in Behchokǫ̀

·3 min read
Hannah Beaulieu said she was proud to complete her parka and hopes more youth will come out to Come Sew With Auntie workshops. (Avery Zingel/CBC  - image credit)
Hannah Beaulieu said she was proud to complete her parka and hopes more youth will come out to Come Sew With Auntie workshops. (Avery Zingel/CBC - image credit)

Sewing machines whirr away and the room is full of laughter as a group of ladies work hard to finish their parkas at the Kǫ̀ Gocho Centre in Behchokǫ last Friday.

Mercedes Rabesca goes from machine to machine, checking if anyone needs help, while Dorathy Wright, a Gwich'in quilter and artist imparts her expertise and knowledge to each sewer for the week long event.

This is the first time Come Sew With Auntie is holding a parka making workshop.

Avery Zingel/CBC
Avery Zingel/CBC

Rabesca said she is "trying to bring a more traditional Dene mixture of lessons to the community so everyone has an opportunity to sew."

Participants at Come Sew With Auntie, have made beaver mittens, moccasins and mukluks and beaded items like popsockets for phones.

Rabesca usually sources materials and applies for grants to run workshops. This time, she received support from Tłı̨chǫ Government Community Wellness department.

The department donated 10 sewing machines, which Rabesca said will enable her to offer more workshops in the future, like making hunting bags.

Someone also anonymously donated three Singer sewing machines, she said.

Rabesca said Hannah Beaulieu, 15, who used a sewing machine for the first time at the event, is a fast learner.

"I'm proud," said Beaulieu. "Making this jacket actually made my day."

She's giving the parka to her little sister, and she said making it was hard work.

"[My mom] says don't give up, you got this. So she gave me the encouragement to do this and I finished it perfectly," said Beaulieu.

Avery Zingel/CBC
Avery Zingel/CBC

Her mother, Felicia Beaulieu, said Hannah's relatives are already calling with orders.

"I'm one proud momma," she said.

"She finished her own first parka. Now she can make us all jackets for Christmas ... Now I gotta get her materials and supplies because she wants to start up her own business."

'Instruction was really, really good'

When Mary Adele Mackenzie saw this workshop advertised on Facebook, she jumped at the opportunity.

She is a beginner at sewing, and took the workshop with her sister.

"She's also my teacher," Mackenzie said.

Avery Zingel/CBC
Avery Zingel/CBC

Mackenzie is making a parka for her husband so that he can go skidooing — he even had a hand in the design, asking for extra long sleeves.

"I think I did good," she laughs.

Avery Zingel/CBC
Avery Zingel/CBC

Mackenzie said the parka was hard work, but the workshop has made her eager to start her next project.

"The instruction was really, really good," said Mackenzie.

Avery Zingel/CBC
Avery Zingel/CBC

Dorathy Wright, the Gwich'in artist and instructor, made sewing her full-time business in 2014.

She flew out from Norman Wells to teach the workshop, which she says is a gateway to traditional skills, and entrepreneurship.

Wright encourages artists to get connected with the NWT Arts Program so they can learn more about accessing the materials they need, learn how to fairly price their items and even get to larger markets and fashion shows like Indigenous Fashion Week.

Avery Zingel/CBC
Avery Zingel/CBC

Since hosting this workshop, she already has been asked to come to other Tłı̨chǫ communities to run similar events.

Instructors like Rabesca and Wright are there to help troubleshoot sewing projects so that even newcomers to sewing, can overcome even the hardest tasks, like lining up the fabric.

Carole Tinqui said she always signs up for Come Sew With Auntie workshops.

"It's a good learning experience," she said.

Avery Zingel/CBC
Avery Zingel/CBC
Avery Zingel/CBC
Avery Zingel/CBC