As nine-year-old Alexis Crystal Jim focuses on picking up a brilliant blue bead with her sewing needle and fastening it to a piece of hide, the women several decades older than her chat and laugh and sew. And as the time flies by, the little girl soaks up traditional knowledge and the Southern Tutchone language spoken around her. There, among women supporting her – and supporting each other – she’s also learning about the warm comfort of her kin.
Jim comes with her grandmother to the sewing group, which takes place every Monday and Wednesday at the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations (CAFN) administration building in downtown Whitehorse. The sewing and language class is free to all CAFN members and their families.
Val Fromme is not of First Nation heritage, but her husband is. And so are their children. She feels at home in the sewing circle and over the past few years she has been learning the First Nation style of beadwork.
On Feb. 13 she once again joined the six women at the table for the class she has become so fond of.
“I really like the end product and the process, but I particularly like hanging out with these women and listening to their stories and learning these new techniques of sewing,” Fromme says.
Jim’s grandmother, Bertha Moose, is an instructor of the sewing group, along with Lorraine Allen.
“They give us this space to revitalize the First Nation traditional artwork,” Allen says. She points to Jim, pulling thread through the thick hide. “She’s learning. And she does a good job.”
Jim’s first project was a beaded leather cardholder for bankcards and such. She gave that one to her Mom, now she’s making one for her aunt and her plan is to make another for her grandmother.
“Then I’m going to sell them,” she says. “I like making projects. It’s fun.”
“It’s good to see younger kids sew,” Moose says. “That’s how young we started sewing. I’ve been sewing for a long time. I was taught by my grandmother and my mother.”
Then the knowledge started missing generations.
Tina Grant is of Champagne heritage and her great grandmother used to make beadwork, but she just picked up beading four years ago.
And she’s picked it up in a big way. She has exhausted the local supplies of bead colours and has been ordering them through the internet to get an inspiring new array.
“I’ve invested a lot of money in beads, but I’ve given a lot away as gifts,” she says. “But when I see my work, it gives me more money to buy more beads.”
For Grant beading is not about tapping into the culture of her family, rather, it’s a hypnotic way to pass the time – and create something useful and beautiful.
“It’s just a hobby,” Grant says. “I enjoy it; it relaxes me. I really love sewing and beading and being productive.”
Three years ago the class started with beginners and now the women are not only giving away their work as handsome gifts, but also selling it and taking custom orders.
The free sewing and language class meets every Monday and Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the CAFN administration building in downtown Whitehorse.