“A Great Achievement”: Come Sew With Auntie teaches parkas in Behchokǫ̀


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

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

This is the first time that Come Sew With Auntie has organized a parka-making workshop.

During the pandemic, Mercedes Rabesca started organizing sewing circles to bring people together, create more knowledge holders and teachers, and create employment opportunities. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

Rabesca said she “tries to bring a mix of more traditional Dene lessons to the community so that everyone has an opportunity to sew.”

Participating in Come and sew with my auntmade beaver mitts, moccasins and mukluks and beaded items like popsockets for phones.

Rabesca generally procures materials and applies for grants to organize workshops. This time, she received support from the Tłı̨chǫ Government’s Community Wellness Department.

The department donated 10 sewing machines, which Rabesca says will allow it to offer more workshops in the future, such as making hunting bags.

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

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

“I’m proud,” Beaulieu said. “Making this jacket really made my day.”

She gives the parka to her little sister, and she said it was hard work.

“[My mom] say don’t give up, you got this. So she encouraged me to do it and I finished it perfectly,” Beaulieu said.

Felicia Beaulieu says she always tells her daughter Hannah to sign up for each workshop so she can learn traditional skills from people in the community. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

Her mother, Felicia Beaulieu, said Hannah’s loved ones were already calling with orders.

“I’m a proud mom,” she said.

“She’s finished her first parka. Now she can make us all jackets for Christmas…Now I have to get her some gear and supplies because she wants to start her own business.”

The Trailbreaker5:33“Come Sew With Auntie” is the name of a program that makes traditional sewing knowledge more easily accessible

At the Behchoko Youth Center, people gathered in a room filled with laughter and the sounds of sewing machines. It’s “Come sew with my aunt”. a program that brings traditional sewing skills to more and more people in the community. The program was started by Mercedes Rabesca who realizes that it creates more knowledge holders and even creates job opportunities.

“The instruction was really, really good”

When Mary Adele Mackenzie saw the advertisement for this workshop on Facebook, she jumped at the chance.

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

“He’s also my teacher,” Mackenzie said.

Sisters Melissa Nitsiza and Mary Adele Mackenzie show off the parkas they made for their husbands. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

Mackenzie is making a parka for her husband so he can snowmobile – he even helped design it, requesting extra long sleeves.

“I think I did well,” she laughs.

Mary Adele Mackenzie finishes her husband’s parka Friday at the Kǫ̀ Gocho Center. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

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

“The instruction was really, really good,” Mackenzie said.

After finishing her parka, Mary Adele Mackenzie begins tracing patterns so that she and her sister can make their own parkas. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

Gwich’in artist and teacher Dorathy Wright made sewing her full-time business in 2014.

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

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

Melissa Mackenzie, Mary Adele Mackenzie and Mercedes Rabesca watch Dorathy Wright demonstrate how to skillfully line up the fur on the hood of Melissa’s parka. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

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

Instructors like Rabesca and Wright are there to help troubleshoot sewing projects so even sewing newbies can overcome even the toughest tasks, like aligning fabric.

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

“It’s a good learning experience,” she said.

Carole Tinqui makes a parka for her eight-year-old daughter, Khloe. She chose a pink ribbon to make the colors pop on the fabric. (Avery Zingel/CBC)
Carole Tinqui, left, and her daughter Khloe show off the parka. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

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