Take a peek inside this Cartwright thread repairer’s workshop as he passes on traditional craftsmanship

In a hangar the size of a small apartment, Josh Burdett has a net stretched across the center of the space.

The former fisherman has the door open hoping for a breeze, but sweat is still pooling on his forehead as he works on a hot August afternoon.

Burdett began learning to mend nets from his father as soon as he was able to hold a needle. Now he shares his knowledge with anyone who walks through the door. The elder holds workshops through NunatuKavut at the annual gathering in Cartwright on the south coast of Labrador, with more planned for this fall.

Burdett started learning how to mend nets as soon as he could hold the wooden needle with string. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

“It’s using your fingers, using your hands and you start working on it and you forget about everything else, all the worries and misfortunes go away and you just focus on the knots that are in front of you,” Burdett said. .

It’s also convenient for economic reasons, he said, because a new net can cost $150, but the cost of repairing it is only the cost of the twine.

A large white needle with green string wrapped around it is held by a man as he meds a green net
Burdett usually uses his wooden needle that his father gave him. In his workshops, he teaches people how to use white plastic needles, which open at the top to let the string out and can be used in the same way as traditional needles. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Hungry seals, sneaky salmon, icebergs: why the nets are tearing

There are a variety of reasons nets can tear, but Burdett said one of the most memorable for him was seals.

“Seals love salmon. If someone gets caught, a seal will come and a big seal will chew the twine and take the salmon and all the twine away,” Burdett said. “You end up with a big hole.

“There have been other instances where a guy was at one end of his net and the salmon was stuck on the other end, and before he pulled the net to retrieve the salmon, the seal was there and had took the salmon.”

A man is shown with a large wooden needle in his mouth while wearing a red shirt in a dark workshop
Sometimes making a hole bigger actually helps fix it. When the pieces are frayed, Burdett puts his needle in his mouth and cuts the frayed pieces so the net can be rebuilt stronger. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Trout nets can also rip if a large salmon comes in and rips. Nets can rip on the ocean floor, and nets can rip if pulled across the boat carelessly, he said.

Someone who gets as good at netting repair as Burdett can fix a five-foot hole in just about two and a half hours.

A man is standing on a wooden floor covered in small green wisps.  The man is wearing brown sneakers and blue jeans.
The floor of Burdett’s studio is covered with small strands of green yarn. (Heidi Atter/CBC)
In a high-angle photograph, a man in a red shirt slowly fixes a net.
Burdett’s workshop next to his house has several snowmobiles, wood panels in the ceiling beams, and a large space where he hangs the netting he uses to teach others. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Beginners need practice: Burdett

For anyone who wants to learn, Burdett’s advice is simple: practice.

“It takes some getting used to holding the string and holding the needle and understanding, but it’s a good hobby,” Burdett said. “Good fun.”

A green net is in focus with a blurred man in the background slowly fixing the net.
Burdett says even a five-foot hole in a trout net can sometimes be only three squares wide. The hole may just appear larger than it actually is. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

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