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Now that's a lot of beads

Kevin Allerston
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, June 6, 2012

After thousands of hours of work, Mary Jane Francois' beadwork masterpiece is finally complete.

NNSL photo/graphic

Mary Jane Francois (left) and Patricia Baldwin show off a 6.5 metre baby belt in K'alemi Dene School in Ndilo, a project Francois began working on in August of 2010. - Kevin Allerston/NNSL photo

Francois began work beading colourful floral patterns on a six-and-a-half-metre baby belt, possibly the world's biggest, in August 2010, finally finishing on May 28.

"When I finished I was just feeling so happy. I was so excited," said 71 year-old Francois, who is the elder at K'alemi Dene School in Ndilo. "I never thought I was going to finish it."

Baby belts are traditional aboriginal garments mothers use to carry their babies.

This belt consists of 26 beaded flowers, each about the size of a person's hand, with a rainbow in the middle, the symbol for the school.

"It took two weeks for one flower," said Francois, who has been sewing beads since she was 28 years-old.

"I like making all kinds of things. Moccasins, jackets, mitts, gloves," Francois said. "I do that all the time."

For the nearly two years it took to complete the project, Francois would bead for about four hours in the morning.

"I get up early in the morning, about 5:30 a.m., I make coffee and sew until 9:00 a.m., and then I get dressed and go uptown," she said.

The many thousands of beads were sewn into white stroud atop moose hide and now that it's complete it will soon adorn the wall of the school's cultural room.

Francois is wasting no time in starting her next project, a traditional jacket, which will take about two months and will also be displayed prominently at the school.

Francois didn't do the beading project entirely on her own. She had help from Patricia Baldwin, a teacher at the school, who drew the designs based on previous beadwork patterns Francois had done.

"I took those designs from her coats," said Baldwin. "I took different designs from her beaded coats and then made them bigger and used them. At first when I showed her the patterns and I showed her how big the flowers were I think her jaw dropped. She always rises to any challenge we give her."

Baldwin said they are going to contact the Guinness World Records to see if the artwork qualifies as the world's biggest baby belt.

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