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Touching culture through craft
Fort Simpson workshops an opportunity to pass on traditional skills

April Hudson
Northern News Services
Thursday, September 1, 2016

For some people, crafting is simply a way to pass the time.

NNSL photo/graphic

Vanessa Villeneuve has been sewing and beading unique creations since she was a child. Here, Villeneuve displays some of her work at the Open Sky Gallery. - April Hudson/NNSL photo

For others, such as Vanessa Villeneuve, it's more akin to a way of life.

Raised in Fort Liard, Villeneuve developed a passion for traditional crafts at a young age. Now, she is aspiring to bring that passion to women - and men, if any want to learn - in Fort Simpson in order to carry on tradition.

Villeneuve's knowledge of crafting extends from mukluks and crowboots - which are like high-top moccasins - to mitts and earrings. The latter are her specialty, and her work - including hair clips, beaded headbands and beaded earrings - currently adorns a shelf in the Open Sky Gallery.

"I do as much as I can," Villeneuve said.

Her next venture, she hopes, may be to tan her own moosehide.

"Everything I make has moosehide," she said.

"I'm trying to keep it traditional."

On Wednesday nights, Villeneuve can be found at the Open Sky Gallery with a container full of sewing materials and projects. She runs open sessions from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. each week for crafters who want to join her.

"If they have unfinished projects, something they're stuck on or if they want to learn something, I'm here to help out," she said.

Villeneuve's leap into the world of traditional art began at the age of seven or eight in Fort Liard, when her aunt Helena Timbre taught a sewing and Dene Zhatie class at her school.

"We learned how to sew from her. She taught boys and girls, and after that I became interested," she said. "I just kept going from there. I always went to her when I wanted to learn how to sew (something new)."

Villeneuve still has the first pair of uppers - the top portion of slippers, usually beaded - Timbre helped her make.

"I haven't used them yet because every time I look at them, they bring back the memory of when she first gave me those uppers," she said. "I thank her, because she was my big inspiration for learning how to sew. My aunt is the one who got me into sewing, and now I want to pass it on."

One way she hopes to pass it on is by sparking the same passion in youth in the Deh Cho as her aunt sparked in her.

"I do (these workshops) for teens, too. There are technologies out now - phones, tablets, laptops . Most kids are bored, so they look to those things to keep them busy. But for sewing, it's keeping the traditional arts alive," she said.

"I'm willing to train and teach them."

Although she has taught traditional crafts in the past to students in Fort Nelson, B.C., Villeneuve's jump into the world of running workshops emerged only recently, after she approached the Open Sky Creative Society during its annual summer festival. She suggested donating her time to a sewing group, and the society bit.

Since then, she has also run workshops at trade fairs in Fort Simpson and Fort Liard, which were facilitated by the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment.

"I just recently started (teaching), and I was nervous because I was kind of iffy about going forward and putting my work out there," she said.

"I love it."

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