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Parka class shows skills to students of sewing
Ins and outs of signature Northern coat explored

April Hudson
Northern News Services
Thursday, March 9, 2017

An ongoing parka-making workshop in Fort Simpson is teaching Northern women a new skill.

NNSL photo/graphic

Audrey Steedman traces out a pattern on lining material during the fourth day of a parka-making workshop at the Open Sky gallery on March 5. - April Hudson/NNSL photo

Led by avid sewer Deb Stipdonk, known especially in the village for her quilt-making workshops, five women have selected their material and are in the process of assembling their garments.

Made from thick woolen duffle and lined with warm Kasha fabric, the parkas are being made according to one of several patterns Stipdonk has collected over the years.

Participants learn how to cut out and assembly their parka shell, hood and liner, insert a zipper and sew in pockets, making adjustments as needed along the way.

Stipdonk has taught parka-making in the Deh Cho region for eight or nine years now. She first learned the art when she lived in Kugaaruk, Nunavut.

"I remember the local ladies there taught me how to do it. Everybody got together for sewing and it was a very popular evening activity," Stipdonk said.

She still remembers the first parka she ever made - a long, blue creation similar to the styles she is currently teaching, made of duffle fabric.

"That was actually the first time I'd ever heard of duffle - growing up in the cities,

you just didn't need that weight," she said.

Although she has sewed all her life, it was years later that she would start teaching the craft, though - after she moved to Fort Simpson and her children grew up, Aurora College approached her about teaching traditional parka-making classes.

"That's when I jumped back in," she said.

"It was quite an honour, I felt, to be asked to teach Northern people how to do it, so I was really thrilled about it - and I'm still really thrilled when I get asked to do it."

It helps, she added, that the Open Sky Creative Society - which hosted the parka-making workshop - has a space in its gallery ideal for sewing.

"(Teaching) people to sew is a really nice way to get to know a group of people. I find it quite relaxing to do and we have a nice size of space here - it's more about the social aspect, for me, at this point, than anything else," she said of why she agreed to take on the class.

As the proud grandmother of a young granddaughter and grandson, it also helps her expand her peer group beyond those involved with two-to-four-year-olds.

"It's a really nice opportunity for me to spend some time with adults," she said.

"I've always liked teaching, and watching people learn, seeing them smile and enjoy it."

The class continues March 18, wrapping up March 19.

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