Beaufort Delta men put on warm winter parkas sewn from scratch
There are plenty of new sewers in the Beaufort Delta these days, all clad in cozy, handcrafted parkas—and all of them are men.
Parka fever swept Fort McPherson last month with a program that taught 10 men how to sew coats. Then it spread to Inuvik’s Hope House last week, where five other men developed their own sewing skills.
Alice Vittrekwa, one of the Fort McPherson program’s teachers, said it was the first time participants there had ever used a sewing machine.
“The parkas they wanted to do was such a big project,” she said. “They didn’t even have time to practice … I’m just so proud of them.”
The lack of know-how didn’t slow them down too much – but did lead to some good-natured laughs as one man sewed the hood onto his parka, only to find he’d run out of time to thread part way through.
“I was just talking to one of the guys and said it’s so sweet to see these guys sitting behind a machine and doing such a big project,” Vittrekwa said.
“There’s a guy, he’s got his parka ready… he’s got his parka on. ,Thanks!’ he said, and he got out there and went home in his new parka. I’m just so proud of him.
Ernest Vittrekwa, one of the Fort McPherson attendees, said he hasn’t had much of a chance to wear his new parka yet. He plans to use it when he goes on a trip.
“Going back to old traditions,” he said of sewing his own coat.
He laughed when asked if he’d ever thought of making his own.
“No,” he said.
For some, it brought back memories of a time before Ski-Doo boots, when parents had to hand-sew moccasins, mittens and parkas for 10 or 12 children at the same time.
For others, like Ernest, it was a reminder of the importance of passing skills from one generation to the next.
Alice Vittrekwa said her hope is the program will come back and continue receiving funds so more men have the opportunity to learn how to sew their own coats.
Some of the participants hope to learn other skills as well, she said, such as making canvas shoes.
Crash course in sewing
At Inuvik, the five participating men received a crash course in machine sewing before tackling their parkas.
Wilma Dosedel, one of the instructors there, said they had an intense first day.
“After the ice was broken and stuff, now these guys are so confident and they’re just zooming with their sewing machines and asking a lot of questions,” she said.
“Oh my god, these guys! They are so patient.”
Johnny Aviugana, one of the participants, said he made his parka for spring hunting.
“It’s something new to learn, you know? I’ve tried just about everything and I’d love to try it and learn about the sewing machines and how parkys are made,” he said.
Dosedel said one of the things she taught the class is the importance of learning skills regardless of your gender.
“We share our skills with each other. Just like me growing up, I was taught how to make wood and nets and caribou, things like that,” she said.
“It’s skills that we share together, and you know, it doesn’t matter if we’re male or female, girl or boy, that we were taught from a young age.”