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Beginner sewers in Kahnawà:ke learn the ins and outs of making ribbon shirts

CBC News | April 16, 2023

Categories: news

Classes part of cultural awareness month in the community

Ka’nhehsí:io Deer · CBC News · Posted: Apr 16, 2023 4:00 AM EDT | Last Updated: April 16

Robin Guyer sitting by a sewing machine.
Robin Guyer is one of the participants in a ribbon shirt class. She said she wanted to expand her sewing skills with a more complicated pattern, after learning how to make a ribbon skirt a few years ago. (Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC)

The sounds of sewing machines echoed across the second floor of the Kahnawà:ke Youth Center last week as a handful of beginners learned to make their own ribbon shirts.

Maris Jacobs hadn't used a sewing machine prior to Tuesday but is now more than halfway done making a Haudenosaunee-style ribbon shirt for herself.

"My grandmother was a seamstress and so is my mom and my maternal grandmother as well," she said.

"I do beadwork and other things but this is the first time I'm trying sewing, It's a little bit scary. Like when you learn to drive, you don't want to touch the pedal too hard…. I'm hoping once I do it once, I'll have a little bit more confidence to keep doing it and doing it on my own."

Maris Jacobs sews the collar onto her shirt.
Maris Jacobs is one of five participants registered for the class, which wraps up next week. (Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC)

Jacobs is among five community members from Kahnawà:ke, a Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) community south of Montreal, taking a class taught by Karoniénhawe Diabo. She is the designer behind the brand She Holds The Sky Designs, which had its New York Fashion Week debut in February.

Sharing knowledge

Diabo grew up sewing around the women in her family. Custom-made Haudenosaunee regalia and ribbon skirts are the bread and butter of her small business.

"The only way that our traditions are going to carry on is if we teach each other," said Diabo.

"We learn to challenge ourselves and that's why I think it's fun to do these things."

Karoniénhawe Diabo sitting in the art room at the Kahnawà:ke Youth Center.
Karoniénhawe Diabo is the designer behind the brand She Holds The Sky Designs. (Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC)

The class is a part of programming for Cultural Awareness Month. Every year, the Kanien'kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center collaborates with other community organizations to hold language, culture, history and art activities throughout the month. 

The Kahnawà:ke Youth Center organized several activities for its after-school programming like traditional cooking and traditional dancing, but also workshops and sporting events open to the entire community.

"It is good to have these types of activities because it helps our community to sustain and learn," said Cheyanne McComber, the community events co-ordinator at Kahnawà:ke Youth Center. 

"Whether it's making a ribbon shirt, gardening, using useful tools that we can use every day. It's really all about knowledge and creating a brighter future for everybody."

 Cheyanne McComber cuts fabric for the shirt she's making for her son.
Cheyanne McComber is the community events co-ordinator at Kahnawà:ke Youth Center. (Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC)

While the rest of the class is working on women's shirts for themselves, McComber is working on a shirt for her son who is graduating from elementary school in June. It's the first time she's sewing as an adult, without the help of family.

"I just think it will make me proud that he's wearing something I put time and effort into and hopefully it comes out all right. If he has no sleeves, we know why," she laughed.

The class continues next week.

Carmen Breeze Lahache (left) and Haylee Kirby Lazare show the progress they've made with their shirts.
Carmen Breeze Lahache (left) and Haylee Kirby Lazare show the progress they've made with their shirts.(Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC)


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