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Ojibwe Beaded Yoke
Outline the story …
I was inspired to create this beaded yoke for the character Niska, the matriarch and medicine woman in Joseph Boyden’s 2005 novel "Three Day Road". I read this book over ten years ago, and it still remains one of the most important books for me, an Indigenous woman learning what it means to be a part of the Anishinaabe peoples.
When we first encounter Niska, the year is 1919 and she is waiting for her nephew to return from the front. Niska is one of the last of the Oji-Cree people still living away from the reservations in the heart of the northern Canadian bush. Her connection to her culture and spirituality is unbroken by the loss of her homeland and kin.
Velvet beadwork is perhaps the most iconic form of beadwork to Indigenous peoples across Canada and the northern US. It is deeply connected to the spirituality of the land. The designs in my own yoke were inspired by the traditional designs common to Anishinaabe peoples, in particular a beaded Chippewa collar dated form 1920-1940 from the collection of the National Museum of the American Indian in New York.
The use of metal cones to create jingle collars and jingle dresses emerged in the year 1900, on an Ojibwe reservation. I imagine that Niska would have used this type of jingle garment in her healing. The designs in this collar use plants native to Ontario and I think it captures the spirit of what Niska was trying to preserve.
Outline the construction…
This yoke is made from three layers of material: a cotton velveteen, cotton interfacing, and a cotton poplin. The beaded design was made with coloured glass seed beads, sewn on with a waxed cotton thread using a lazy stitch. Mirrors were attached using E6000 glue – a modern equivalent to animal glue.
I drafted the pattern using my shoulder width and the length that I wanted the yoke to hang down to. Using that pattern, I cut out the velveteen, interfacing, and poplin. I draped the velveteen over a hanger and let it hang for a day before attaching the interfacing layer to prevent stretching or warping once I started to sew the beads.
The design was traced lightly in chalk pen and beads were sewn in groups of 4-5. Traditionally, these items would be sewn in large wooden frames then cut into pattern shapes. However, I did not have access to this type of frame and had to use a small embroidery hoop, being careful not to stretch or warp the velveteen’s pile while sewing.
When the beadwork was finished, the poplin was basted to the velveteen and secured with bias tape. This was my first time sewing bias tape around curves and required some easing to prevent buckling. The jingle cones were attached with a knotted 0.7 cm ribbon and then pinched closed. They were then attached every 1.5 cm with a cross stitch. A brass button and loop closure were sewn into the top of the yoke.