Before Nancy Hummel enrolled in a First Nations garment-making program at the University of Yukon’s Mayo campus, she had never used a sewing machine.
Now she and the other five women who apprenticed alongside her are budding fashion designers.
Hummel, who is a citizen of the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation, spent four and a half months with her classmates mastering the basics of sewing and learning how to make garments such as vests, parkas and anoraks from scratch.
Last Saturday, all that work culminated in the red carpet at Mayo’s community room, where approximately 150 people turned out to see student work modeled on the runway.
“I love it because we all helped each other, we were there for each other, and when my days were done… [inspired] with me,” Hummel said of his classmates.
Together, the students spent long hours sewing, taking apart, and remaking projects until they were perfect.
That companionship was especially important, Hummel said, because he had recently lost his son; Like many people in Mayo, most, if not all, of the show’s participants were coping with loss of loved ones.
Now, she plans to continue sewing and has already ordered $1,500 in supplies so she can make more jackets on her own.
“I’m going to keep it up,” he said.
Ellenise Profeit, also from the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation, was the first participant to show her work on the catwalk on Saturday.
Profeit said that she had previously done some sewing and beadwork on her own, but the program gave her the opportunity to hone her skills and learn new ones, as well as further connect with her heritage.
“Sewing is such an important part of our culture… If we don’t go ahead and learn these things now, who will teach the younger ones?” she said.
He added that he hopes to make a living from the sale of his work and already has a list of custom orders to fill, including graduation pins, jackets for children and anoraks for adults.
Ashley Washburn-Hayden, one of the program’s co-instructors, said it was inspiring to see the students, whose craft experience ranged from never sewing to previously working at the Yukon Parka Factory, go from using a sewing machine for the first time to creating high-quality garments in just a few months.
“Seeing his display of confidence and his creativity has been amazing,” he said.
“I am incredibly proud of them.”
Fashion show attendees, most of them Mayo residents, were also proud: The show closed with students and instructors walking the red carpet wearing parkas they had made themselves, each greeted with a round of cheers and applause. .