In Indigenous communities across North America, beadwork artists often gather at community centers to work on their latest pieces. These beading circles, as they’re called, are more than just a social event. They’re considered a safe space where community members can share and exchange their different techniques, while providing emotional support for each other. The functions have true healing powers—a form of therapy if you will, that is experienced one stitch at a time.
These crucial gatherings, however, have suddenly come to a halt. The coronavirus pandemic has called for individuals to socially distance and stay at home, meaning these beading circles have paused. But one Indigenous creative is keeping the spirit of these cultural meetings alive—and she’s doing so online.
Tania Larsson—a Gwich’in jeweller based in Yellowknife, Canada—kicked off a series of virtual beading circles last week. Her gatherings, conducted via the app Zoom, offer an online meeting space where beaders of all skill levels can gather to talk through their various projects. The aim is to keep creative morale high. Larsson initially got the idea earlier this month, after partaking in a Zoom meeting for Dene Nahjo, the indigenous collective that she is a part of. “It felt really good to have a group where we could check in with each other,” says Larsson. “It brought anxiety down and I thought, if I feel this good after this call, I should just organize a beading circle.”
The artist hosted her first two Zoom beading circles last week. “It was kind of short notice: I threw out the idea on Instagram, and lots of people got excited about it,” Larsson said. For her first session, eight indigenous beaders from across North America ended up joining in, which lasted over three hours; for the second, about a dozen logged on. “We got to talk about our projects that we’re working on,” says Larsson, adding that they also shared tips about how to stay positive amid the current pandemic.
In that first session, the artists worked on a variety of projects. One sewed together miniature leggings for a doll that she was creating; others worked on statement earrings or a traditional moss bag. “The beauty about taking part in beading circles is that you can ask for technical help,” says Larsson. “This is how I got better at beadwork. I sat next to Judy Lafferty, who’s one of the most amazing beadworkers—she’s a master artist in the Northwest Territories.”