Granny Hanky Headbands mix First Nations tradition with modern design

Heather Dickson has put her own twist on the kerchiefs worn by Northern grandmothers and is having a hard time keeping up with the demand.

Yukon entrepreneur turns elders' kerchiefs into youthful headbands

Heather Dickson wears one of her Granny Hanky Headbands. (Dickson Designs/Facebook)

Whitehorse designer Heather Dickson is putting a new twist on a traditional staple, using colourful scarves — the kind often worn by elders — to create beaded headbands. 

"I was always drawn to them," the 25-year-old says of the bold kerchiefs.

"You know, as much as I love our grandmothers, I couldn't rock it the way they do, so I cut it up one day and I made myself a headband.

"I wore it around and I got made fun of a little bit. Some people were like, 'Oh, you're wearing a granny hanky. It's for grandmas,' and I said, 'Yeah, I like it. It's kind of colourful.'" 

A friend asked to buy one and Dickson added some beadwork. 

That was the beginning of Dickson Designs and now, less than a year later, her headbands have been sold all over North America. She calls them Granny Hanky Headbands and as soon as she posts new stock to her online store, it sells out almost instantly. 

Elder Mary Effie Snowshoe wears one of the bright-coloured kerchiefs that are the inspiration for Dickson Designs' Granny Hanky Headbands. (Snowshoe Studios)

"Very quickly I learned that I could not keep up with the demand myself," she says. "I started inviting women to bead for me and it's been absolutely amazing." 

 "It's exciting," says Kaylyn Baker, one of several the beaders working with Dickson. "I get to see other people wearing my bead work, it's just really awesome."

Dickson says the many hours of sitting, measuring and sewing is worth it — especially when she hears directly from customers on social media. 

"I find a lot of my customers feel like they've gone back to their roots and they show their First Nations pride."

Steve Smith, Dickson's uncle and chief of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, has been a sounding board for her business.

Beaded granny hanky headbands by Dickson Designs. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

"It's been very rapid," he said. "The rest of the family has marvelled at how quickly it took off."

He sees her work as both traditional and modern art. 

"We were a people that evolved; we had to evolve. Our land is pretty unforgiving up here, so we had to be able to adapt and it's really neat to see our young people adapting and the granny hanky is almost the perfect example of an adaptation.

"It's still a traditional method. It's born from tradition but it's modern. It's uniquely Yukon and I think it just brings our past into the future."


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