Meet the man who taught traditional sewing in his community for nearly 2 decades
'Everybody says, ‘wow, I can’t believe you made this ... Women especially,' says Brian Rogers
Brian Rogers was 16 years old when he first picked up a needle and thread.
Rogers wanted to make his own duffle socks — a liner made of duffle cloth — for his mukluks, so after years of watching his mother make intricate traditional clothing, he asked her to teach him.
"But when I did the whole thing, she undid them like two or three times 'til I got it right," said Rogers, who's now 45.
He remembers it being a little frustrating.
"A little bit mad — angry," said Rogers. "Here I was trying to sew, and then she says it's not done right, you gotta undo it and fix it."
But that's how his decades-long sewing journey began — becoming a man who is famous in his home community of Inuvik, N.W.T., for his talent.
Rogers said his skills can surprise people.
"Everybody says, 'Wow, I can't believe you made this,'" said Rogers. "Women especially. They can't believe it."
'Don't let this stuff die'
Every week, for nearly two decades, Rogers shares his traditional sewing skills with others in his community.
Not many people know him by his real name though — he says his sewing circle and students call him "Nungkii," which means caribou leg muscle in Inuvialuktun.
Rogers teaches people how to make everything from mitts to parkas to mukluks, using stitches and patterns that he learned directly from elders.
Before he started teaching 18 years ago, Rogers said it was only elders who were sewing in town.
"No youth, no young people, nothing," he said.
That's why he offers his classes free of charge.
"It never cost me nothing to learn from [elders], so all these patterns and all this stuff is given to you free."
Rogers also teaches his students Inuvialuktun — his language — during classes. He'll point to scissors or patterns and share their names in the language.
Now Rogers teaches classes along with another instructor at the Inuvik Community Corporation — twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But there's a wait list because of the popularity, warned Rogers.
His classes are focused on teaching young, single mothers who can't afford to buy expensive traditional clothing.
But sometimes he'll get a few men who join his classes, accompanying their spouses.
All Rogers asks is that others who learn from him will pay it forward. He wants to see the revival of traditional embroidery and clothing.
"You got it from me for nothing. You too … just pass it along and don't let this stuff die."
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With files from Lawrence Nayally, Marc Winkler