Yellowknife woman's sealskin creations in the spotlight
Cuffs worn by Tanya Tagaq
A Yellowknife woman's sealskin cuffs are turning heads after they were worn on stage by throat singer Tanya Tagaq.
Cheryl Fennell, who is Métis, learned how to sew traditional furs and skins from her mother and other aboriginal women in the North. With the help of Inuit friends, she learned how to properly select and cut the skin. Four years ago, she designed her first sealskin cuff as gifts for her friends and family.
She says the process isn't simply taking orders from customers and cutting out patterns.
"What you have to do is first of all, you have to feel inspired," said Fennell. "I've been fascinated to see how people recreate their life and their history through the use of natural materials such as bones, furs and skins."
Tagaq has worn the sealskin cuffs at numerous music festivals and shows, including her performance at Folk on the Rocks on Sunday night, where she also sported a dress made by Fennell and Alisha Stawnichy of Yellowknife.
Importance of seals
Fennell said people started calling her, looking to buy a pair of cuffs after Tagaq wore hers to the Polaris Music Prize gala in Toronto.
"I think she was really expressing that this is her life and this is her history," Fennell said. "She is a very, very creative and unique person. It was wonderful and she did it because she was really trying to get a message about the importance of seal to aboriginal people."
Fennell described the process as difficult, because sealskin is very slippery to sew, and is a lengthy process from the idea to the finished product.
"You have to be very vigilant and become one with the seal," she said. "I'm trying to make it an artful venture. And I hope that people will be inspired by this art and give new life to the seal instead of killing its spirit."
In addition to her now-famous snap-on sealskin cuffs, she also makes purses and headbands.
Fennell is currently at the Interstellar Rodeo in Edmonton selling her sealskin accessories at a market organized by Six Shooter Records — Tanya Tagaq's record label. She also sells them online.