It's not just a fashion statement... it's an ear saver for those who wear masks often

Tara Kiwenzie is creating beautiful, beaded barrettes that also protect ears from rashes and pain caused by long-term mask use.

Beautifully beaded barrettes save ears from the pains and rashes of mask wearing

Tara Kiwenzie created beaded ear savers after hearing people complain of ear pain from mask wearing. (Submitted by Tara Kiwenzie)

Tara Kiwenzie's beaded barrettes aren't just beautiful; they're also functional, keeping ears comfortable from the pains of wearing a mask.

Kiwenzie, who is from Wikwemikong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island, Ont., usually spends her days on the powwow trail throughout the summer. But when COVID-19 cancelled powwows across the country she turned to beading to occupy her time. 

In November, she saw crocheted ear savers that take the pressure of mask bands off the ears.

Buttons on the side of the pieces serve as anchors for mask elastics. (Submitted by Tara Kiwenzie)

She said she and her husband are always joking that she should try beading different things, and when he suggested a beaded ear saver she thought that was a great idea.

"The masks aren't going anywhere," she said. "I've seen a lot of people complaining about their ears and rashes behind their ears." 

Kiwenzie played with the idea to figure out how she wanted it to look and function.

The pieces are similar to large barrettes that can be seen on powwow dancers, but they have two buttons on the sides to slide mask elastics over. 

The first one went to her sister-in-law Naomi Wolfe, who works as a midwife in Sudbury and has to wear a mask all day. 

Wolfe said that the pandemic has been difficult for midwives because they provide one-on-one care to women, sometimes for 14 hours straight, without taking off a mask. 

The barrettes are "fantastic because they actually help hold the mask in place, and it saves my ears," she said.

Wolfe, who is a member of Brunswick House First Nation near Sudbury, said that she always asks for first dibs on Kiwenzie's creations.

Kiwenzie created five additional ear savers to sell on Facebook. (Submitted by Tara Kiwenzie)

"When I'm stuck in scrubs, masks and goggles, it's nice to have a little piece of personality and culture showing through in my protective equipment," said Wolfe.

Wolfe said she also likes to include beaded jewellery or lanyards with her daily scrubs because she primarily works with Indigenous community members, and it helps show clients that they can relate to her. 

Since the ear saver she gave to Wolfe proved to be functional on the front lines, Kiwenzie decided to share five more she made on Facebook.

They all sold within four hours.

"The price I'm asking is a little bit on the higher end because it is a functional piece. It's not like a medallion that you only wear once in a while," she said.

One of the people who ordered one of the pieces also asked for matching earrings, so they have a complete set now. 

Kiwenzie said she is planning to give away one of the ear savers in her next collection to a front-line worker. 

The first piece went to Kiwenzie's sister-in-law Naomi Wolfe who is a midwife. (Submitted by Tara Kiwenzie)

"I'm just asking for people to share a quick story about a front-line worker in their life or if they are one themselves," she said.

Then she will put the names together and draw a winner. 

She said she's going to keep making them as long as people want them. 

"I'm still trying to think of a men's style, with bigger buttons and a smaller beaded piece so it's not so blingy."


Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with the Indigenous unit since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences throughout Ontario. You can reach her at and on Twitter @rhijhnsn.