Free course trains 10 new parka-makers
Nunatsuaq News | February 20, 2023
Nunavut Arctic College’s 3-week course takes place with Qikiqtani Inuit Association funding
By Meral Jamal
Sheila Oolayou first learned how to sew as a teenager, watching her mother make parkas more than 30 years ago.
“My mother will be 88 years old this month and watching her growing up — she was always making something,” the Nunavut Arctic College sewing instructor said in an interview.
“That’s where my inspiration comes from.”
The learning wasn’t easy. Oolayou is left-handed while her mother is right-handed. It made challenging to learn even the fundamentals of sewing.
She remembers struggling with positioning her needle on the cloth.
Yet, Oolayou remembers the need to “just keep going.”
“For me, sewing is like inner peace.”
Last fall, she joined Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit as a sewing instructor.
Having gone from student to teacher so many years later, she has spent the last three weeks teaching 10 others the art of making a parka.
Oolayou was part of the team behind a free parka-making course hosted by the college with funding from the Qikiqtani Inuit Association from Jan. 24 to Feb. 9.
Last Friday, they presented the parkas made in the course as part of a “Fashion Show and Tell” at the Nunatta campus.
It was a proud moment for Oolayou, for whom the past three weeks have been “so rewarding.”
“[The students] were being faced with their own fear of using a sewing machine … and then for them to go right into it — getting them out of their comfort zone and their willingness to learn — that has been very rewarding.”
Many of the participants in the course had been wanting to learn how to make parkas for years, she added, but they simply “didn’t have anyone to teach them.”
Continuing education coordinator Jennifer Wilman said the college offers sewing courses throughout the year, but this was the first time it was free.
It was funded by the Qikiqtani Inuit Association’s grants program.
As a result, the college received more than 100 applications, which Wilman called “a little overwhelming.”
All applicants were then entered into a draw and the final participants were selected randomly.
For Wilman, the program was a success, especially because the materials and supplies used in the course were put to good use. Participants used their materials to create parkas for children, which were then donated to students with children at the college.
“We identified students living off their student aid funding, which can be pretty challenging,” she said.
Wilman and Oolayou both said they hope to see more free courses like sewing and parka-making in the city.
The college is hoping to apply for more funding from QIA in the future, Wilman added.