Peggy Anderson's handmade seal skin mittens. (Courtesy of Peggy Anderson)

Why the Labrador Winter Games is a draw for female designers


March 22, 2019

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Women across Labrador have converged on Happy Valley-Goose Bay for reasons just as important as sport at the Labrador Winter Games.

The Labrador Winter Games Cultural Pavilion is holding classes this week for clothing designers, many of whom own and operate their own businesses stretched across the four corners of the Big Land.

"I started sewing with my mom and my grandmother when I was about 10. So it's been a few years," said Sandra Rideout, who lives in the Happy Valley-Goose Bay area and owns Sandra's Sewing.

Rideout's designs and products use materials including seal skin, wolf fur, fox fur, leather, beaver and rabbit, among others, which are either locally sourced or ordered from out of town.

Rideout works full time with the Canadian Armed Forces, but has turned her sewing hobby into a side business.

"[It] reminds me of my mom, who is now 80, and my grandmother, who has passed on," she said.

"You get a little tear in your eye knowing Gram would be proud."

Authentic clothing

Peggy Anderson is a designer from Nain who made the trip south to attend the creative design classes.

Anderson, who was taught by her mother and other women throughout Labrador, began her life in textiles 11 years ago by making clothes for her family. Over time, interest in her work grew and people wanted to purchase her designs.

Anderson's work has been available at The Rooms, and she ships some of her creations to sell through the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador, and other pieces have found their way into galleries in Winnipeg, Nova Scotia, Regina and Windsor.

"Each piece is authentic, different from the next. If I do them all the same it takes the love out," she said.

"I had six kids, who are all grown up now. At first it was work, making things for them, but now it's become a passion. [I'm] very passionate about making any craft, really."

A way to relax

April Williams has a different reason for being at the winter games and taking in the design workshops and seminars.

Williams is the owner of Sew Crazy, her business which burned down in the strip mall fire in Happy Valley-Goose Bay only weeks ago, and the only seamstress in town.

The fire destroyed 25 years of work and about $30,000 in equipment, Williams said. She also lost her father's clothing, which she planned to use to make a memorial quilt.

"How do you pick up the pieces and where do you even start? I went the other day and bought a ruler. I had about 14 rulers when it burned down. So I started there," Williams said.

"Today is a distraction. Crafting and sewing is meditative and makes me feel good and occupies me — and I need that right now."

Double effort

The winter games provided a great opportunity to get local clothing designers together, said Rowena House, executive director of Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador.

"We wanted to get the ladies together from all the different regions, and all the different communities and we thought what a great time to do it, when all the athletes are in town," House said.

"They can not only take part in watching some of the games, but they can also take part in doing some sewing and learning some new skills."

On Saturday attendees will have their products up for sale as part of the Labrador Winter Games.