Parka Project by Bonnie Scheele

Grantee: Bunnell Street Arts Center, Story by Bonnie Scheele

I am the recipient of mentorship funds to learn how to create a parka. Bobby Itta and I applied for the mentorship program through Bunnell Street Art Center. Our project was for Bobby to teach me how to make a traditional parka. We are both Inupiaq, Bobby is from Utqiagviq and I am from Sitnasuaq. We have found that we may be cousins from Shishmaref from my Aaka on my Dad’s side.

My Mom learned to bead, sew atikluk, and make parkas from my Aaka. Mom held this knowledge to pass on to my sister and I. By the time I was old enough to learn the skin sewing skills, Mom had become allergic to the hides. My Aaka was too elderly at that point to teach. My Mom passed on all the other skills.

I met Bobby in Anchorage where our children attended school together. We soon learned of our family connection but more importantly we were both fascinated by each other’s learned skills. She had learned skin sewing at a very young age from the members of her family. My Mom had learned traditional tanning skills. Bobby and I were super enthused to realize we had skills to teach each other. 

Being participants in this grant has enabled Bobby to pass on knowledge of parka making to me. During the course of this grant time frame both of my parents passed away. Because of this some of our teaching time had to be delayed as I worked with grief and inherited our family business which is reindeer. My family has been herding reindeer since the 1960’s on the Seward Peninsula.

I have been making clothes for my family for quite a few years and was eager to fill in the gaps with Bobby’s knowledge. Bobby showed me to make a parka pattern from a coat I already had on hand. Once we started we adjusted the pattern to the u shape. This is because I wanted to make a riding jacket for when I go out and look for reindeer. Once the pattern was adjusted and fitted, Bobby showed me how to select, measure, and stretch hides for the fur portion of the parka. I am ever so grateful to learn this technique. She also showed me how to measure and select a zipper for the parka. I have always wanted to sew a zipper but was intimidated by the process. Once the zipper was sewn on, I was relieved to have done the process.
Bobby then helped me to place the fur on the parka.

Since my Mom has passed, I wanted to honor her memory because of her amazing sewing and crafting skills. Mom had made reindeer leather and it was at our ranch in Nome. When I came to Nome to take over the reindeer, it was essential to me to include the reindeer leather Mom made to this parka. Over the phone, Bobby and I kept track of this progress. We applied some of the techniques of the fur to the reindeer leather to measure, cut, and stretch the hide. I excitedly and nervously sewed the 2 1/2-3” leather as a band at the bust of the parka. With Bobby’s help and expertise, we successfully attached the leather to the parka.

I am already thinking of ideas to make myself, my husband, and my children parkas. I’m ever so thankful and grateful for this mentorship, Bobby’s patience and understanding, and the time to complete my parka.

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