Evelyn Gull sits behind her workbench in Waswanipi,Que., and snips a fringe on the sleeve of a small deerhide shirt.
The garment is for a little girl in the community who will be soon participating in a traditional Cree walking-out ceremony.
The front of the shirt is adorned with ribbons, rabbit fur and beadwork.
Gull wears rubber sleeves over two of her fingers to better grip the needle. She is one of the best beaders in Waswanipi, the Cree community 800 kilometres due north of Montreal.
Each day, she spends hours in her craft room making everything from earrings to bracelets to moccasins.
“When I get up in the morning, right away I come into this room and have a coffee, and bead. And before I go to bed this is where I am, in this room,” said Gull.
Her favourite items to make are earrings and baby moccasins.
Some projects are special orders; others, she sells at the friendship centre in Chibougamau, the Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute in Oujé-Bougoumou, or on community Facebook pages.
Inspired by her mother and sisters, Gull began beading when she was a teenager.
Two of her four sisters, Dorothy and Helen, were especially talented beaders and seamstresses, Gull says.
Both died of cancer in the past two years, and photographs of them hang next to her workspace. She sometimes looks at the photos as she beads, Gull said.
In those moments, “I think they are near,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion.
The room is packed with materials: hundreds of packets of beads are arranged by colour and size in bins and on a table. Fabric is folded and stacked in a closet, and strings of rhinestones hang on the wall behind her desk.
Gull pulls out two bags of brand new materials and dumps them onto the table.
These have been in her stash for more than a year.