Alaska Native/Indigenous People, Athabascan in the Spotlight

Blanche Sam – Athabascan & Iñupiaq Beader

Blanche Sam and her daughter, Harper. Photo by Nadine Carroll

My niece, Blanche Sam (Athabascan/Iñupiaq) of Hughes, has really come into her own in the past couple of years with her beadwork, and I hadto interview her. I love her colorful earrings and creativity with using materials, like dentalium shells and hide. Enaa baasee’ Blanche for agreeing to share your beading journey on the Athabascan Woman Blog!

Blanche Sam and her family. Photo by Nadine Carroll

Blanche’s parents are Lester and Ella Sam of Hughes. Her paternal grandparents were the late Frank Sam, Elma (Nictune) Sam and biological (Blanche Henry); and maternal grandparents are the late Arthur Ambrose and Alice (Simon) Ambrose. Blanche now lives in Fairbanks with her own family, including Zeb Cadzow, and children Dakota and Harper Cadzow. She earned an associate degree in accounting from at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and currently works for her village corporation, K’oyitl’ots’ina, Limited.

“My mom and grandmothers did it and were so good at it and it is a big part of our culture as Alaska Natives.” – Blanche Sam (Koyukon Athabascan/Iñupiaq)

Blanche Sam sewed calf skin boots and a martin hat for her daughter. Photo by Blanche Sam

Blanche learned to bead in elementary school from her grandmothers and aunt. Some of her first memories of beading and sewing were in school. Blanche remembers her grandmothers and aunt receiving a grant to get furs, hide, beads and other supplies. She learned to sew calf skin boots with help from her grandmothers, Alice and Rita. Her aunt, Hazel, was the first one to teach her how to bead earrings with a basic pattern with bugle beads.

Beaded earrings by Blanche Sam

After buying several pairs of earrings in 2016, she thought, ‘I should just make my own.’ She began making her own jewelry and connected with it. Now when she’s not busy with her kids, you can find her at her beading table. She invested in supplies and challenged herself with some ambitions first projects. She has learned a lot and improved since the beginning. I’ve loved watching the progression of her styles and themes as she has shared them on social media.

Brilliant Beads by Blanche booth. Photo by Blanche Sam

Blanche stared sharing pictures of her earrings on social media and people were interested and started ordering from her. She found a higher demand once she started an online presence as Brilliant Beads by Blanche. After creating a small business, she started selling more, created a logo, ordered business cards, and learned to take better photos of her work. Although making extra money is nice, she appreciates the therapeutic nature of beading and how it connects her to her culture giving her a sense of purpose. Blanche says, “It allowed me to relax, escape and filled me with purpose.”

Blanche’s Advice for Beaders Who Want to Create a Small Business

  • Find and perfect a niche.
  • Having booths at bazaars is a great way to get known and get the word out about your product.
  • Create an online presence. Her online presence has especially helped increase her sales at bazaars.
  • Learn to take good photographs of your work in natural light.
  • Search for ideas on Pinterest for inspiration and help with your creations. It is also a great place to get ideas for creating an eye catching and inviting booth.

Overall, Blanche says, “Do not give up if you make mistakes. I made a lot and learned from each one of them.” She sells about 60-80 pairs for each bazaar she attends. It is impressive to see how she has grown in her beading journey and how she has come close to selling out at her last bazaars. Way to go, Blanche!

You can find Blanche Sam of Brilliant Beads by Blanche on TwitterInstagram and Facebook.

Alaska Native culture

Beading and Sewing Stations

It’s no secret I love beading. I love beading slippers/moccasins the most. Since last November, I beaded over 52 pairs on my free time on the evenings and weekends. It’s fun, therapeutic, healing, challenging and relaxing. I asked friends on Facebook recently to share photos in a “photo comment hello”, and some shared their beading and sewing projects and work stations. I love seeing people’s projects and how they set up their work area! I’ll share a few. Enaa baasee’ for friends and relatives for sharing!

Here’s what I’m working on today. I’m beading a pair of slippers for a friend’s daughter who is celebrating her 8th birthday.

This is my cousin, Wanda Moses of Fairbanks & Galena, and she makes summer parkas, aka bets’eh hoolaanee or kuspuks. I love seeing her latest designs. Photo courtesy of Wanda Moses.

My aunt, Gladys Derendoff of Huslia, enjoys beading. I love her creativity and her beadwork reminds me of my late Grandma Lydia Simon’s work. Photo by Gladys Derendoff.

My mother, Eleanor Yatlin of Huslia, is finishing up this beautiful quilt for my daughter. I love seeing her latest blankets. She has an eye for colors and matching fabric. Photo by Eleanor Yatlin.

My aunt, Dorothy Yatlin of Huslia, shared her workspace and her latest beading projects. I love seeing other people’s color choices! Photo by Dorothy Yatlin.

My aunt Dorothy Yatlin also makes fur hats. I love this purple color. They are the perfect hat for cold winters in interior Alaska. Photo by Dorothy Yatlin.

My cousin, Thelma Nicholai of Hughes, shared her beadwork. I love how she’s using white to outline her work. I will have to try white some time. Photo by Thelma Nicholai.

Janet Antone is hosting the @indigenousbeads Twitter account this week. She is Iroquois from Oneida Nation in Canada. She was catching up on American Horror Story and beading. Photo courtesy of Ms. Antone’s Beadwork.

Thank you everyone for sharing!

Alaska Native culture

Making Beaded Slippers

Beaded slippers by Angela Gonzalez

I’ve been at it again. I have been beading and sewing like a madwoman for the past month! I don’t sell my slippers, but do make them as gifts for family and friends. I have enjoyed designing them, picking out colors.

I buy the slippers and sew the beadwork and fur trim. I went shopping on Black Friday specifically for slippers. It takes me approximately 2-7 days to finish a pair. I work full-time, so I  bead and sew in the evenings and weekends.

Beaded slippers by Angela Gonzalez

I donated a pair for an Alaska Native art auction, but have mostly been sewing for my nieces and friends. It is my new hobby and maybe an obsession. 🙂 I will likely slow down and after the holidays. It feels great to be making handmade gifts.

Beaded slippers by Angela Gonzalez

I usually ask what are people’s favorite colors to make it specifically for that person. My niece is a basketball player, so I made a basketball themed pair of slippers. Another person loves picking blueberries, so I made him a pair with that theme. Check out the latest slippers I have been beading in this Facebook album:  beaded slippers.

Over the years, my family has gifted me with moose skin hide, beaver fur, beads, thread and wax. I shop at local craft stores in Anchorage to get the supplies I need.

I have learned a lot about beading, sewing and working with hides and furs. I have made mistakes along the way, but learned how to fix them. I have learned fixing your mistakes and problem solving is a part of the process.

I shared some instructions and a video a couple years ago. How to Bead Moose Skin Slipper Tops:  http://athabascanwoman.com/?p=2348.

Overall, I’ve learned a lot and it has been fun! I may make glove tops to sew onto gloves for my nephews. That will be my next project. Happy Holidays!