Alaska Native culture

Lessons from Beading 100 Pairs of Moccasins

I did it. Since late 2016, I beaded 100 pairs of hard bottom slippers/moccasins. It has been a great learning experience, healing, connection to culture, and more. I’ve written about it a few times, but wanted to mark this occasion with a few lessons I’ve learned along the way and some interesting places it has led me to.

Here’s an album where I’ve shared some of my beadwork on the Athabascan Woman Blog Facebook page.

It’s rewarding to work on beadwork, giving them to people and to teach people how to bead/sew. I love giving the slippers and teaching others. It almost feels better giving rather than receiving. I’m sharing a gift learned from my grandma, mom and aunties.

Over the past few months, people have mentioned how they learned a certain beading or sewing technique by watching my beading tutorial videos (playlist below). A lot of people may not have had an opportunity to learn when they were younger, or they are just getting interested in learning. It is great to be a resource to people.

Seattle Seahawks is the most wanted beaded design. I’ve made 12 pairs of moccasins. This is actually the design of the 100th pair!

Moccasins are the common name, but from where I’m from we call them slippers.

I appreciate a challenge of a new design requested, but I also love having free artistic reign on a design.

I’ve taught about five beading classes. It feels so good to teach someone learning for the first time. One Elder said she was scolded as a teenager by her mom when beading. As a result, she stopped beading. It touched my heart to share with her and give her the boost she needed to try again.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I keep going and keep learning. I’ve learned a lot along the way, and I’m still learning. I appreciate being able to call upon my mom, Eleanor, or my aunt, Dorothy, with any questions. My aunt Dorothy gives advice, like using a glover size 10 needle for sewing on hide. That makes a big difference! I wish I used those from the beginning. The more I learn, the more I realize what I don’t know. I look forward to the continued learning.

Beading is healing. It helps to do something with my hands if I’m not feeling well. It helps me to be grounded and centered. Everything else in my life may be chaotic, but I find peace and quiet in when I’m beading. I also feel connected to my culture and family.

Colors make a difference. I’m thankful for my daughter, Ermelina, for giving me advice on colors on most of my slippers. She has an eye for color, and that helps to make them stand out. Here’s a pair of slippers with blue colors, outlined by black and glow in the dark beads (at right).

Ergonomics is key. Using pliers helps save my wrist, fingers and hands from being poked or repetition injuries. Working Hands hand cream repairs my dry and cracked fingers.

Beading hacks have helped carve down my beading and sewing time. On average, it takes about 6-10 hours for each pair of slippers. I must have spent about 800 hours beading and sewing over the past three years.

One of my favorite places to bead is near the Koyukuk River. I also enjoy beading with family and friends.

I’ve started collecting beads (hoarding)! LOL!

When I’m beading, I watch movies and TV shows, listen to audio books, listen to music playlists on my phone and on YouTube. I also watch YouTube and Facebook videos. I contemplate the day and think about life.

I enjoy beading humor, and have collected and reshared many memes. 🙂

I enjoy and appreciate the indigenous beading community. I am thankful to host @IndigenousBeads on Twitter occasionally. It’s great to share techniques, talk shop and connect with others. They are also a wealth of information.

I am grateful to family and friends who support my beading addiction in one way or another. I give mad props to the pro beaders who are skilled master artists. There are too many amazing artists to name, but I love following and supporting other indigenous beaders! I also want to give a shout out to the artists who use all traditional materials when making slippers.


  • “When Gonzalez beads, she feels connection to her grandmother, who taught her how to bead. It was a gift that her grandmother gave her — which inspires Gonzalez to pay it forward. She calls it ‘beading bliss’.” Tune into a story by CBC Radio’s Unreserved show.
  • “I love the healing nature of beading. It connects me to my family, ancestors and culture.” Read Kindred Post’s Artist of the Week feature.
  • Making Beaded Slippers on the Athabascan Woman Blog.
  • How to Bead Moose Skin Slippers Tops on the Athabascan Woman Blog.
  • I share a lot of my process and beadwork on Instagram: @ayatlin. I also share some of my other kinds of beadwork.

Enaa baasee’ for reading about my beading journey! I would like to do a magnet giveaway drawing for two lucky people. The 4”x5.5” magnet features a photo of “Beadwork Supplies to Get Started”. Follow the instructions below for a chance to win it.

  1. Subscribe to the Athabascan Woman Blog email. There’s place to subscribe with your email address on this page, and you will receive an email when there’s a new post. If you’re already subscribed, comment to let me know.
  2. Comment on this page – What would you add to this supply list? Or what advice do you have for new beaders?

Two winners will be drawn randomly on Saturday, December 21, 2019 at 4 pm AKST.

Enaa baasee’ for following the Athabascan Woman Blog. Good luck!

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.