The Moon Is Our Grandmother
13 Metis Moon Shawls
This workshop and exhibition was curated by artists Leah Dorion, Bonny Johnson, and Mann Art Gallery Educator Lana Wilson. Over the course of six weeks in summer 2023, eleven workshop artists were guided by Elder Elsie Sanderson, Leah and Bonny as they each created a Moon Shawl using personal and traditional Metis symbolism - one for each of the thirteen full moons in the lunar cycle. The artists had a budget for supplies, and attended Tuesday afternoon and evening workshop sessions for six weeks. Their artworks - meant to be worn, or created as art objects, according to each woman's intention - came together for this exhibition at the Mann Art Gallery, displayed from November 2023 to January 20, 2024. The artists were also mentored in creating artist statements, and photographed proudly wearing their shawls.
We Come from the Stars
The Full Wolf Grandmother Moon
In January we see crisp, clear skies, and the constellations bright in the night sky.
My material represents those skies with twinkling glitter. The colours in the main fabric of the shawl resemble the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis), and represent our Ancestors dancing in the Spirit World. The fabric for the moons and the wolves is a contrast to the brightness of the winter sky and recalls the long nights of winter. Eyelet lace is for the snow that blankets Mother Earth as she rests, and was also chosen to represent the French and English parts of my Métis heritage.
In making this shawl I learned that there will be mistakes, and in making these, there will be moments of clarity in which your design changes and becomes even better. I am so honoured to have been chosen to participate in this project. It really allowed me to reflect on my Métis heritage and connect with other strong and beautiful Métis women. I give thanks to each of them, for this truly was a beautiful group effort.
This shawl represents the Second Moon and my kinship to the wind. As a child, I spent a lot of time outside. When I was a called inside on a windy day, I would feel like I couldn’t breathe. I always felt better when I could be out in the wind.
I respect the many ‘faces’ of the wind. We have all felt its gentle kiss on a spring morning, the relief it brings on a hot summer day, and its cruel bite on a January evening. No matter which face it is showing, the wind is my relation. The wind whispers wisdom when I take the time to listen. When I listen to the wind, I hear the voice of Creator and those who have gone on before. Maybe you will, too.
This triangular shawl reminds me of the shawls I have seen women wear in historical photos. I love the connection it brings to me. I feel a hug when I wear it. I have chosen flannel as my base because of its coziness. Grey is the colour I associate with February. The clouds and wind are blue, white and grey. When I look at the sky, I will see at least one of these colours. I have used fabric with different textures and designs to show variety in the ways the wind can feel. In my wind, there are eight hearts made of abalone shell. There is one heart for each of my children and their partners. There are also amethyst gems representing each of my six grandchildren. These are my closest kin and it is fitting that they are incorporated into the wind that I have created.
The ribbons not only represent my hair, but also the Wabanasin, or offerings, that we bring to ceremony. Our hair is sacred and when we wear it long, we are honoring our first Mother, the Earth. The ribbons are tangled near my head to show my tangled thoughts, or confusion. As the wind blows, they become free. Underneath the figure, I placed a forest at the bottom point of my shawl. When I walk in the bush, my heart feels at home. As the wind untangles my mind, the bush provides a healing hug. Finally, the shawl is surrounded by a hide fringe. It shimmers when it moves, reflecting the movement that wind brings.
I chose to use beadwork and embroidery because both of these practices need to be done by hand, not machine. It is important to take time to find peace when creating. In this peaceful state we can hear the Creator’s voice guiding us, just like the wind. Working by hand affords me the opportunity to truly put love into every stitch.
I Carry You In My Heart
This shawl is hand sewn with traditional Métis style beading using glass Czech seed beads, velvet ribbon, and custom quilting cotton; sewn on a manufactured HBC blanket.
I created the Heart Moon Shawl to honour my Grandmothers. I am represented by the middle heart flower and each of my grandmothers are the hearts above me.
The third moon, to me, is a heart moon, a time of transitioning. The ground is covered in snow, but we move back and forth between periods of melting and refreezing. We long to see the exposed earth. It is a tender time, transitioning into a new season; we need warmth. The use of threes in my design work has always been important to me. I find balance and therefore comfort to the eye when using groups of three.
I used a modern Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) striped blanket, paying homage to the historical and traditional HBC blankets that my Métis ancestors used to make capotes, which were an integral part of life. The colours of the blanket represent the transition from snow covered land to the earth being exposed. A modern version was selected versus the traditional blanket to indicate modern times. 2023 seems to be a healing year for so many of us.
Through my beadwork, I explore the traditional scrolling floral patterns of the French Michif people of my community. I am inspired by historical beadwork, which was typically designed with reflection symmetry, where everything is mirrored around a central axis.
I looked at how this compares to balance in nature. Flowers that are incorporated into beadwork designs are ‘imperfectly” balanced. The pattern has equal visual weight, and although not a perfect reflection, everything stills works together just as well.
Beadwork takes patience and it takes work, it cannot be rushed. In March there is work to do, there is preparation for spring and thinking about what spring will bring. A transition time can be a difficult or uncertain time. My Grandmothers worked hard. Love, laughter, and teasing, were a part of daily life. I chose the playful colours of bright reds, pinks, yellow and blue to reflect joy and lightheartedness.
The lining of the shawl is completed using a traditional scrap quilting method. I incorporated vibrant red hearts in the centre of the pattern. I used pieces of custom cotton fabric from my own work as a fashion designer, the fabrics have my own beadwork printed onto the material so the fabric is deeply personal to me. The quilted lining represents wrapping myself Grandmothers’ love.
This shawl reminds me that even during times of difficulty, such as times of transition, I carry my grandmothers in my heart. They are always with me. I hope this shawl reminds you to be gentle with your heart. Take time to reflect, time to seek comfort when you need it. We are on a path of healing.
Patience - Aen malaad
I chose the fourth, or April, moon for my shawl. I chose this moon because some of the most life-altering things have happened to me in April. This month became extremely special to me when my son was born. Becoming a first-time mom taught me many things, including patience, so this is what I named my shawl. Aen malaad is Michif for patience.
I have never truly appreciated this spring month. In Saskatchewan there is always that one final dump of snow which delays the springtime. During this month I learned that things need to
come in their own time, and that Creator never does anything without purpose. The April moon signifies new beginnings or the time for cleansing. Names I have heard for this moon are Pink Moon or Sucker Fish Moon.
I really wanted to work with silk for this shawl. There are three reasons I chose white silk. It symbolizes cleansing and new beginnings. It represents the final sprinkle of snow we get at this time of year in Saskatchewan, before Mother Earth starts to blossom. Finally, silk carries on the fabric traditions of Métis women’s shawls.
I used a pink silk turtle to signify the Pink Moon.
I chose the turtle because Turtle Island and the moons are synchronized with one another. The button moon in the center of the turtle’s back uses silver and white buttons to create a dimpled, crater effect, like the moon’s surface. I outlined my turtle with beads, as beading was the first thing I can remember doing when I was first learning about my Métis culture.
The bead colours are yellow, to represent the moon; white for the snow; black and grey for the hard times; and white/clear/silver for cleansing and new beginnings. To incorporate Sucker Fish imagery, I used green ribbon and iridescent rickrack on the shawl’s front. I chose a variety of blue rickrack layered atop one another to signify water with a rippled effect. The flying ribbons in the same blue are placed close to the turtle’s body to show that they are connected, and holistically, one needs the other.
One of the many things I learned during this project was how much time and patience my ancestors needed to work with silk.
Silk is such a fine material to work with. No matter how much pinning you do, when you are about to sew, things move. I also learned that when you gather thirteen women to create with culture, you gain more than knowledge - you gain a sense of belonging and an understanding of who we are as people. I learned that no matter how out of place you feel, this is where you are meant to be. These are your relatives. Working in such a creative space has been so warming and inviting. I have learned so much about sewing, fabric, and the skills and techniques Métis women have practiced to create such beautiful works of art. I was able to bounce ideas off of my mother, grandmother, and the wonderful women I met during this workshop. I am so very thankful I was able to be a part of this project.
I will try to make more Moon Shawls to perfect my techniques and learn more about my creative side. Aen malaad, patience, is something you can never have enough of. I am glad I was able to gain more while creating this work of art.
The Darkest Moon
This shawl represents the May moon, which in my family is the colour black – a colour that I have been so deeply connected to ever since I was little. My name is Black Stone Woman and I chose this moon to represent myself and how far I have come as a young Métis girl.
I chose to use only three symbols: the full, half, and crescent moons. This, to me, is a way of showing how I got to where I am and where I’m going. The crescent is to show how I was just starting to grow, how not much of me is quite alive yet. The half moon shows that I'm getting there, how I'm learning more about myself and am finding my worth. The full moon represents a place that I am not quite at yet, but a place where one day I might be – a place where I have found myself and have learned what it means to be myself.
Making this shawl has taught me so much about what it means to be one with the moon and my culture, as well as becoming one with the women around me. I have seen the difference in all walks of life, ages, and backgrounds, just by sewing a shawl. I have learned not only how to sew with a machine, but how to express myself through creating.
These pieces of fabric have brought me closer to myself, my culture, and the women around me. One day I hope to pay it forward and educate the younger community on how to create like we have done over these past few weeks.
Tansi, my name is Harmony. I am honoured to be one of the selected artists for this project. My shawl represents the June Moon, and incorporates many teachings related to this month.
In my woodland Cree tradition, it is called the Egg Laying Moon, as it is the season we see and harvest duck eggs. June is representative of so much new growth and vegetation, like wild strawberries. They are the first berries to be picked in the summer, usually in June. I feel that I relate more to the teachings and
stories of the Strawberry Moon. Strawberries are known as the woman’s berry and are represented as hearts in traditional beadwork. I have a pair of moccasins my grandmother made for me when I was a little girl. I clearly recall numerous people mentioning how appropriate the design was – two heart berries for a little girl. This shawl is dedicated to those moccasins and to my grandmother, who had a very large impact on my life.
My shawl is composed of many design elements: the moons, heart berries, roots, and the vibrant colours of a sunset in the middle. The orange-pink circle in the middle suggests two things - a strawberry-coloured full moon, and the colour of the midnight sun. June is also the month of the solstice, the longest day of the year. I wanted to honour that sunlight, as well as the Midsummer traditions and celebrations of my Swedish grandfather.
I was very particular about the colours I chose, as it was important to me to have them flow, compliment, and contrast each other. I love working with colour, as it has the power to give a piece spirit and energy. The fringe is an example of that - I felt it was important that the fringe had all the colours from sky to earth. I needed to show how it is all connected, like when you look out at a prairie sunset. It was also important to me to have the fringe long and moving. The sky and the earth are not stagnant. I want the viewer to look at the whole piece, not just the imagery on the back. I want your eyes to move around, to look up and down and be grounded in the root. To feel how solid, and free, both the shawl and the season are.
The fringe is hand cut and sewn together with masking tape and a sewing machine. I believe I cut 370 strands 32-38 inches long. I did not stick to a strict measurement on the fringe, or with anything on the shawl. I wanted it to be as raw and organic as possible. It is almost entirely hand sewn, cut, and embroidered. This was important for me because as I worked on it, I was able to put my love, thoughts, and spirit into every stitch. I was intentional in the energy I wanted it to have.
I wanted it to be vibrant, full of good energy, joy, laughter, love, and celebration. I wanted it to give as much love as it will receive. When I hand sew or create anything, I see it as a form of prayer. This art carries all of my good intentions.
Leah Marie Dorion
The Seventh Moon Shawl
This Seventh Moon Shawl is my own personal representation of my deep love for this summertime moon cycle, which typically falls in the month of July. This is the first month after the summer solstice so it’s a moon of growth and action. Since July is sunny and bright I choose a bright floral Métis style yellow fabric which represents the abundant light emanated from grandfather sun at this time.
I must admit, I am a sun lover, so I often overlook the power of the moon in my life. This project really helped me connect in a bold way with the softer light of the moon to create the balance of the sacred feminine
growth process. I designed a large yellow moon on the back of the shawl with seven smaller moons to show the seventh moon in the greater lunar cycle. Above the large yellow moon focal point are three smaller moons. These three moons represent myself, my male energy, and my female energy, because this is the moon where I have to consciously ensure that my male and female sides stay in balance. I find that July is such an outwardly busy time with gardening, summer activities, socializing, and medicine picking, so I must remember to nurture my feminine side during this month especially since the daylight is so long and I want to keep my outward energy versus an inward focus.
Wrapped in Strength, Rooted in Love
I learned something on the first day of gathering to make my shawl that shaped the way I approached this project. Bonny spoke of Métis women standing and wrapping themselves in their shawl as a silent signal for others to listen; a gesture that said I have something important to say. I carried this concept with me in creating my shawl. My shawl is a reflection of my journey so far and what has shaped me in my life. Sharing my art in this way is a reminder that my story is beautiful and flawed and it deserves to be heard.
I grew up connected to nature and this connection has shaped me into the person I am today. The August Moon is a reminder of interconnectedness; to enjoy and to honour the gifts of Mother Earth. The August Moon chose me because I always find myself looking to Mother Earth when I’m lacking in other areas. My physical journey on this earth is represented in my shawl through the pearl border. The mouse tracks are footsteps along a bumpy, crooked, imperfect path. The plants, which are memories and lessons and stories, stretch up from the path and grow with me as I grow into them.
My family is one of the most important parts of my identity. They are represented through the elements of culture, a visual representation of the values, traditions, and love passed down from one generation to the next. My family is also represented through the individual stories that each beaded plant carries for me. Specific people and memories or lessons were stitched into each bead lain. The support and unconditional love my family shows me is a continuing light on my path.
Sage and Sweetgrass are growing amongst the other native plants. The ceremonial medicines and plants beaded onto a black background mirroring themselves are meant to replicate the beadwork that inspires Métis pointillism. My art is inspired by my culture and uses nature to tell a story, just as my Métis ancestors did. The black fabric is draped over a babushka or a Kokum scarf, depending on who you ask. The story of the scarf speaks to me as the two cultures that have shaped me are represented through it. The shared history of beadwork, embroidery, and floral patterns is my history.
Being able to sit week after week with a beautiful group of women and feel a sense of community has been an overwhelming blessing. As my needle mindlessly tacked on the moon shapes, I was able to listen intently to the stories of the grandmothers that the women around me carry with love. I could reflect on the women in my lineage and feel their strength around me with each stitch.
Opportunities for creativity are also opportunities to find myself and my voice. In creating a visual representation of myself and the things I hold dear as they relate to the August Moon, I was able to reflect on who I am and what that means to me. There is a reason for everything, and this project provided me with many lessons. Beadwork is one big lesson in patience and embracing imperfections which I reflected on often throughout the creation of my shawl. Using a sewing machine turned into a lesson in trusting myself and my abilities. Leah encouraging a “bigger is better,” shamelessly extravagant attitude through prints on fabrics and sequins in stitching translated to lessons in goal setting in my own life. Making my shawl also provided me with an opportunity for self-reflection. I can look back on the most important aspects of my journey, and am able to look ahead to see what I need and where opportunities like this can take me.
On This Harvest Moon
September has always been my favorite month: bountiful harvests, first days of school, and changing landscape colours. This year, the ninth full moon occurs on September 29, which is also my birthday. I came to this project with many years of sewing experience; however, creating this shawl, sewing appliques, and beading have all been new experiences. My spiritual grandmothers – those strong presences in my life – have been with me all along, guiding and sometimes nudging me to choose certain techniques, fabrics, or methods.
The fabric I chose for the appliqued moon is a cotton called “Watercolour Orange.” I chose this fabric because it aptly portrays the colour of the September moon, while at the same time expressing my gratitude to Grandmother Moon, who inspires my watercolour
painting and other artistic endeavors.
Although my experience with beadwork is limited, I was intuitively guided to encircle the moon in gold beads and to bead a turtle rattle, representing one that I was gifted a few years ago. I’ve been learning how turtle is a timekeeper with thirteen scutes on its shell, like the thirteen Grandmother Moons of the lunar cycle. Thanks to my daughter who came over with supplies, gave me a crash course in beading, and helped me design the turtle rattle.
To represent the changing leaves, I found cotton printed with fall leaves that I made into nine circular appliques. The autumn leaves teach me about change and Creation’s never-ending cycles. The soft, muted colours of this fabric, along with the ribbon colours, represent fall’s gentle nature when all of Creation is preparing for and being lulled into the winter season. I remember one Harvest Moon when I heard my Grandma MacLeod’s voice. She said, “Rest my girl, rest.”
The purpose of the appliqued feminine forms is three-fold: they represent my spiritual grandmothers, my Métis grandmothers, and my Cree, Assiniboine, Sarcee, and Salteaux grandmothers. I am the grandmother dressed in brown; my Spirit name is Aski Iskwew (Earth Woman). I have six grandchildren and as I beaded around the moon in sections of six beads, I thought of them.
The ribbons are meaningful as well as decorative. The gold represents fields of grain that are ready to harvest. The blue represents water and reminds me that it is my responsibility to take care of the water. The blue also represents the South Saskatchewan River which flows through Saskatoon. The brown reminds me of my personal connection to Mother Earth; she nurtures and keeps me grounded. The cotton grandmother print, shaped into ribbon, was not planned, but my spiritual grandmothers insisted. I love how this cloth that I’ve had for years added so much to my shawl, while at the same time honouring all my grandmothers. The green-gold ribbon and fringe represents the prairie grasses that sway in the autumn breezes.
As the Harvest Moon rises, I envision myself on the river bank where the golden grasses grow. I’m holding my turtle rattle toward Grandmother Moon and her brilliant reflection, and in the presence of my grandmothers, I celebrate my birthday, my femininity, and my Métis identity.
Beauty in Death
October marks the month when the flowers, grass, and leaves start to die. It’s time to prepare for the cold winter of rest and reflection. It also marks the month that my daughter lost her dad. Our lives tragically changed with many unanswered questions. My strength was pushed to its limits.
Seven months earlier I was visited by a snowy owl. I knew in my heart the owl was warning me that something big and life changing was going to happen. The night of his death I was at a gathering and people were talking about encounters with owls. I shared about my encounter and how I felt that the message was dark. That very night, after the gathering, the police woke us up to inform us that Yasmin’s dad had died.
The synchronicity that October was my moon came loud and clear the day I attended the moon shawl orientation. Unsure which month to pick, I tuned into my inner guide. Leah Dorion made a comment about listening when Snowy Owl brings a message. I knew in my gut that October was my month. That night I went home and opened up You Are the Medicine by Asha Frost. The animal and story representing October was the Buffalo and “Buffalo Finds Beauty in Death.” My daughter’s dad’s tragic death, the Snowy Owl with his warnings, and the Buffalo’s beautiful message are main themes in my shawl.
This shawl represents healing. Everything is void of colour but the purple ribbon. Purple is a healing colour and it’s the colour of receiving. I wanted this shawl to be dark and beautiful. The big full moon and the bare trees give an eerie but glorious feeling. The stark trees hug the moon and the wearer of the shawl. The Buffalo and Owl meet on the front, both messengers meeting to bring warning and a message of strength. The black beaded rose broach represents my grandmother, who I am name after. I purposely beaded it black to represent death. The shawl is made of heavy grey fabric. The scene is set on a grey backdrop to keep the tone dark and muted. The fabric is heavy and doubled up because in Saskatchewan fall is cold and the shawl’s story is chilling. The fabric represents warmth in both the season and the meaning.
I wanted to keep the shawl simple, but still learned lessons of resilience making it. The trees and animals were done using a Cricut. It took a couple hours and a lot of fabric to make the trees. I was determined to keep the tree pattern but the process was difficult. Just like the theme of the shawl, I kept going until I was finally able to make them work. Applying ribbon to stretchy fabric was also a huge lesson in patience.
The name of my shawl comes from the story “Buffalo Finds Beauty in Death.” Asha Frost, the writer of You Are the Medicine, graciously gave me permission to use the Buffalo theme, and I wanted to honour her with my shawl. I picked the name not because anything beautiful came from the experience, but because great strength and lessons came from it.
Playing with Sorrow
I chose the month of November because this is one of the more difficult months of the year for me. I suffer from seasonal depression, and this is the month I feel it begin to creep up on me. Depression can be very powerful but often ugly; I wanted to turn mine into something beautiful.
The November Moon is known as the Frost Moon, so I replicated the frosty feeling with a fabric that has a slight fray to it, emulating the frosty ring often seen around the moon indicating snow is on the way. They are “reverse” moons due to how backwards I sometimes feel in my darker days, but also a reminder that there can be a lot of light. The fabric I chose for the outer shell is meant to represent the dusky November evening, the snow which is usually falling by now, and a darker representation of the feelings I get that come with the snow. By wonderful coincidence, it happens to be my favorite shade of purple…like I was guided towards it when shopping for this project. The iridescent ribbon and white pockets represent the snow. I added random sparkles to represent both stars and snowflakes twinkling in the dusky night, both of which always make me feel happy and joyous. The fabric on the inside represents the cozy flannel sheets I put on my bed when the snow begins to fly, which is a soothing and safe place for me.
I am the quintessential “cat lady,” having had a strong connection to cats since before I learned to crawl. Throughout my entire life, my feline friends have always kept me grounded with their purrs, warmth, and playful antics. I have represented my cats with velvet soft as fur. The cats themselves are black to symbolize how they seem to take my depression away, and turn sorrow into playtime.
I am very excited and proud to have finished this piece. I hadn’t touched a sewing machine in 33 years, and it seemed daunting to me at first. I am also very proud and honored to be chosen to be in this project alongside so many strong, powerful, and extremely talented women!
Healing Moon Woman
This moon shawl explores the relationship between women and the moon. I chose this design as a representation of my journey with spirituality, moon teachings and the healing that accompanied me as I embarked on this journey.
The woman holding up the moon was inspired by my auntie Leah Dorion and my mother Angela Sinclair. The woman represents feminine spirits and their connection with the moon cycles. The flowers blooming in the moon represent growth and healing as I continue on my journey. The green ribbons at the bottom of the shawl represent mother earth and the healing she offers. I also chose to incorporate hearts as pockets to represent how love can influence an individual's healing journey.
Prior to this workshop, I had never sewn before. This was a valued learning experience for me as I learned a variety of methods such as applique, hand stitching and embroidery.
I am very thankful for the opportunity and experience that accompanied me in this workshop. I hope to apply the knowledge I learned to future projects.
When we began this project, we were asked to choose the moon that we wanted to represent. I instantly knew I wanted to represent the thirteenth moon. The thirteenth moon is rare and only comes around every three years or so. This year the thirteenth moon is in August, and is also called the blue super moon. This moon represents new beginnings; with that knowledge, I realized exactly how I wanted the shawl to look.
I chose blue fabric to represent the blue moon, with stars for the sky. The back of my shawl has three pregnant women, representing Grandmother Moon, Mother Earth, and a woman that represents all women. This is based on a picture I drew while I was pregnant with my first son. I have had it for 29 years, and just before this project started, I found it again. It was as if it has been waiting all these years for me to create this shawl. In the womb of the woman is a yellow circle, which is the color of the east and
the infancy stage of life. In the center of that womb, I placed the gemstones of my three sons. I used the colors of the four directions for the three women: Grandmother Moon is white, and Mother Earth is red, which represents the west and adulthood. Mother Earth is older than we are, which is why I used red rather than green. I chose green to represent us - the color of the south and adolescence. I decorated the front panels of my shawl with the other twelve moons. The white fabric of these moons and the Grandmother on the back has shading resembling the moon’s craters.
The design, in its totality, is how I envision the thirteenth moon - each woman pregnant and giving life to the others. As women we are connected to the moon and the earth. We follow the moon’s timing, and just like Mother Earth sustains and gives us life, so do we for the children we carry in our womb.
The making of this shawl was a labor of love from start to finish. It took a great deal of time and changed as I was creating it. My shawl is not perfect. I made mistakes. I meditated while sewing all the beads and sequins I placed in each woman’s hair. I am proud of my creation, and I hope that you will enjoy looking at it as much as I enjoyed making it.