Feather Dance : Journeying

Updated: Jun 14

Indigenous artist standing with her hand on her heart, holding a ceremonial drum, wearing Coast Salish woven cedar hat, welcoming participants to Feather Dance.
Rikki Kooy (Spirit Elk Woman), lead designer for Feather Dance, mentor, and storyteller.

We gathered for our second session of the "Feather Dance Textile Arts Project" on October 20, 2018. Feather Dance is an Indigenous-led, Indigenous-settler collaboration in textile arts, with a focus on storytelling, wisdom-sharing, relationship-building, and community hand work. Rikki Kooy is the Indigenous artist-designer leading the project and we are deeply grateful for her generous heart, rich stories, and very capable teaching skills.

Speaking from the heart, Rikki reminded those gathered that "This place has been prepared with purpose, and it is covered with love."

As we gathered in a circle to listen and share at the outset of the day, Jack Kooy—Rikki's husband of over 50 years—shared thoughts on the necessity of mutual respect in reconciliation. "If you want to have a true relationship, there has to be respect."

Gathering priest Melanie Calabrigo affirms Rikki's invitation to creativity and contemplation with a poem by Jan Richardson, from Circle of Grace: Beloved Is Where We Begin

After Rikki's welcome, our opening circle time, and prayers, Rikki Kooy oriented us to the stoles she prepared for the day's gathering. Earlier, she had sent some photos from her home studio, to give us a sense of the design and preparatory work she does before our time together in community. In her studio, Rikki creates the design for each piece and carefully measures and measures and bastes and stitches the stoles so that we can begin stitching and embellishing as a community when we gather.

Works in progress in Rikki's home studio. Photos by Rikki Kooy.

In her gentle storyteller way, Rikki explained the Indigenous stories and symbols behind the designs of each stole. There are common elements to each stole, in particular, every stole in the Feather Dance collection will have three signature feathers: LOVE, PURPOSE, RECONCILE. As Rikki says, "These are the action words of reconciliation."

The white stole, called JOURNEY, carries the stories of those who bore and continue to bear the pain of Residential Schools—the children taken, the families left behind, the children who died in the schools, the descendants of all who suffered the injustice of Residential Schools.

The design of the red stole—called TRANSFER OF HEALING—includes a hummingbird with its tongue extended.

"In our culture, the extended tongue means giving, transferring. Placed here, the hummingbird represents the giving and transferring of love, power, healing through reconciliation."

The purple stole will bear embellishments of ribbon and shells.

Rikki Kooy showed particular delight in the materials being used for the blue stole, noting the shimmer of the silk that will be used for the symbol/story design appliqués. "What gives this fabric a shimmer is what's on the inside... You see that shimmer as it moves."

The green stole—called LOVE'S WAITING ROOM—will be made of Chinese silk and a silk-hemp blended fabric.

These feathers (right)—carved from stone—were made especially for the Feather Dance textile arts project by Indigenous artist Myles Haase. They will adorn the green stole, LOVE'S WAITING ROOM. Thank you, Myles!

As always at St. Hildegard's Sanctuary, everything is done by invitation, not compulsion, so we ensure that there are additional active and quiet activity options for all participants at all times. For this gathering, in addition to the hand stitching and embellishment collaborative work, there were stations set up for reading, praying, quiet meditation, colouring, watercolour painting—all in keeping with our feathered themes.

Of course, of particular importance was the all-day availability of a quiet place for prayer and remembrance.

Watercolour paints, stencils, colouring, and drawing supplies.

Making use of the watercolour paints and stencils.

Arts-based contemplation takes many shapes.

A few of the books we had on hand for quiet reading.

Rikki very capably got us started on the handwork of the day, set up in two stations to allow multiple participants to contribute at the same time.

There was a station devoted to the creation of the feather embellishments designed to hang from the bottom edges of the stoles. Here, the white feathers for the JOURNEY stole.

Another table was devoted to the stitch work for the JOURNEY stole.

Participants were invited to prayerfully stitch white crosses on the stole, working them into the fabric. Each cross stitched is in memory of the children who died in Canada's residential schools.

"Some people will say, 'Oh, I don’t have the ability (to stitch),' but we can stand beside you as you do a couple of stitches. You will find that there is healing in that. You’re giving yourself something and you’re giving honour to that child."

White crosses hand stitched into the stole in remembrance and in hope for healing.

White crosses hand stitched into the stole in remembrance and in hope for healing.

Handstitching one of the three theme words that will appear on each stole: LOVE, JOURNEY, PUPOSE.

Selecting abalone buttons for embellishments.

There was also the task of carefully selecting just the right abalone buttons for the hummingbird eyes.

Hummingbird details from the JOURNEY stole.

Our hands were busy throughout the day, but the work was gentle and quiet. And there is something powerful about being gathered around a single purpose—holding in our hearts the grief and outrage and repentance required of any contemplation of the injustice and tragedy of Residential Schools together with hope for healing and restored relationship—and embodying our remembrance and ache and hope in the action of needles and thread. Together.

Rikki told stories throughout the day, explaining the meaning behind the designs as questions arose.

We were able to see part of the appliqué process and begin to prepare the feather tassels for the lower edges of the red stole.

Cedar, feather, and abalone embellishments made by Rosemarie Haws, Haida.

The Feather Dance textile arts project may reside with St. Hildegard's Sanctuary, but the community contributing to the project is broader by far. Haida artist Rosemarie Haws made these embellishments (right)—made of cedar, feathers, and abalone buttons—especially for the project. Thank you Rosemarie!

And these crossed feathers (below), carved from painted jasper, were made especially for the project by Indigenous artist Myles Haase. Thank you, Myles!

Hand-carved, painted jasper crossed feathers, made by Myles Haase.

And we remain grateful for the funding provided by the Anglican Foundation of Canada's Sacred Arts Trust and the many grassroots donations that made the project possible.

As the day progressed, so did the hand stitching and finishing work. The JOURNEY stole—the focus of the day—was coming together beautifully...

Feather Dance participant sewing the first of the feather swivels to the bottom edge of the JOURNEY stole.

Melanie Calabrigo, gathering priest for St. Hildegard's Sanctuary, modelled the work in progress, delighting in the details.

A story of hummingbirds—one sighted, one blind.

Having mentored us all throughout the day, at the close of our time together Rikki took the time to give careful direction to an eager volunteer who will complete the accent stitching on the appliqués between this session and our next, in March 2018.

Rikki Kooy, giving direction for the completion of the JOURNEY stole.

Please consider joining in the beauty and meaning of this project at our next session on March 9, 2019. Details and tickets can be found here.