Northern Winter Traditions

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

What began as a way to rekindle an important tradition has now become a tradition itself for the Yukon Quest. 

Three years ago, the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre Sewing Group in Whitehorse, Yukon sewed beautiful and intricate dog blankets for the 1,000-mile international sled dog race. 

“A Gwich’in elder approached me with an idea of sewing dog blankets for the Yukon Quest to revitalize a First Nation tradition and to have it showcased at the Yukon Quest,” said Florence Moses, who coordinates the projects.

In 2018, the group embraced another project, sewing around 30 unique patches for all mushers who finished the race.

This year, the group created a banner known as “Northern Winter Traditions,” which will be displayed at the “Meet the Mushers” events in Whitehorse, Yukon on January 30 and in Fairbanks, Alaska on February 15. 

Each of these projects channeled the group’s collaborative spirit and appreciation for tradition.

“The KDCC sewing group members work on their own piece and we bring it together as a group collective,” explained Moses. “With artistic freedom each artist has their piece to complete. Then it all comes together cohesively with each artist’s skills being showcased.”

This year’s “Northern Winter Traditions” banner shows musher number 10 racing along the trail with ten, colorful huskies. Starting in Yukon, they are passing snow-covered spruce trees, a raven and a wolf. The trail ahead of them winds into Alaska and around mountains under a beaded sky of green, pink and blue northern lights. Along the trail are pieces of birch bark bearing the names of all the checkpoints. In the lower right corner is the Yukon Quest’s iconic yellow banner.

Moses said the base material for the project is traditional smoke tanned moose hide with a rabbit fur trim and a canvas backing. All the pieces such as trees and the northern lights are beaded with the musher being appliqued with beadwork and beaver fur trim.

And who is musher number 10?

“It was decided that the number 10 would be used as it was the number of days Frank Turner took to run the race when he won the 1995 Yukon Quest,” said Moses.

Turner, whose bib was also 10 the year he won the race, is a Whitehorse musher whose wife Anne Tayler sews with the group. Although the idea to represent him came from others, Tayler supports the decision. 

“He’s well-known in the Yukon,” she said noting he gained a reputation for great dog care. “We’ve both been here 45 years. He’s run the Quest 24 times.”

Tayler said doing these group projects is rewarding - and not just for the feel good aspect. She’s learned so much from the other women in the group, especially its lead sewers Diane Olsen and Florence Moses. 

The two expertly sewed together the different pieces from everyone to create the banner.

“Wait till you see it,” she said. “You’ll have a hard time finding the seams. You can’t find the stitches.”

Her statement seems to echo the sprit of the whole group. While each individual’s artistic style shines through, their efforts blend seamlessly together.

The Kwanlin Dun Sewing Group is made up of Karen Lepine, Darcy McDiarmid, Anne Tayler, Nyla Klugie-Migwans, Nicole Bauberger, Deb Enoch, Diane Olsen, Pauline Livingstone, Amélie Druillet, and Florence Moses (designer/coordinator).

Meghan Murphy