Woven together: How a Rigolet teen is keeping a traditional craft alive and well

·3 min read
Rigolet teen Ella Jacque harvests grass that she works into various objects.  (Submitted by Ella Jacque - image credit)
Rigolet teen Ella Jacque harvests grass that she works into various objects. (Submitted by Ella Jacque - image credit)
Rigolet teen Ella Jacque harvests grass that she works into various objects.
Rigolet teen Ella Jacque harvests grass that she works into various objects. (Submitted by Ella Jacque)

The Inuit community of Rigolet in Labrador is steeped in history and traditions, one of which is the art of grasswork: taking the natural shore grass around the community and slowly transforming it into practical household items, or decorative pieces that adorn a room.

Ella Jacque, 15, is among the newest generation to learn this skill from her older family members.

Grasswork is a form of weaving, Jacque said, using sea grass that is native to the shores of Labrador, where it has a long history in the region for both practical and decorative crafts.

"It used to be used, years ago, more so for more practical purposes, like pot holders, coasters and baskets," she said. "I've even heard tell of people making bassinets for their babies."

The craft has been passed down through Jacque's family for generations. When she was only nine, Jacque first learned how to weave from her grandmother.

"She's been sewing since she was a kid, so she's very experienced, and she still teaches me to this day whenever there's something that I'm not really sure how to do," she said.

Jacque doesn't remember why exactly she first wanted to learn how to weave, but imagined it must have come from watching her grandmother and others carefully working the natural fibres into something new.

"Watching my gran and my other family members, and hearing them talk about doing grasswork—especially seeing the things that they made—I think that's where it first came to me that I wanted to learn how to do that."

A grasswork in progress. Ella Jacque first learned grassworking from her grandmother.
A grasswork in progress. Ella Jacque first learned grassworking from her grandmother. (Submitted by Ella Jacque)

For Jacque, grassweaving brings an element of connection to both her family's traditions, as well as her home in Rigolet: a place she appreciates for its strong sense of community, and closeness to the land.

"I think it's really nice to be able to wake up every morning and look out your window and see open water, or to be able to go out on the land on nice days and go to the cabin and go fishing."

Much of today’s grasswork focuses on smaller or decorative objects, but was traditionally used to make large baskets and other household items.
Much of today’s grasswork focuses on smaller or decorative objects, but was traditionally used to make large baskets and other household items. (Submitted by Ella Jacque)

Grasswork betrays that close connection to the land through its foraged, local materials. While being able to go onto the land to prepare it is important, said Jacque, it's the familial connection which truly makes the craft something special.

"Grasswork is something that's been passed down for generations and generations," she said.

"Doing something that I know that my ancestors did, and that my family that came before me did and passed onto their children, definitely makes me feel very connected to my culture, my family and my history."

First Light Fridays | Ella Jacque's story was included in the most recent edition of First Light Fridays on CBC Radio:

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