Tara Kiwenzie’s beaded barrettes aren’t just beautiful; they’re also functional, keeping ears comfortable from the pains of wearing a mask.
Kiwenzie, who is from Wikwemikong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island, Ont., usually spends her days on the powwow trail throughout the summer. But when COVID-19 cancelled powwows across the country she turned to beading to occupy her time.
In November, she saw crocheted ear savers that take the pressure of mask bands off the ears.
She said she and her husband are always joking that she should try beading different things, and when he suggested a beaded ear saver she thought that was a great idea.
“The masks aren’t going anywhere,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of people complaining about their ears and rashes behind their ears.”
Kiwenzie played with the idea to figure out how she wanted it to look and function.
The pieces are similar to large barrettes that can be seen on powwow dancers, but they have two buttons on the sides to slide mask elastics over.
The first one went to her sister-in-law Naomi Wolfe, who works as a midwife in Sudbury and has to wear a mask all day.
Wolfe said that the pandemic has been difficult for midwives because they provide one-on-one care to women, sometimes for 14 hours straight, without taking off a mask.
The barrettes are “fantastic because they actually help hold the mask in place, and it saves my ears,” she said.
Wolfe, who is a member of Brunswick House First Nation near Sudbury, said that she always asks for first dibs on Kiwenzie’s creations.
“When I’m stuck in scrubs, masks and goggles, it’s nice to have a little piece of personality and culture showing through in my protective equipment,” said Wolfe.
Wolfe said she also likes to include beaded jewellery or lanyards with her daily scrubs because she primarily works with Indigenous community members, and it helps show clients that they can relate to her.
Since the ear saver she gave to Wolfe proved to be functional on the front lines, Kiwenzie decided to share five more she made on Facebook.
They all sold within four hours.
“The price I’m asking is a little bit on the higher end because it is a functional piece. It’s not like a medallion that you only wear once in a while,” she said.
One of the people who ordered one of the pieces also asked for matching earrings, so they have a complete set now.
Kiwenzie said she is planning to give away one of the ear savers in her next collection to a front-line worker.
“I’m just asking for people to share a quick story about a front-line worker in their life or if they are one themselves,” she said.
Then she will put the names together and draw a winner.
She said she’s going to keep making them as long as people want them.
“I’m still trying to think of a men’s style, with bigger buttons and a smaller beaded piece so it’s not so blingy.”