Woman Crush Wednesday: Bethany Yellowtail, Making and Living History
“…designing and making clothes was natural to me, almost instinctual. Our Native communities are filled with generations of the most expert beaders, leather workers, silversmiths and artisans in the world. They are my original teachers.”
“fabrics doesn't make exquisite dresses, it is the stitches.”
QUICK STORY: Both of my grandmothers had those old tabletop sewing machines, the kind with the big metal pedals down on the floor. In fact, I still have a lot of my grandma Maria’s sewing equipment, even though most of the time I spent with her was after her illustrious sewing career. She told me stories, however, about how she and my grandpa were so poor that she sewed his socks and t-shirts and that he had one t-shirt for over 20 years.
On the other hand, my beautiful grandma Rose—strong, yet with hands and feet gnarled up by rheumatoid arthritis—always moved slowly and deliberately. Yet, when she got on that old sewing machine, her feet would start moving a mile a minute like Fred Astaire or Jo Sam Scabby Robe or MC Hammer. Powerfully. Gracefully. Purposefully.
She had stuff to do.
She was slow at the beginning and progressively picked up steam, like a little brown locomotive that ended with a beautiful new pair of moccasins or newly hemmed pants. I’d watch in awe and smile afterwards. “Gram made those.”
Creation. Beauty. Repair. The gift of all women. Still, it seems like Native women have a gift for these arts in slightly greater supply than others—historically utilizing very slim resources to make absolutely gorgeous and functional stuff for their families. These women have always been powerful within our communities, literally creating one of the most important tools—shoes!—that allowed the hunters to hunt and the warriors to protect. It seemed like such an underappreciated job, but the entire community depended upon these powerful women. Interdependent.
WHY AM I TELLING YOU THIS? Because I think it’s always important to support those who link our rich history to our modern-day lifestyle. Also, as you may be able to tell by my story, I’m sorta predisposed to have a thing for women who create clothes. I instantly start getting stars in my eyes and flash back to my wonderful grandmothers. “I bet she can make beautiful baby clothes.”
Therefore, when I met this bad sister, Bethany Yellowtail, I was intrigued. She carried that ancestral knowledge that compelled and allowed her to make beautiful creations, just like thousands of years of grandmas for Native people—gear that was functional yet gorgeous. Yet, she was very young. That interested me—where did this very young Northern Cheyenne and Crow woman get the inspiration to carry on this very traditional craft and expertise in a completely modern context and in very modern styles?
Her work “…is dedicated to the rez kids who grew up like me. The ones who dream big but don’t believe, because they only know what they see. Unpaved roads, broke down cars, government housing, and rez dogs chasing you down dusty streets, where our wealth and riches on the rez are non-existent in monetary form, but abundant in culture, family and community...”
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