Fur sewing class begins at Ilanka Cultural Center

Gloria Cunningham, center, instructs a group of participants during the Ilanka Cultural Center's basic fur sewing class at the Masonic Lodge on Monday, April 16, 2018.

Square pieces of a variety of furs lay scattered across tables at the Masonic Lodge on April 16, on the first night of the Ilanka Cultural Center’s basic fur sewing class.

Gloria Cunningham taught the pillow-making class, which will continue on April 17, 18 and 25.

Cunningham began sewing at the age of 12 after learning from her mother, and has now been teaching for about five years.

“Just the excitement of, ‘Oh, I’ve finally got it!’,” she said. “To pass on what I know and hopefully they get it.”

Long before the class started, participants were busy trapping and tanning the furs.

Jerry Bendzak worked on a 12-inch pillow featuring beaver fur on one side and otter on the other.


“I find it really relaxing,” he said of sewing.

He described the lengthy process of trapping, a hobby of his for 18 years, and then sending his furs to Idaho to get tanned.

Although the sewing process can be tedious, he patiently weaved his thread in and out of the skin, occasionally stopping to help Dixon Sherman who worked alongside him on his first pillow.

Cunningham worked her way from table to table, offering advice, jumping in to help and leading demonstrations for the class.

Teal Hansen made her first fur pillow when she was in the fourth grade and still owns it. Now quietly and swiftly, she was creating a new one, sewing a sea otter pelt with a sea otter pelt to a deep teal fabric.

Delores Taylor and Altana Hamilton worked at the back of the class, often sharing a laugh while asking Cunningham for guidance.

“As friends, we wanted to do this, and I want to really learn the culture,” Taylor said.

The Ilanka Cultural Center offers different classes throughout the year for members. To become a member of the Center, contact Brooke Johnson at 907-424-7903.