SHAWVILLE July 3, 2020
Lianne Mohns was always a force of creativity. She’s knitted and sewed and crocheted; if you can craft it, she’s done it. But Mohns is known in Shawville not for quilts or sweaters, but for an art that was taught to her decades ago that has an even longer history.
Mohns is the creator of Shawville Custom Moccasins, Mitts, Mukluks and More, her service of crafting custom leatherwear and accessories.
Her passion for leatherwork began in the 80s in Thompson, northern Manitoba’s largest city. Up there, the cold Canadian winters hit hard. The Cree people, from which Mohns learned the art, braved the weather under layers of pelts and furs from moose, elk and other animals.
“Fur and hide was what kept you warm in the north. So, the first winter you needed to find these things to make yourself to keep yourself warm, and the reserves were all around Thompson,” said Mohns.
As a lab technologist at the Thompson General Hospital, Mohns saw many people come and go, bringing with them their various pastimes to keep entertained during long hospital visits. This was her first exposure to the art and what started her artistic journey.
“The Native women would come in and bring their crafts with them. So, if you were a craftsperson, you couldn’t help but pick it up or think you want to do that,” Mohns said. “So I got some patterns and I just started doing what they were doing.
“If you wanted a pair of moccasins, you just go into see Martha in room 225 and give her your footprint. And by Friday, she’d have them made for you.”
Mohns honed her craft over the eight years she spent in Thompson. It takes her between six or seven hours to stitch a pair of moccasins, but can end up being upwards of 15 hours with the intricate beading that goes with it.
After Mohns left Thompson in 2007, she didn’t make moccasins or mukluks as often anymore. However, she kept her materials and would come back to it every once in a while. It wasn’t until her daughter, Sarah, moved to Edmonton five years ago that Mohns really picked up the art once again.
“It was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I should pull all those leathers out and make her some things that would keep her warm up there,” Mohns recalls. “So I did and I would take them into work.
Mohns spent the last 12 years of her career working at Whitewater Bromley Community Health Center in Beachburg, Ont. where people took an interest in her leatherwork, which began gaining popularity.
“People would see me doing them at noon. You know, I could take it over and work on it at lunch. And it was like, ‘Oh, wow, could you make me a pair?’ And then finally I said, ‘Well, why don’t I just show you how you can make your own’ and it just kind of evolved from there.”
The student who learned within the walls of a Manitoba hospital was now the teacher, passing on a fading craft to people in the lonely rooms of a health care centre.
After retiring last year, Mohns has been able to put more focus into her craft. Stemming from the techniques she showed her colleagues and patients at the health centre in Beachburg, Mohns began teaching workshops out of her home the fall of 2018 to those who were interested.
In light of current events, in-person workshops had to be cancelled, but not even a global pandemic can stop Mohns from teaching. She now runs online workshops through the video conference program Zoom, where she teaches people from around the world – from as far away as Germany, France and St. Lucia – how to make moccasins, mitts and pouches and how to bead.
Mohns prides herself on being able to deliver authentic, high-quality Canadian-made products that are created with a personal touch. Part of this is because she has noticed a troubling trend with the craft and hopes to change that with her work.
“You can’t even find stitched moccasins so much anymore,” she said. “It was very prevalent back in that time. Now, my brother lives in Thompson where it was, and he said that you go into the trading post and it’s made in Taiwan.
“People are tired of the disposable. I’m not saying anything against Manitobah Mukluks, but they’re all machine done, and a lot of them are not even done in Canada anymore. And [if] you want to wear some authentic moccasins, those would not be a choice in my mind.”
Even through all of the moccasins she has made, the hours poured into each creation, the people she has taught, Mohns asserts that what she is doing is not a so much a business, but a passion. She simply loves the art and history that goes with the leatherwork, and wants to spread the beauty of it all with as many people as she can.
“I’d like to pass this along to people. It’s not like I want to make a living out of it, it’s just a hobby… that’s kind of gone a little dizzy,” Mohns said with a laugh. “I just hope that I can teach lots of people to do it. And I have, and they love it. You know, just to pass on a craft had been not so popular. It’s something that’s different.
“It’s like a puzzle, and it’s a lot of fun.”
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