Last summer, when the brutal cold of a Winnipeg winter was far from most of our minds, local leather artist Sheila Cailleau was thinking ahead. While her usual customers buy her pieces at least as much for beauty and style as for protection from the cold (her mitts retail at $300-600), she is passionate about keeping everyone safe and warm, especially those who spend a lot of time outdoors and are experiencing homelessness.
As someone who fell through the cracks and briefly experienced homelessness herself, Sheila can understand the stress and vulnerability of folks living and working on the street. From talking to people asking for spare change at intersections, she discovered that many had very cold hands. In response, she began giving away her handmade mittens, but she wanted to do more. And so her Warm Hands, Warm Heart project was born.
At its core, Warm Hands, Warm Hearts is about recycling donated leather and fur into cozy and practical mittens using volunteer labour. In the summer and early fall, Sheila hosted free leather mitten-making workshops through the Manitoba Craft Council. Participants learned how to take apart coats and other items made from leather and fur and repurpose the materials into toasty mittens. Donations of fur and leather slowly but steadily rolled in and over 60 people have participated in the mitten making so far. More than 80 pairs have been completed, several dozen more are in progress, and the goal is to reach 200 pairs this winter.
The project came full circle for Sheila when she dropped the first batch of finished mittens off at the Bear Clan Den during their Holiday Open House this past Saturday:
“All of the volunteers and everyone who was there, when I put the mittens on the table, they were awestruck by how many and how well-made they were. Not to say it lightly, but when you’re working so hard on all of the details – just sewing all the time, on a bit of an assembly line, trying to get things done – you can get kind of numb or maybe forget for a moment how significant a pair of mitts is. Just the look on the faces of the volunteers, you could see the gratitude and how wowed they were… it was like gravity took hold, and I was brought back down to why we did this project in the first place.”
Over the course of the next few weeks, Bear Clan volunteers will be distributing the mittens to those who need them during their regular rounds of their North End neighbourhood, ensuring that the city’s most vulnerable will have warm hands. More than that, project volunteers hope that the love they put into making the mittens, and the care shown by those who donated the materials, will be felt by those who wear them.
How can you help?
1. Donate your old leather and fur items… jackets, chaps, bags, even leather taken from old sofas! Well-worn items, even those with rips, can be repurposed. Donations may be dropped off at the C2 Centre for Craft, 1-329 Cumberland Ave, Wed-Sat, 12-4 pm. Open Dec 21 + 22, closed for the holidays and re-opening on January 4, 2023.
2. Volunteers are still needed to disassemble coats, put together mitten kits, and sew. Email [email protected] to be notified of upcoming workshop dates. We will be hosting a work bee for those interested in helping trace and cut mitten pieces on Saturday, January 7, 2023. Sheila has some mitten-making workshops with teachers coming up in mid-January for which kits are urgently needed! Sign up here to help.
Sheila Cailleau, Leather Artist and Owner of Magpie Chiq
Kevin Walker, Bear Clan Patrol Interim Executive Director
About Sheila Cailleau
Born and raised near Kenora in Northwestern Ontario, Sheila Cailleau is the founder and owner of Magpie Chiq in Winnipeg. Inspired by nature and her own Indigenous roots, Sheila works with leather and fur to create beautiful, luxurious and functional items: boots, mitts, shoes and bags. Each handcrafted, hand sewn item captures the authenticity of our northern land as we live it today, in a coffee shop, at a hockey rink, a summer festival, on a frozen lake, wherever your spirit takes you.
About the Manitoba Craft Council
The MCC is for people who love contemporary craft: professional artists and artisans, collectors and connoisseurs, DIYers and armchair enthusiasts. It’s for people who value the originality and quality of the handmade, who find meaning in making. It’s for the dreamers and schemers who seek to reinterpret the material and cultural traditions of the past through a contemporary lens. It’s for people who haveto forge, carve, weave, fold, sculpt, knit. And for their friends and supporters. It’s for you. See, smell, touch, explore the myriad expressions of contemporary craft in Manitoba and be part of a community that is shaped, motivated, and defined by its love of craft. Find out more here. MCC operates out the C2 Centre for Craft.
About the Bear Clan Patrol
Bear Clan Patrol came about as a result of the ongoing need to assume our traditional responsibility to provide security to our Aboriginal Community. The concept behind the patrol is community people working within the community to provide personal security in the inner-city in a non-threatening, non-violent and supportive way. The Patrol operates out of the Bear Clan Den located at 584 Selkirk Ave.
Patrols take place: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday: 6:00pm – 9:00pm / Saturday & Sunday: 1:00pm – 4:00pm