12 Days of Bison Day 7: "Fly Away North"

Hello and Good Morning to you fine folks,

It is Wednesday, December 2nd, and you know what that means?

Probably nothing really, it is garbage day here, and I need to go run the can to the curb. I was really impressed, even with all the extra stuff going on here, we were able to keep it to one bag for the business this week. I think we all want to try and leave the planet a better place than when we got here. This is something T and I think about often.

Today's feature is a friend, and I am really excited to share this with you, Cole is one of the nicest people you will ever meet and just one more of the people who taught us a lot about the best methods for preparing bison fiber. I watched him hand-spin bison fiber into a yarn probably 1500 yards per oz.... that is really as fine as frog hair. and probably more consistent. He is also a production potter and the first odonatologist I have ever met.

I hope you enjoy the tidbits today.
Ron & T

Best of Bison: "Fly Away North"

Today's offering is more than just bison. Our featured artist works with many different fibers and has many different talents. If you are looking for a custom made garment, knitted, woven, sewn, Cole can deliver exceptional quality, one-of-a-kind handmade garments from the most luxurious natural materials in the world.

Oh, and Cole is also a musher and new puppy pop.

Cole Harmon, of Fly Away North, is a maker, just pure and simple. He really understands fine fiber and how to turn them into usable, comfortable, and attractive performance garments. We met Cole 5-7 years ago, at the Alaska State Fair, where he demonstrates cleaning and preparing qiviut, the undercoat of the Arctic musk-ox I really don't remember when exactly we met, because, within a couple of minutes of talking with him, it is like you have been friends forever. He is so incredibly generous, kind, and knowledgeable, we love spending time with him, we always learn something and end up laughing uncontrollably.

One of his recent finished products. A traditional hand-stitched fur ruff for a mushers parka.

My name is Cole Harmon, owner/operator of Nome Dog fur sewing, a small artisan fur sewing outfit in Knik, Alaska. In 2017 I moved to Alaska and was swept off my feet by the beautiful MatSu Valley. It was only going to be for a summer, I told myself, just enjoy it and head back to Minnesota when the snow flies. Then summer became winter, and I hadn’t left yet. Halfway through that winter I got my first retired sled dog, the one and only Nome (for whom my company is named) and completed my second summer. Seven dogs later, two more years in, and I don’t plan on going anywhere else anytime soon. I run two companies from home as well as maintain a small recreational sled dog team. Everything I produce is made with a mushers sensibilities at heart and tested by yours truly. From teeny tiny beaver baby booties for the smallest soon-to-be mushers, to downy furs sewn into ruffs, I do it all.

Fur sewing has a long history here in Alaska. Native Alaskans from Utqiavik to Ketchikan have been sewing furs into warm garments for quite literally thousands of years. I’ve been lucky enough to learn from a few different elder stitchers and hear their stories. Every time I sit down to cut and sew I think of them, of what the intended use of the finished product will be, of who will be wearing it, and the job it needs to do. As a biologist and individual, it is not lost upon me that what I do cost an animal it’s life. In that spirit of understanding, I continue to sew everything by hand, using as much as I possibly can, as effectively as I can, while maintaining business relationships with the trappers and traders who do the work of harvesting the furs. All my furs are Alaskan grown, wild harvested and they always will be. A typical day in the shop may look something like this:

Wake up and take care of the (as I call them) four-legged kids, and send them out onto the porch for breakfast. Next, select my projects for the day. Usually, I work on three items at a time so I don’t lose creative momentum. One ruff may be anywhere between ten and 60 individual pieces of fur that are held in place by as many as 1,000+ individual stitches. Every item is different because every animal that passes through my hands is different. Each one made in such a way as to not only outlast me but also it’s intended recipient. I want that pair of mitts to be nice now but I also want them to be just as nice in 10-25 years. The only way to do that is to stitch with sinew, making tiny and strong stitches so that the furs will work with each other; not against each other in the years to come. After a few hours, I’ll break for lunch, bring the dogs in, finish out the day with some paperwork and head for the sled if there’s snow. As I bump along the trail I see friends and neighbors out tending their own teams or training for the winter race season. In so doing I see the hats and ruffs, qiviut cowls and gators, beaver mitts and liners that I’ve made over the few years I’ve been here. From my hands to, most times, your head with no small amount of my heart, my products do the work they were made for. My life with dogs, with furs, with friends. How lucky I am.

Best wishes from Alaska,

Cole, Nome, Relay, Phoebe, Ghost and Perl
Nome Dog Fur Sewing
Knik, Alaska

Musk Ox hide, where Cole will spend hours combing the fine fiber out to be spun into yarn and knitted into amazing things.

qiviut "smoke ring" cowl.

hand-knit qiviut socks... the only thing warmer and softer than bison.

The new pups.

Follow him here.
Interested in commissioning a piece?
Contact Cole via email: chp367000@gmail.com

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