Sustainable Craft – Cape Breton Centre for Craft & Design

Sustainable Craft


Cape Breton Centre for Craft & Design has been sustaining and celebrating cultural and social practices for 50 years. We believe craft sustains Unama’ki, a sense of well-being, the economy and creative communities.

The Sustainable Craft Program is an initiative aimed at supporting the sustainable development of the Unama’ki Cape Breton Island craft sector. We understand a sustainable craft practice as the idea of balancing meeting our current needs with the needs of future generations through applied skills and material-based knowledge.

However, sustainability can have many meanings. We understand sustainability to be social, cultural, economic and environmental.

• A culturally sustainable craft practice might take form through community teaching and the passing down of cultural traditions and knowledge.
• An economically sustainable craft practice would support a circular economy and the artist’s livelihood.
• An environmentally sustainable craft practice may consider the impact of the studio and the sourcing of materials.
• A socially sustainable craft practice may take labor relations into consideration and ethical working conditions.

We live, work, play and create art in Unama’ki, the land of fog. It is our responsibility to consider how we can contribute to a more sustainable future with craft practices.


As part of the Sustainable Craft Practice program, Cape Breton Centre For Craft & Design presented our workshop series. From May to October, six workshops took place throughout Unama’ki – Cape Breton in clay, beadwork, jewellery (metals), fibre arts, ribbon dress making and pigments exploring sustainable craft practices.

The Sustainable Craft Symposium was a gathering of artists, arts and culture sector workers, and sustainability practitioners who are working on the sustainable development of the Unama’ki Cape Breton Island Craft Sector. The gathering, which happened on September 16, 2022, provided an opportunity to learn about sustainable craft practices and to co-develop a path forward toward a more sustainable craft sector.

View the full symposium report here.


Sustainable Pottery with David McMillan – participants learned to locate and test their own clay and glaze materials for use in pottery. This workshop covered the sourcing, harvesting and processing of local ceramic materials. 

David McMillan was born in Brandon, Manitoba. Moving west he completed his BFA with honors at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design focusing on critical theory in contemporary ceramics. In the summers he lived in a tent under an old growth cedar tree and learned production pottery in a four-year apprenticeship. 

Sustainable Fibre Arts with Mel Sweetnam – participants learned to make cordage from plants, including invasive species, and from used paper, such as coffee filters, tea bags, newsprint, etc. while discussing challenges and opportunities to a sustainable craft practice. Cordage has been essential to human survival for hundreds of thousands of years. Cordage can be used for hundreds of everyday purposes, from wrapping presents to basketry and more. 

Mel Sweetnam, of Mamie’s Schoolhouse, is a world renowned natural dye educator and fibre artist. From her studio in St Ann’s Bay, she supports tens of thousands of natural dye practitioners around the world, through her very popular Natural Dye Education Facebook Group, and her guided series of comprehensive online courses. Her work is grounded in ecologically sustainable methods and materials, the transmission of historically accurate natural dye knowledge to ensure its survival and making the applied chemistry of natural dyeing understandable to everyone.

Sustainable Beadwork with Raechel Wastesicoot – This workshop aimed to share land-based teachings that promote sustainability through the art of beading. Participants learned from one another through a beading session and story sharing.

Raechel Wastesicoot is a mixed Kanien’kehá:ka beadworker currently residing in Tkaronto, Ontario. Her mother’s family is from the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in Ontario, and her father’s family immigrated to Tkaronto from Northern Italy in the early 1960s.  Her beadwork follows a teaching passed down to her: from the land, for the land and by the land. Her work comprises contemporary pieces featuring upcycled, vintage and harvested materials. Natural materials that are gifts from the land, such as antler, caribou fur (a shared practice passed down to her from a Cree Elder), leather and porcupine quills, are instrumental in how her work comes together.  She is also passionate about helping Indigenous youth connect to their culture through land-based teachings, nature conservation, beadwork, and food.

Sustainable Jewellery with Dorothée Rosen – This workshop addressed several components of sustainability including environmental, economic and social practices in jewellery. Economical sustainability was addressed by looking at the myriad factors which influence pricing our hand-crafted work. Topics included how to price for wholesale and retail, and what impact our pricing has on other makers.

Dorothée Rosen is a full time goldsmith, and thus an entrepreneur in the arts. She graduated from Halifax’s NSCAD University with a major in jewellery design and metalsmithing, and a minor in art history (focus craft) in 2005. Her studio is in Halifax. There, Dorothée creates ready-to-wear and custom work in gold and silver. Constantly striving to improve her sustainability practices, she has worked with Fairtrade and Fairmined metals. Both are assurance labels that certify gold from small-scale mining organizations embracing responsible practices. This has huge socio-economic and environmental impact for the gold miners and their communities.

Sustainable Pigments with Michelle Ryan – Participants learned to safely locate, forage, identify and work with naturally occurring pigments. Participants gained basic knowledge of traditional paint making across multiple mediums and went home with a natural pigment for use in their art. 

Michelle Ryan is a visual artist from, Port Hastings, Unama’ki Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. For the past five years, she has painted only with all natural earth pigments.She has undertaken research into how to forage for art supplies, to finding pigments and to processing them for use in her art. With the help of a few tools, the earth, and her hands, Michelle is committed to sharing and preserving traditional and sustainable natural craft techniques. When she is not creating, you can find her working and managing her family-run printing company or sourcing natural art supplies.

Sustainability & Mi’kmaw Ribbon Dress Making with Tina and Amber Bernard – Participants were taken on a short journey of Mi’kmaw Ribbon Dress Making, while using it to explore what it means to be L’nuk in a quickly changing world. The journey was infused with honoring of past, and present, punctuated by the smell of Sweetgrass and Sage to help connect the mind and Spirit in a light hearted manner.

“Woman Who is like Two Brown Bears,” aka Tina Bernard, a mother of four grown children. She is partnered for life with “White Bear Man,” aka Leonard Bernard of We’koqma’q. Tina has enjoyed doing group work and community engagement for most of her career. One area she is most excited by is healing past events with present realities, as she did with Tatamagouche Centre’s “Peace and Friendship Program.” Today, she is greatly excited by the reclaiming of L’nuk symbolisms, idioms, and hieroglyphs she sees being used everywhere in Mi’kma’ki and sees herself as a cheerleader for it. She was inspired along with her eldest daughter to deliver this opportunity to other L’nu!

“Swirling Mist of Stars,” aka Amber Bernard, lives in We’koqma’q and is the Eldest daughter of Tina and Leonard Bernard. She comes from a long line of historic Mi’kmaw cultural protectors like Gabriel Sylliboy and Annie Mae Bernard. She’s an award-winning journalist and an emerging filmmaker dedicated to telling the stories of her people. She is also very passionate about protecting Mother Earth and recently attended the United Nations COP 26 Climate Conference in Scotland. Today, she and her mother, continue their journey to assist in the reclamation of L’nuk voices, symbolisms, identity, and strength through various means, as in this workshop.