Indigenous-owned Etsy shop blends traditional beadwork with modern designs

Lifestyle Sports | Lifestyle

Biliana Panic is a Cree-Métis beader based in Vancouver

Beadwork, photo by Biliana Panic.
Photo by Yohan Kim.

Colourful beaded designs fill the items section of the TaanshiStudios Etsy shop. TaanshiStudios, which gets its name from the Cree word for hello, sells handmade Indigenous beaded earrings. The jewelry comes in a variety of styles, including large circular depictions of sunsets, rain clouds, and fringe-style earrings. 

Biliana Panic, the artist behind the shop, describes the jewelry as “modern contemporary Métis beadwork.” 

Panic is a Cree-Métis beader and photographer based in Vancouver. After attending the Vancouver Institute of Media Arts and the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Panic now attends Emily Carr University while running the Etsy shop.

“I originally started beading when I was six or seven,” said Panic, who described falling in love with beadwork while visiting a heritage museum and discovering a pop-up exhibit where kids could learn to bead. “I went in there and I ended up staying for like four hours.” 

Panic continued beading for a short time as a kid but gave it up because of the cost of the supplies and didn’t return to the art until a few years ago. 

“When I started working full-time as a professional photographer, I felt like I needed a different creative outlet that wasn’t my full-time job,” said Panic. After a few years of beading as a hobby, Panic started TaanshiStudios. 

At the time, Panic lived with fellow Indigenous beader, Breanna Deis. After finding success for her own work on Etsy, Deis encouraged Panic to start a shop. 

“When the pandemic hit, and I lost my job, I kind of transitioned to running [the] online bead store,” said Panic. TaanshiStudios opened around March 2020.

“I don’t think I got a sale until sometime in the summer,” said Panic. “When you have no reviews, it’s harder to get a sale.”

Despite the slow start, the Etsy shop now has over 180 sales and a five-star rating. Panic is one of many Indigenous beaders using sites like Etsy and Instagram to advertise and sell their work. 

“[We’re] living in an interesting time,” said Panic. “Some call it the Indigenous renaissance where a lot of Indigenous crafts are making a comeback.” 

Photo by Yohan Kim.

Online tutorials and resources allowed Panic to learn beadwork, despite not growing up immersed in the culture. 

“My grandfather is the Indigenous one in my family,” Panic said. “He was white-passing, and he lied about being white at least until my mom was 26.

“My mom made attempts to reconnect us to our culture in my childhood, but since she wasn’t raised with it either, it was hard,” said Panic. “How could she teach what she doesn’t know?” 

Beadwork now provides a way for Panic to reconnect with the culture while adding a modern twist to the designs. 

“Traditional Métis beadwork is a lot of florals on black backgrounds,” explained Panic. “I think it’s just kind of confining for me, so I really like doing things that I haven’t seen before.” 

For Panic, the process of coming up with ideas begins with pages of rough sketches. Drawing different variations allows Panic to figure out the size of the designs and how the earrings should hang. She researches to see if others are doing it, and if no one is then she moves forward in the creative process.

A lot of the pieces from TaanshiStudios include cloud imagery. One pair of pink cloud earrings have suns hanging from them. Another design includes a white rain cloud with silver rain-like tassels. Panic explained that the design came from trying to combine two beading techniques — flat beading and bead weaving. 

Flat beading is an embroidery technique that Panic uses for the cloud shapes. The shape is traced onto a piece of felt, then the beads are sewn on to match the pattern of an existing piece, and the earring is assembled with a backing. 

“I started off bead weaving more than flat beading,” Panic said. “But bead weaving takes a lot longer, and I would say is a lot harder design-wise.” 

“With bead weaving, you have to be very careful that all the beads are the same size.” Panic explained that even if the beads are technically the same size, they can vary. “If they’re not, then it can mess up your pattern … it’s harder than you think.” 

Both techniques require patience and a careful eye for detail. Even with Panic’s experience, it can take multiple tries to get a piece right. 

“Usually, when I first design something, I end up taking it apart and starting over a few times because I don’t like how things are laying.” 

The motif of clouds in Panic’s work is not just an aesthetic choice. While they represent the rainy Vancouver skies that Panic grew up with, they also have a symbolic meaning. 

“I was going through a tough time with the pandemic,” said Panic, who struggles with persistent depressive disorder. “I wanted to kind of represent that in my work, but in a way that wasn’t depressing.”

Panic hopes that the cloud earrings and the rest of the TaanshiStudios jewelry can be a bright spot for customers who are also struggling. 

“I have some pieces I’ve collected from other beaders, and I feel happy every time I’m wearing them out and about,” said Panic. “I hope that my work can do the same for some people.”