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The Inuit Amauti – The Sealskin Parka – Then and Now The Amauti is so much more than just a parka. Made from seal skin or caribou, the parka was made to protect the Inuit from the northern elements. They were worn traditionally by women to carry their babies but fathers or male caregivers could [...] The post The “Amauti”: much more than just a seal parka appeared first on Proudly Indigenous Crafts &...
The Amauti is so much more than just a parka. Made from seal skin or caribou, the parka was made to protect the Inuit from the northern elements. They were worn traditionally by women to carry their babies but fathers or male caregivers could wear them as well. The basic design was a pullover parka with a hood that could be tightened to offer good peripheral vision. The hood had a sunburst design and was trimmed with animal fur likely wolverine or wolf. Wolverine fur is a natural moisture repellent which helped protect from the elements. The amauti was also roomy so that they were easy to work in. Under the outer amauti, a second jacket would be worn with the fur facing inward for further insulation.
The Inuit woman’s amauti had two tongues or flaps in the front and back and a sculptured hemline. The long flaps would keep the women’s legs and back warm especially needed when travelling by dogsled. Young girls were dressed in amautis early in life but when they entered puberty their amauti changed, the length of these flaps changed as well as the silhouette of the garment. The amauti was also used to carry children, a belt would be used to tie off a sewn on pouch positioned below the large hood. There are some variations to the style of the amauti; sometimes the baby pouch extends from the hood and it appears the baby is being carried in the hood while others the pouch is distinct from the hood. Interestingly, a piece of polar bear fur or caribou skin was put in the base of the pouch to catch any soiling by the baby, when it became dirty it was changed. Carrying the baby this way would keep the baby warm benefiting from the mother’s body heat. The baby would be naked against the mother’s bare back so that from birth to toddler, mother and baby would have the long term benefits of skin to skin contact and a close and tender bond. When mothers wanted to nurse their baby , they would pull their arms in, rotate the amauti so that the baby and pouch was in the front making it easy to access the mother’s breast. In earlier times, the baby would be naked in the amauti until they got to the age where they were spending time out of the amauti. It is amazing to see how these amautis were designed so that the baby is safe and the mother is comfortable to do her daily work. They are still being used today, as a matter of fact, many companies have made baby carrying coats but none act as a carrier itself like the amauti is, it’s an amazing design.
Several decades ago, the design on the Amauti signified which Inuit community you came from. It could be something as simple as how many stripes were around the bottom or the cuffs of the parka or the shape of the hood or flaps in the front and back. In earlier times, the amauti would be decorated with shells and beads and it is said that these decorations would attract spirits to protect the ovaries.
Today, Inuit seamstresses are carrying on the traditions of their ancestors. Many are creating amautis that continue to be hugely popular as a baby carrying garment. Other designers are using the traditional amauti as an inspiration to create contemporary fashion parkas that are being distributed far and wide.
Throughout history, the seal has been vital to the Inuit way of life providing food, shelter and clothing. Men, women and children all have a role in preparing the seal after the hunt for its many uses. After The Seal is Harvested… After seals are harvested and are skinned by the hunter, Inuit women move [...] The post Traditional Inuit Preparation of Seal Skins appeared first on Proudly Indigenous Crafts &...
Throughout history, the seal has been vital to the Inuit way of life providing food, shelter and clothing. Men, women and children all have a role in preparing the seal after the hunt for its many uses.
After seals are harvested and are skinned by the hunter, Inuit women move in quickly to prepare the seal skins for garment making. The skins immediately need to be cleaned and rinsed in fresh water to rid the skin of salt, fat and blood. The next step is to remove the fat and blubber, this is done by laying the skin out flat on a board and scraping it clean with their ulu. The seal skin is then stretched over a frame and is left to dry. When placed on the rack, the skin has tied up points that ensure the skin is being stretched at the same tension and is able to dry evenly.
(Photo: Arctic Journal)
After the seal skin is thoroughly dry, it is extremely stiff, and this is the time when Inuit women would use the method of chewing, crumpling, folding and stomping on the seal skin to make it soft enough to work with. Sometimes children would assist the women in the chewing process.
Interestingly, human saliva has emulsifiers that break down fat and connective tissue thus the reason why the chewing of the seal skin is so effective in the softening process.
It is interesting to note that anthropologists have studied the teeth of Inuit women, and they have noted the highly developed jaws and jaw muscles that came from the chewing of skins. Some Elders would have their teeth worn down from years of this chewing process.
(Photo: Arctic Journal)
Ongoing Care of Seal Clothing Includes Chewing
Seal skins processed by this traditional method are found to remain soft and flexible at extremely low temperatures. However, after a day out in the elements, snow, ice and cold temperatures, the skins may be at risk of stiffening if not dried properly. Women would make sure they beat off all the snow and ice from the clothing before they came inside and they would be left to dry naturally, away from direct heat. If some parts of the clothing did stiffen, the women would once again chew the garment to soften it.
Boots or kamiiks needed good care. It was important that they keep their shape and flexibility so the women would clean, stretch and chew them after they came in from the outside. Again, it was also important to dry them slowly.
(Photo: John Tyman)
To this day, Inuit women still take the time to soften seal skin in the traditional way as it is the cultural way of their ancestors. It is a means to pass culture and tradition along to the next generation while also being integral to the making and maintenance of the clothing.
Kamiks – the traditional Seal Skin and Caribou boots of the Inuit I will always remember the first time I saw “kamiks”. They were made by Mona Netser, a traditional sealskin seamstress and designer from Coral Harbour, Nunavut. We were in Estonia where she was giving a workshop to Estonian artists on traditional Inuit seal [...] The post What are Kamiks and how are they made? appeared first on Proudly Indigenous Crafts &...
I will always remember the first time I saw “kamiks”. They were made by Mona Netser, a traditional sealskin seamstress and designer from Coral Harbour, Nunavut. We were in Estonia where she was giving a workshop to Estonian artists on traditional Inuit seal skin products. Although I was in awe of their beauty, I became even more impressed when she filled me in on the cultural importance of kamiks.
Kamiks are handcrafted boots worn by the Inuit people, made from caribou or sealskin. Kamiks are traditionally made by Inuit women, and the method is passed on from elders to the younger seamstresses. The process of making kamiks is a lengthy one beginning with the preparation of the animal skin. Traditionally, caribou or sealskin is chewed until it is the right suppleness and shape. Because the skin is thick, seamstresses traditionally would use bone needles but now, strong metal needles are used. Great sewing skill, strength and patience is needed to work with the thick skin as it is so important the stitching is secure. Traditionally, the women used animal sinew as thread but today, seamstresses use wax thread.
The kamik covers the foot and goes halfway up the calf of the leg. The Inuit wore two to five layers of footwear depending on what they were planning to do and what the weather and ground was like. The layers included an inner slipper, stocking or liner, boot, and over slipper. The special wool stocking or socks are called duffle socks, and they are just as important aesthetically as they are in keeping the feet warm. They will feature colourful, intricate patterns stitched into the sock. Patterns are often geometric or floral.
There is cultural significance in the design and decoration of the kamiks revealing the designer’s lineage, gender, abilities and regional relationships. For example, even though they may come from different geographical communities, traditionally the men’s and boy’s kamiks have vertical patterns on the shaft, whereas the women’s and girl’s have horizontal ones.
Functionally, the kamik is lightweight. This has enabled the hunter to move quietly on his hunt as he approaches his prey. Like many Indigenous relationships with animals, It is said that Inuit hunters believed that the success of the hunt depended not only on skill but on the respect shown to the animals they hunted. Different rules applied to relationships with animals of the land versus animals of the sea. Therefore, if they were hunting seal they would wear seal skin kamiks, and if hunting on land they would wear caribou kamiks. This was done so as not to offend the animals or spirits. There was also a practical reason for doing this. Sealskin kamiks were better hunting on the ice because they were water resistant, warm and durable. Caribou kamiks were not good on the ice because they would get wet but were warmer in the snow because their fur was thicker than seal.
Kamiks are still popular today. Inuit women sew kamiks for their families but also Inuit crafters and designers make their kamiks available for sale on various on line shopping sites and retail outlets. Kamiks are a beautiful example of the beauty of functional clothing made by the Inuit. Check out the Proudly Indigenous Crafts & Designs shop to connect with a crafter that makes these beautiful traditional kamiks.
A 4000 years old tradition Traditional Inuit clothing was designed out of necessity — to survive the harsh climate that was a stark reality for the Inuit people. The women, knowing it was essential to keep their community warm and protected from the elements made coats, trousers, mittens and boots. These articles were made mostly [...] The post When did seal fur become popular? appeared first on Proudly Indigenous Crafts &...
Traditional Inuit clothing was designed out of necessity — to survive the harsh climate that was a stark reality for the Inuit people. The women, knowing it was essential to keep their community warm and protected from the elements made coats, trousers, mittens and boots. These articles were made mostly from caribou, seal and marine birds and were sewn with needles made from bird bone and sinew (animal tissue used like thread). The winter apparel consisted of two layers, one layer with fur facing inward, the other with fur facing outward. This design kept the warm air trapped between these layers and provided incredible insulation. On top of this, caribou skin actually has hollow hair follicles that contain air bubbles which also insulate, proving that caribou was extremely important to the Inuit people. Summer was much easier to accommodate, and most apparel was made from seal skin, which proved to be more light weight and water resistant. Once fall came along, the women would know to begin creating the important winter garbs.
The footwear (or kamiks) were also made from caribou and/or sealskin. The upper and instep were made of seal skin, they were then usually paired with a seal skin slipper inside of it, and/or a stocking made of caribou.
Mittens were most often made of caribou, but would also be made of seal skin when appropriate. For example; seal skin would be better in wet working conditions, of course, due to the water repellant nature of seal skin.
It made sense for the men’s coats to be roomy in the shoulders to allow for easy movement and nimbleness while hunting. In juxtaposition, the women’s coats were usually made with an amaut, or a baby pouch, and often have two apron flaps in front and in back.
Inuit traditional clothing also included personal adornments. Accessories including earrings, necklaces, bracelets, headbands and belts among them. They believed these charms or adornments protected them from danger and helped with the hunt.
To this day, many prefer the traditional clothing over manufactured clothing. Traditionally made Inuit clothing not only offers the best protection from the climate but it also, and most importantly, connects them to their culture and keeps Inuit values, knowledge and heritage alive.
Inuit fashion designers of the twenty-first century continue to get inspiration from their ancestors and utilize the same raw materials and techniques that have been passed down from generation to generation. Let’s now take a look at some of today’s talented Inuit fashion designers.
How beautiful it is to see work being done by young Inuit designer that incorporates tradition with modern fashion. One of the designers that has excelled in this field is Victoria Kakuktinniq. Kakuktinniq is considered an icon in contemporary Inuit fashion, and for good reason. Victoria has taken her designs to the runways at both Paris Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week and she has been highly acclaimed in fashion magazines such as Elle Canada and Flare.
Victoria, born in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut credits her grandmother as the main inspiration in her designs. As a young girl she learned to sew traditional garments and the skill of beading. The love of her Inuit culture and fashion continued as she went on to study fashion design. Her goal is to create modern fashion pieces that also incorporate Inuit culture and tradition. The cultural influence includes fashion designs that feature seal skin, embroidery, beading, and fur. She is best known for her form fitting seal skin parkas, featuring tie up bodices and beautiful thick, round fur hoods, accessorized with bold colours, blocked contrast hems and embroidery. Its scooped hem and large hood are inspired by the Amauti baby-carrying parkas worn by Inuit women. Victoria also designs seal skin headbands, cuffs and mitts.
Recently, she has been collaborating with other Inuit designers who add their jewelry or beadwork to her designs. Some of these collaborations were showcased at New York Fashion Week.
It is also important to Victoria that her customers are aware that her parkas are made locally and she strives to provide ethically sourced, environmentally sustainable fur and skin products for her designs. (vafashion.ca)
Victoria is owner of Victoria’s Arctic Fashion and her clothing line can be found in boutiques in many cities across Canada as well as in Greenland. Her fashion collection can be found at https://vafashion.ca
I met Melissa just after she had her designs showcased at Paris Fashion Week. We were on our way to Norway with other Inuit designers to participate in the Riddu Riddu Festival. I was eager to learn about her work and this once in a lifetime experience in Paris. She told me she is self taught and her focus is to bring together Inuit tradition with modern fashion. Her design line is called Nuvuja9 and primarily focuses on formal wear and custom jewelry. Her formal wear may include a combination of seal skin with satin or lace, off the shoulder tops, sealskin bodices, matched with polar bear claw earrings.
Melissa has a growing fanbase and her work has been seen worn by the singing group, Silla and Rise and actress Anna Lambe.
Like other Inuit designers, Melissa’s incorporation of Inuit culture in her designs is personally empowering and gives her the opportunity to share pride of her people to the world. Follow Melissa’s fashion line Nuvuga9 on instagramhttps://www.instagram.com/nuvuja9/
As she approached me in the Toronto airport, I could sense that Hovak Johnston was a person I needed to get to know better. It was the first time I had seen traditional Inuit tattoos. We were on our way to the Jokkmokk Market in Sweden to promote Canadian seal skin products created by designers from Canada’s North. On our journey across the Atlantic, I learned of Hovak’s deep connection to her culture and her story of how she revitalized the tradition of tattoos for Inuit women. She learned the traditional method of tattooing and created the Inuit Tattoo Revitalization Project. For many women, having these traditional tattoos awakened something that was missing, they empowered them and connected them to their Inuit ancestors. Hovak explained to me the meaning of her face, wrist and finger tattoos, and how they represented people in her life and significant parts of her life story. Hovak went on to author the book, Reawakening Our Ancestors’ Lines: Revitalizing Inuit Traditional which features the stories and photos of women who participated in the revitalization project.
Hovak is also an amazing crafter and fashion designer. The Jokkmokk Market consumers were in awe of her work, her seal skin mitts in natural or stunning shades of red, blue and green were gone before the market concluded.
Her creativity is unlimited, if you visit https://www.facebook.com/hovakscreations, you will see a wide variety of items featuring seal skin, including parkas, mittens, slippers earrings and more.
Hovak is a proud Inuk who grew up in Kitikmeot Region, Nunavut until she was sent away to school. She has lived in Canada’s north until she recently moved to Nova Scotia where she continues to share her knowledge of Inuit culture. Hovak is married and proud Mom to three sons who also have a strong connection to their culture.
What is an Ulu? When I travelled to Europe with Inuit crafters, I quickly learned the importance of a unique tool I had never seen before, the ulu, a beautifully shaped all purpose knife. A beautiful handle of bone, antler or wood (sometimes painted with beautiful designs), paired with a unique blade of metal (years [...] The post What is the Ulu used for? appeared first on Proudly Indigenous Crafts &...
When I travelled to Europe with Inuit crafters, I quickly learned the importance of a unique tool I had never seen before, the ulu, a beautifully shaped all purpose knife. A beautiful handle of bone, antler or wood (sometimes painted with beautiful designs), paired with a unique blade of metal (years ago we would have seen a slate or copper blade) has long been essential to the Inuits for practical and culturally reasons. The ulu is considered to be very special and it is passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter and its uses are vast and plentiful. The ladies I travelled with cut their seal pelts with it, they cut meat with it and they shared that women would even cut their children’s hair with it.
After a seal hunt, it would be the tool women used to skin and clean the animals, displaying that its use ranges seamlessly from personal to practical. The blade is extremely sharp and so it is important within the culture that girls are introduced to it at an early age and are taught to use it with respect and care.
The cutting and slicing power of the ulu blade comes from the handle. It allows the force of the blade to be directed over the object being cut, while the triangle shape blade with a rounded bottom makes it easier to cut. This is because the ulu uses a rocking motion that pins down the food.
I saw the value and historical significance of the ulu as I got to know the crafters and watched as they used this tool with such ease and fluidity. Each had a story about their ulu and it was valued as a prize possession, an embodiment of their respect for their practices. They taught me that their ancestors knowledge was held in the ulu and as it was passed on through generations, so too did the ancestors knowledge and wisdom. It is also interesting to note that it is one of history’s only female-centric tools.
Our travels to Europe had us visit the Sami people, the Indigenous people of the far northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. The Inuit crafters had the opportunity to create crafts with the Sami crafters and share stories of a common ancestry of the North. Our Sami hosts in Jokkmokk, Sweden and Mandalen, Norway held deep respect for the Inuit culture and asked many questions as if they were searching for missing parts of their own puzzle. I watched and listened as these two groups of women shared stories of how their ancestors used the ulu and I was fascinated to see the similarities in their tools, methodology and an evident kinship of circumpolar traditions.
Today there are many Inuit crafters and designers that use ulus of various sizes to create fashion apparel and accessories, everything from earrings, bracelets, shoes, coats, mittens, dresses and more. As these designers bring their work to international Fashion Weeks, share their work on social media platforms, the popularity of seal skin fashion is increasing for a number of reasons, quality, fashion appeal, and sustainability. The ulu continues to carry the culture forward.
The ulu has been around for 5000 years, and it is said that when someone passes away, their ulu retains their spirit and energy. How powerful it is to think that the ancestors of Inuit women remain with them through the ulu, and that in this room of women crafters, there was also perhaps countless generations over seeing them proudly as they connected over an understood, shared experience. Even more incredible to think, that the todays crafters will continue their journey long after they pass by gifting their ulus to their daughters, nieces, sisters or granddaughters.
– Andree Gracie
Sealing, a Blue Activity? According to the World Bank, the “Blue Economy” is the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem.” Seal products are the perfect example of a Blue Activity. In addition to provide food for local human consumption, sealing allows Northern Indigenous communities to take part in [...] The post Sealing, a Blue Activity? appeared first on...
According to the World Bank, the “Blue Economy” is the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem.” Seal products are the perfect example of a Blue Activity. In addition to provide food for local human consumption, sealing allows Northern Indigenous communities to take part in the global economy. Seal products also have a very low environmental footprint:
The very existence of Canadian Inuit and Indigenous communities is grounded on their relationship with seals. The practice of hunting connects Inuit to the land which ensures sustainability, the preservation and building of ecological knowledge and conservation efforts.
A recent study estimated the current harvesting economy in Nunavut is worth approximately $40 million annually. Sealing in is not just an industry, it is a lifestyle that helps keep Inuit close to their natural environment. An estimate of over 40,000 seals are harvested per year in Nunavut. The replacement food value of seal meat is worth approximately $5 million. Seal skin products are worth an additional $1 million to the arts and crafts sector. (1)
In Canada’s north, where store-bought meat is expensive, a single ringed seal can provide the equivalent of $200 or more worth of meat to a family—and a much higher level of nutrition.
The primary market for Canadian seal products pre-ban was the EU.
Top importers of Canadian seal products, 2001 up to Ban:
The European Union banned the importation of seal products in 2009. The result was devastating, reducing the number of pelts sold by over 82%. The Ban has eroded confidence and interest in seal products within and outside the EU.
Unfortunately, even with the EU Exemption for Indigenous Seal Products (2), there still exist a lot of confusion and apprehension from buyers that seal products will not be permitted into EU even with proper certification.
On December 3rd 2020, Prime Minister Trudeau announced the Government of Canada’s plan to engage with the provinces and territories, Indigenous peoples, industry, conservationists, and all Canadians to develop a Blue Economy Strategy, beginning early in the New Year. The strategy will outline a future vision for Canada’s ocean-related sectors and guide future government actions and investments toward the goal of a sustainable, ocean economy. (3)
2021 is the year where we, Canadians, should shift the tide in favour of the Blue Economy by keeping it local and natural and supporting Indigenous Crafters by purchasing authentic seal products.
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