Important Little Kamiik

This week, I finished my first pair of kamiik: Inuit sealskin boots, made for two-and-a-half-year-old M. Today I’d like to share with you a few slices of that journey.

But I want to preface with this: I say I made these. And I did most of the actual stitches. But as I tell you how these little boots came to be,  you’ll see just how many hands touched these boots.

If you take that to its logical conclusion, that started long before I even got the materials. Hunters harvested three different seals whose skins contributed to these boots. Then three different women prepared the skins. The skin with hair was home-tanned and stretched on a frame; the black skin from a bearded seal had to also be dehaired; the white skin had also to be dehaired and bleached perfectly in the sun for months.

Of course, this is always the case in our crafts. Knitting doesn’t start at the yarn store. It starts with sheep and farmers and goes through mills and any other number of hands before it arrives in our hands. In some ways the industry is becoming more transparent as knitters and spinners become more interested in those processes. But here, it’s so much more immediate. With some of these materials, you can’t just go to a store and buy them. You have to at least make contact with someone who worked on that skin when it was still fresh off a living animal. Suddenly, sustainable harvesting and fair wages become very important; you’re talking to someone who gave their time or risked their lives to prepare this materials. Thankfully, in Nunavut we can be confident that good practices are the norm.

During the first stages of preparing the skins, I had my hand held very closely. An elder, Seepa, at the Monday night women’s group, contributed her time to make the patterns I would need, to lend me a large tool for softening the skins, and to show me how to cut the pieces with an ulu.

An ulu is a traditional Inuit women’s knife. Thanks entirely to the generosity of others, my collection is getting out of hand. These are also all handmade, by the way.

Seepa even gave me the white pieces I would need for the boots from her own collection of skins, cut them out for me, and sewed the first seam, down the legs. When she returned them to me, she’d made me a little kit with sinew, two kinds of needles, a wee handmade needle keeper, and other little useful goodies.

As for me, the first seam I did, I messed up. I was running off my assumption that you can pretty much whipstitch everything, so I just sewed the front piece to the legs. You can just see it on the left below, and the stitches are quite visible, so it wasn’t even good whipstitch! Mercifully, one chorus of this project was, “Well, it’s ok. It’s for a little kid.” Turns out I was supposed to use a special waterproof stitch I hadn’t even learned yet.

I got as far as softening the soles before the Christmas crazies hit. This was a laborious process involving a lot of chewing, and a tool made from pieces of metal stair and two-by-fours. I didn’t take any pictures of this; who knows why. You know I’m always very careful about publicizing traditional Inuit techniques, and I have also learned to be careful about sharing things without explanation that might be perceived by outsiders as strange or unpleasant. I have so much respect for the people who invented and preserve these skills, and I want to engender that in my sharing about it. So I’ll save talking about that process for another time.

Then Christmas happened, I had to give the pieces back to Seepa for fine cutting, and totally failed to reconnect with her over the holidays. By the time she gave me the pieces back, softened in salt water and ready to be sewn on, I got the distinct impression she was a little bit frustrated with me. Quite frankly, I’m glad she expressed that, because I realized I was not taking this project seriously enough. At this point, I had invested a lot of time into the process already, and so had Seepa. To say nothing of the money I’d spent on the materials, which was very significant. If I wanted to finish this ever, I had to get serious, and I had to get more help.

It was then that I took advantage of an offer I’d received, which was to come to the drop-in sewing class at Tukisigiarvik Centre. At one level, this place is a drop-in center for many of the poor and homeless in Iqaluit. But they’re so much more than that, as they share traditional foods whenever available, and teach a host of cultural skills to anyone who wants to learn. M and I got to taste polar bear meat there for the first time one afternoon!

I had wanted to go for a long time, but just couldn’t figure out how afternoons were going to work for me. But suddenly, in January, the timing was right for me to cut my office hours down and then out. M wasn’t taking naps anymore, and they didn’t mind if I brought her along. (One of my favorite things about Inuit culture is how normal the presence is of babies and small children.) Suddenly I was there for a couple hours every day that N was in school. That was where I met my second teacher, Maggie, who walked me through the rest of this process and was so encouraging. There were other ladies in and out through the few weeks I was there, working on their own projects, and they all pitched in with their trips and tips as I needed help. Sarah, Elisapee, Eva – they could all spare a moment to show me something.

After a few days of attaching smaller pieces, I was ready to learn that special waterproof stitch. I had been so intimidated by this stage, but when the time came around, Maggie said, “this is the fun part!” Then when I was going at it, Eva walked in and said, “ooh, that’s the fun part!” They were right.

This was around the time that I remembered to start taking pictures.

I was so excited that first Saturday night to have a quiet evening of sewing. I had attached the first sole at Tukisigiarvik, and I was determined to do the other myself. Jared was out, I put the kids to bed, set myself up with a comfortable pillow on the dining room table and Rachel’s podcast to watch, lit the qulliq, and had a lovely time. I was so pleased with the above picture: such a typical combination of the super-modern and super-ancient! Until I looked at the second sole, and something wasn’t quite right.

The kamik on the left I sewed the sole on with help; the kamik on the right by myself. Does the toe look a little funny? That’s because I managed to sew the entire sole on, very carefully, backwards. Yup. Back to front. 

It was Saturday night, and if I have internalized one thing from hanging around a lot of older Inuit Christians, it’s that you don’t sew on Sunday. Okay, no one would really die on that hill anymore, but that’s certainly how everyone grew up! So even though I’m not sewing to survive, I take Sundays off too. Besides, I knew it’d be a lot easier to redo this seam if I did it right away. So I pulled out my handy Inuit seam ripper, a finely crafted tiny ulu that was a special gift from a dear elder friend Uliipika, who did not live to see me finish this process. I took out my previous work, and redid it. A little faster the second time, thankfully. By 11:30 when I tied off, the qulliq was burning pretty low.

The next week back at Tukisigiarvik, it was time to turn these puppies inside out. Maggie and Sarah gave the soles their final shape, and then showed me the inside part of that special waterproof stitch.

Seeing the inside of these skins gives me another chance to talk about these amazing materials. It makes sense, when you think about it, that if you’re going to survive in a harsh environment, the materials to do so will come from animals who have their skin as protection. The black sole comes from a bearded seal, and when we purchased it, it was about as hard as a thin piece of wood, and would bend only reluctantly, like a thick piece of plastic. It took a lot of force just to cut it. The reason all that chewing and sewing had to happen was to soften it enough that it could be sewn by hand. By the time it was finally soaked with salt water and a healthy quantity of spit, it was as supple as a shirt. Sewing with it was incredible. I couldn’t believe it, but it was actually in the sort of shape that I could make it into tiny gathers, and shape the inside edge of the thick skin into a smooth slanting ridge, and sew right through the middle of it to guide the shaping. In order to keep it that soft, I had to keep it in the freezer when I wasn’t working on it, and take it out exactly enough time in advance that it’d be thawed enough to work on again. As it went through subsequent stages, it had to get a little dryer every time. When they are finished and fully dried, they will be back to that incredibly sturdy state, which is only necessary for being a long-lasting outdoor boot. I cannot imagine how any of these techniques were discovered or invented, literally before recorded history, while surviving on the land. You may not want to try this yourself, but you have to respect it.

There were some more final steps, to flatten the gathers around the toe and make the heel stand up straight. There’s a large tool used for stretching the still-damp soles into their final shape, and I’ll have to go on using it to continue stretching and shaping them when they get damp. This is a living material, and it will go on being so while it’s being used.

The moment of completion, at Tukisigiarvik one Thursday afternoon.

But I wasn’t done. This isn’t the only layer of traditional kamiik, and I hadn’t made any of the inner layers yet.

Thankfully, wool duffel is much simpler to work with. Seepa had already given me most of the pattern, and my neighbor Meena taught me how to measure to make a pattern for the leg. I sewed them with the wrong thread to start; I found out from Facebook friends Jane and Annie that you should use at least waxed thread instead of regular sewing thread. But this whole project has been a story of me just trying something, and then being corrected, because I know that if I just wait for every step until I can ask a question, I’ll never get around to it. I’ve learned that if I try something on my own, then show up and say “what did I do wrong?” then I’ll actually make progress, and I’ll really learn that skill when I do it right.

The duffel socks above had to be almost entirely re-sewn – not just because I used the wrong thread, but because they were too big to fit inside the kamiik. And I changed my mind about turning the tops down. It turns out that, in the four months since I asked for the patterns, M’s feet have grown enough that they only just fit in them. Normally there would be two additional layers, two pairs of slippers just on the feet, but I’ll only be able to fit this one layer in now. At this point, I’m glad to save a few steps, have more to learn next time, and after all, she’s just two. Strategically, I’m having another baby girl, so at least I know these will get used again if she doesn’t fit them in the fall! Yep, that’s definitely why we’re having another kid…

You can pay someone else to do the embroidery on your duffel socks, but I have spent months now staring at the tops of everyone’s boots, and I very much wanted to give it a go. Jane is generously letting me use her remarkable collection of Patons Silk Bamboo. Another Monday night friend, Annie, walked me through the different kinds of decorative stitch I could use over the seams (the red part above), and gave me some ideas for petals I could achieve. That night turned into one of the most lovely Monday nights yet, with us all huddled around watching Meena demonstrate how to embroider roses, trading stories. The next day, the practice piece above saw me refine the petals to a pattern I could repeat. And I finally figured out the french knot, after watching Maggie do like twenty of them. I’ve seriously always wanted to know how to do a french knot!

One more Monday saw Ruth and others teaching me how to make the round cord used for tying the kamiik on. Youtube tutorials were not cutting it for me, but a few quick tricks and a demonstration from Ruth had me set. I then made the cord so humorously long that, as Seepa’s daughter Elisapee pointed out on Facebook, it was long enough to make both cords. That just about made my day. Inuit from pre-recorded history to present-day Facebook, helping me out.

They were finally officially finished yesterday.

The eye is drawn to the color at the top, with which I am genuinely pleased. But by now you know that the real action is down here.

Material sturdy enough to be an outdoor boot, in 1 mm gathers. You could not make this up.

I was pretty careful about how I introduced these to M – I’m no idiot, and I know that getting super emotionally invested in an heirloom handcraft for a two-year-old is not a great idea. With some coaching from my friend Andrea, I said, “Martha, do you want to try on your kamiik, or should we save them for the baby?” She wore them for a whole hour.

Maatakulu. She was named for someone we loved very much, with no thought to how unusual a name it is in America. We had no idea that we’d move to a place where it’s one of the most popular names. Seriously, there is enough personality in this tiny package to power a small town.

When it was time to pick up her sister from school today, she said “I want my kamiik!” Oh, what music to Mama’s ears!

I make things for a lot of reasons, though it gets more meaningful and intentional and less compulsive as time goes by. Still, it’s pretty rare that I make something that feels important. It was important to me to complete these kamiik and pick up the skills I would need to keep going. I’ve purchased the materials I’ll need to make kamit for N, Jared, and myself, and my goal is to make the pairs for N and me before this baby is born.

The Olympics start tomorrow at 6 a.m. EST. Usually I have a major knitting project I try to complete during the two and a half weeks of the Olympics. It’s one of my favorite things to do. But for the first time, my main project for the Olympics is not going to be knitting. I’m going to sew.

Another friend, Mary, mentioned how her mom used to do them all at once, doing the same stages of several pairs at once. I’ll follow Mary’s mom’s example and make N’s duffel socks while I’m on a roll. My goal will be to make all the inner layers of N’s kamiik: duffel socks, slippers, and embroidery. Another friend, Karen, quite a while ago gave me duffel socks and one pair of slippers for myself; I’ll do the second pair of my slippers (made of sealskin) when I do N’s second pair. If I can get through those, and get the pieces cut out for the outer boots of both of our boots, by the end of the Olympics, hopefully I’ll be well positioned to make both of our pairs before the looming ides of April.

N picked her colors yesterday, and I did the first braid today.

When you make something, you take a certain pride in it. But it’s funny: even though so many people helped me, and I made so many mistakes, I’m more proud of these than of most things I’ve made by myself. And thankful even more than proud. I say “I made these,” and it’s true enough. But I made them, and lots of other friends made them, and hunters made them, and precious beautiful animals made them, and a unique, ancient, living culture made them. It’s a gift to be a part of that. That’s why it feels important: I’m not just making something. When I do, I’m trying to honor that gift.

Four Sealskin Pualuit

It’s the Ninth Day of Christmas Crafting, and we are down to number four. We were at a spectacular party last night, where I had iqaluq, igunaq, tuktuminiq, nattiminiq, and muqtaaq. It was awesome, but between eating too much and sleeping too little, I’m hanging out in bed this morning. Perfect time to test out blogging on my phone.

Last May, I bought my first sealskin: a large, maroon, tanned affair. In the fall I was given a pattern for tiny mittens and worked up the courage to cut out the pieces. Over the Mondays that followed, I slowly, slowly, pieced them together.

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Once they were done, I heard the predictable refrain from older child: “where’s MY new mitts?” Duly noted: if I really want to get her interested in a gift, I should wrap it up and give it to her sister. But she had a point; her sweet little white mitts from our neighbor don’t fit her anymore. Meaning, M now had two pairs of warm mitts, and N had none.

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Observe sad big sister in the background with inadequate fleece mittens.

It was back to the skin with a larger pattern and an exacto knife this time (see Lesson #1).
Lesson #2 is, don’t bother with pleather. The ladies at ACW are opinionated, which they more than make up for by being generous. When I showed up with pleather for cuffs, the 2nd President gave me scraps of beaver (seen above). When I showed up with pleather for palms, they dug through their stash till they found a nice piece of proper black leather.

There are opinions to be had on lots of subjects in sewing, actually. Discussions on the merits of glovers versus sharps (which are sewing needles) reminded me of knitters debating straights verses circulars.  My choice of tikiq (thimble, also means index finger) from the store was generally deemed inferior; I was then gifted an expensive and fancy one (who knew there were expensive and fancy thimbles)? The point all agree on is that one should use good materials and tools so that sewing is actually fun. That is a sentiment I understand.

For the cuffs on N’s mitts, I was offered more beaver, but I wanted something different, so I could tell whose mitts were whose without holding them up to compare sizes. I had saved up, and went to the Big Craft Sale with the hope of purchasing some kind of fox fur.

The fox was expensive, and the furrier there didn’t have a colour that would go with maroon. But he was selling some coyote for a reasonable price. I chose one that had wide strips of white along its flank, with the idea of using them for cuffs. Thus, I brought home my Second Fur.

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The fur on its back, with the edges curled in. You see the nice white strips along the tummy.

I did a lousy job cutting it, since I always end up doing these things on Monday night right before a meeting. I managed, with a little stretching. Fluff covers a multitude of sins.
I must say, the most exciting part of sewing pualuit (mittens) for me is the gathering. To get that distinctive Baffin look, the thumbs  and fingers are sharply gathered.

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You can sort of tell in this picture how the thumbs look twisted outwards. The tops aren’t too bad though, if you don’t look closely. This is right before I sewed the last liner together inside out so that I had two left hand liners.

It’s all done by hand, and I’m crap at it. There are two gathers per piece, and two pieces per mitt (skin outer and fleece liner), so I’ve had sixteen tries, and each one comes out different. I’ve tried basting, marking, different at starting points, and using different rates of gathering. Every time it’s better, but still quite wrong.

You might think this was a turn off, but that’s the opposite of true. It means it’s always exciting. Which way should I try next? Which direction will it skew this time? It’s like mastering a board game; developing strategy and learning the fine detains is most of the fun. Besides, even when I get it wrong, I don’t “lose.” They are still mitts.

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I have so far to go before I’m a shade as good as the masters I hang out with, so I might as well enjoy the process. And the girls have warm hands, even though the thumbs are skewed.

Eleven Pointed Petals

This second installment of the Twelve Days of Christmas Knitting Crafting brings us, in reverse order, to the number 11. Eleven, in this case, happens to be the number of tiny top petal shapes I cut out of sealskin one October afternoon.

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I’m excited to learn how to work with sealskin, but I’m also intimidated. That’s why I decided to start small. Real small.

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I have seen many designs of sealskin flowers at craft fairs around town, on headbands, pins, hair ties, or hot glued to a pipe cleaner and placed in a vase. It looked pretty manageable, so I decided to give it a shot.

Working with Skins Lesson #1: Don’t Use Scissors.

Oops. I wondered why there was a hairy mess all over the table when I finished cutting out all these pieces.

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I considered using hot glue for this operation, but thought better of it and just sewed the pieces on. It helped that I’d purchased high-quality headbands with padded cloth covering. (I can’t stand uncomfortable headbands, so I wasn’t about to inflict one on little girls I care about.) I would describe the process for you interest, but I pretty much just winged it. A stitch here, a stitch there, awkward as anything, ’till it seemed well arranged and secure. I had some wooden beads stashed away that I thought made a nice centre.

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I tried a six-petal and a five-petal, one with the bottom layer all in one piece, and one in three double-petal pieces. The latter looked better, since I could arrange the ends of each petal to go with the nap of the fur. Of course, I negated this advantage by using scissors, which cut off most of the tips. Live and learn.

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One winged off to a cousin, and one went into M’s stocking. She’s generally the one whose bangs need more tempering.

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May your Christmas celebrations be florally beautiful and warm. Happy (belated) St. Stephen’s Day to all my deacon friends, and to all my priest friends who are still deacons!

Relevant Information

This is Rhinebeck weekend.

I have never been to Rhinebeck. At this point, it’s looking pretty likely that I never will go Rhinebeck. My life just doesn’t involve going to major Sheep & Wool festivals anymore, and that’s OK. But for some reason, the fact that Rhinebeck is always the middle weekend in October is fixed into my mind, and I always remember it. Like that ex-boyfriend’s birthday that you remember on odd years.

I was observing/lamenting all this out loud to Jared (leaving out the ex-boyfriend bit), wondering why such irrelevant information would keep coming up in my mind every year. Is there something I’m supposed to do with it? Should I spin something or start a new project, just to observe the knitterly part of fall? Or is there no point?

His suggestion was much more sensible. Mark it as a time to do something crafty, that is relevant to my new life.

So I did.

Yesterday, when all our chores were done, I rolled out the purple sealskin, pinned to it a little pualuk pattern given by a friend, and cut out the pieces.

I love cutting things out! I think cutting pieces out is my favorite part of sewing. I may have bought N more paper doll books just so I could cut the pieces out. (Imagine my dismay when they were all punch-out paper dolls. Dumb.)

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You will observe that, logically, cutting a furry skin with scizzors produces a lot of cut hairs, and fuzz everywhere. I did think about the lay of the hairs (would you call that nap?) when I was pinning the pieces, but not when I was cutting. After a sheepish post on Facebook, I have gathered that I am supposed to use an exacto knife or ulu to cut a sealskin.

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Oops. Well, that’s why my first project is small.

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I was as economical as I could be with the pieces (with the caveat that: I have no idea what I’m doing), but I still had some sizeable leftover bits. I tried cutting the bigger leftover pieces into stars and flowers, to hot glue onto headbands or something, but the nap made this a challenge too.

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Two projects: One ready for hot glue, the other ready for some sewing time. ACW starts tomorrow! Rhinebeck weekend no more: it’s Sealskin Weekend.

Addendum: To the extent that I blog about this project at all, I will be intentionally vague about the process and patterns. There is a history of fashion designers coming from the south, learning indigenous designs, and using them in their own designs for profit. I will not willingly participate in or enable such activity. I am doing this entirely for my own participation and edification, and sharing it for family and friends who want to come along as I learn more about life in the North and the amazing people who live here.

Seal Skins, Staples, and Sartorial Oscillation: Inuit Arts and Me, Part 3

Fox fur is great for trim, and there’s the occasional use of rabbit, or even polar bear, if you are either a hardcore adventurer or made of money. However, the real meat (so to speak) of Inuit sewing-with-skins is done with seal skin. I’ve been longing to try sewing with sealskin for a while, so at a big craft festival last April, when the Cathedral’s fundraising table was selling a beautiful maroon sealskin, I took the plunge.

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Gorgeous, no? This one is already tanned and dyed and stamped with a size, so I’m guessing this went through a furrier before it came back to the north.

As soon as I bought it, the learning experience started. Much to my surprise, the first thing one has to do with a tanned sealskin is to block it. Yes, it’s pretty much the same idea as blocking a sweater. You get it damp, then stretch it out, stapling it to a piece of plywood to dry. This gives you up to an extra 25% of skin area and gets rid of any folds or wrinkles (after it’s stretched you roll it up to store).

Plywood is generally in plenty up here, as there are always crates of supplies coming up that are torn apart and used for everything from clubhouses to cabins to campfires. But this is a pretty big skin, and not just any board would do. Additionally, April is still a long way from the season when crates come up in ships, and last year’s flood of shipping scrap was mostly spoken for. I looked around for a piece, without success. Life and vacation intervened, and the skin sat folded up in a bag in the closet.

Finally, in August, we got out own sealift crate. It was a doozy, something like 2 meters by 2.5 meters by 1.5 meters, containing a year’s supply of canned fruit and cereal and flour and tortilla chips, four tires, and some clothes and books out of storage in our parents’ basements. My in-laws were visiting, so Jared’s dad helped us open ‘er up, and took the long top off, which was just the piece I was waiting for.

A trip to the hardware/craft supply store – inscrutably called “Baffin Electronics,” since the only thing you can’t buy there is electronics – procured me a wee staplegun, and we were ready to roll.

N helped me dampen the skin down with wet cloths, it sat in a bag overnight, then Jared helped me staple it in place.

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Fun fact: on a windy day, an enormous piece of plywood will attempt to act as a sail. Mercifully, the whole process took about ten minutes.

It didn’t grow a lot. When we stapled it on, I noticed marks along the edges that looked like they may have had staples in before, so it may have been stretched previously. Also, I may not have gotten it wet enough. But the fold marks are gone, and that was a very necessary improvement.

Some wiggling got the board back into our cold room to dry, in between the boxes we haven’t gotten around to taking to the dump and the dishwasher we haven’t gotten around to installing. If you want a picture of life without a basement, here ya go.

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It’s still out there, between empty bins and old baby stuff, because I can’t decide what to make with it. Here’s the trouble: My ultimate goal is to make big fancy things. I want to make kamiks (boots) and coats, because they are awesome and practical and beautiful. But I don’t need another coat at this point (and would need a ton more supplies), and I’m not ready to make kamiks. Kamiks (or more properly, kamiik is how you say two kamik) are really the pinnacle of Inuit sewing (or so I gather), so I should probably work my way up to that. And besides, I suspect an untanned skin is better for kamiik.

What I really need is an intermediary goal. But I just can’t decide what. A purse? A little bag? A hat? Slippers? Mittens for Martha? (I already have a pair for me.) Little flowers to hot glue on clips? A headband? A fuzzy stole? I can’t decide! When it comes down to it, this is really just a fabulous piece of fabric, and I’ve never started with a piece of fabric then decided what to make. I could make anything, and at the moment, that’s a little paralyzing.

So that’s where I’m at right now in terms of hands-on learning of Inuit sewing. I’ve made a new category for northern arts, and we’ll see how much I use it, what with the fact that I have an actual ministry job that’s interesting, plenty of knitting planned, and small children with a low tolerance for mama sitting still attending to something that is not them. Well, one day at a time. The first thing I need to do is find a screwdriver and pry those staples out. Then I can get my behind to Baffin E and see if I get a better needle for working leather. And a thimble. Definitely going to need a thimble.

Never Say Never to Nylon: Inuit Arts and Me, Part 2

I didn’t make an amauti last year, but I bought two used ones. One is for spring or fall, and one is for winter. I got the winter one for a great deal at a yard sale; it’s traditional white, has two layers, and genuine oil stains from fixing a snowmobile. It’s kinda big on me, but I love it, and it would be so nice to have fur trim on the hood. Fur on a hood really makes it a lot warmer, and it cuts the wind way down around your face. But I was waffling about whether to do it, mostly because it’d be expensive. To get a big enough piece for an amauti, 4 feet long, would probably cost me around $200. This may very well be my last winter of amuk-ing a baby, and I don’t know that this one is in good enough shape to sell when we’re done with it. See above about oil stains. (If we end up having more kids, I will make or commission an amauti that fits me a bit better.)

Fast forward to this summer. I’m in Olney, Maryland; it’s June; it’s hot. I’m on my second visit to So Original in Sandy Spring, a funky store run by a sassy Russian designer, now in its third location a sprawling labyrinth of an old bank building, its tiny rooms bristling with the wildest selection I’ve seen since Yarn’s Unlimited’s former glory. She still has a room just for novelty yarn; I didn’t even know that was possible.

I had brought my sister-in-law back to browse, and was on my third or fourth walk through when I stopped dead in my tracks. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something that looked a lot like a fox fur. “Why is there a fox fur in a yarn store?” I thought, then I picked it up. It was knitted.

It was knitted out of a fun fur, but the yarn was constructed in such a way that it actually looked like fur. Looking at the yarn’s construction, the main color of fur is shorter, and is accompanied by fewer, longer strands of a different color – white or black – that makes it look like the tips are a different color. Like a silver-tipped pink, or a black-tipped orange. Hey, it fooled me for a second. (It’s Luzia by Louisa Harding yarns, by the bye.) Did they have purple? Yes they did.

My sister-in-law thought I was kidding her when I walked out of the back room with a bag full of fun fur. I’m best known for all wool all the time, the crunchier and closer to the sheep, the better. To say this is not my MO is a serious understatement. But somehow, the series of insane events that has been my life has resulted in me laying down a cool $50 for three balls of fancy nylon fun fur. (Hey, compared to what I was considering paying for a real fox fur, I was saving money! At least, that’s the justification I used when I got home.) I had my interchangeable set with me, so I could cast on right away.

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As with the black fox fur, I experienced some hesitation at first. For some reason, I remembered the shop sample being knit in such a way that the fur only showed through on one side, and I couldn’t get that to happen. I was scouring the internet for tips, to no avail. After a few attempts I realized the yarn was going to wear out if I kept trying, so – get this – I went back to the yarn store to have my hand held. That was a moment. Going back to a yarn store to have my hand held, and with fun fur. That was surreal enough to make me a little dizzy. Awesome Russian Lady was very knowledgeable and willing to help, and a closer examination of the sample showed that my memory was quite faulty. It did indeed have fur on both sides. After that, I just picked a suitable number of stitches, cast on, and knit like the wind ’till I had forty eight inches.

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Once I got going, I shouldn’t have to tell you, it was a sneeze of a knit. Trouble is, after that, I had to sew it on. So, of course, when we got back to  it sat in a drawer for two months.

This is very silly, because once I sucked it up and did it, I had it done in the time it takes to ignore a showing of Bladerunner. I was imagining another long, careful sew like my black hood trim, but combine these factors: it’s not fur (therefore really easy to sew through), it’s knitted fabric (therefore flexible), it’s not black on black, and I’m only expecting to use it for one season, well… poof.

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I swear, I didn’t know I was making this face.

 

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Exhibit A of why I almost always wear my hair in a tight braid: Most days, I have to balance this grabby girl on my head and slide her into a pocket on my back. I thought I could get away with a little side ponytail this day. Nope.

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We’ll see how this knitterly take on an old Inuit technique holds up. It’s really not real fur, and there’s a huge difference. It won’t be as warm, and it won’t hold up as long. And I definitely expect some funny looks from Inuit! But it’ll help me get one more year of use out of this coat, and I expect it to add some warmth and wind shielding. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of opportunity to compare it with my kindercoat fur.

Tomorrow: What’s next on the docket for northern sewing projects?

Fine Fox Fur Fuzz Feels Fabulous: Inuit Arts and Me, Part 1

When we moved north north north a year ago, I was so excited to be moving somewhere that handcrafts were a big deal. To this day, I’m grateful that my knitterly preoccupations fit right into my otherwise very different environment. And I was willing – nay, eager – to adapt further to the landscape, and take up more of that other craft, the one that alternately annoys and terrifies me whenever I dare it: sewing.

Specifically, sewing with skins and furs, and sewing outerwear. Inuit women are all over it. The local craft shop (which doubles as a hardware store) stocks every color of gore-tex fabric, and furs are available both at craft sales and by mail order from furriers.

If you’re not into killing animals for their pelts, well… in another context I might have an ear for you, but up here, fur is survival. I cannot describe to you what a difference it makes to have the windbreaking softness of fox fur next to your face, or how sealskin layered with leather and fleece keeps your hands warm when it’s -40 with windchill. Also, I don’t know about the furriers, but the hunters up here – even the ones who sell commercially – use the whole animal. There are pretty strict quotas on harvesting, from what I understand. Seals are not as endangered as you think. They are also delicious.

Anyway, if you hate me now, that’s cool. I promise I won’t murder a kitten just to get your goat (so to speak). Otherwise, read on.

I did not achieve my absolutely addle-headed goal of sewing an amauti (Inuit baby-wearing coat) for my first winter here. In fact, the only sewing I got done last year was to add a strip of fox fur to my kindercoat hood.

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This is the only shot I have of it; I don’t know what happened to my in-progress shots, it was so long ago now that I worked on it. It was a bit of an experience: I saw someone on our local sell/swap Facebook group selling a hood-sized strip of fur, showed up at their house and exchanged cash for said fur, and took it home. At first I just stared at it for a while. I had insecure, awkward conversations about it with my neighbor, the dean’s wife, who is a one-woman sewing and kitting factory. Mostly they ended with “just whipstitch it on, good grief.” And, eventually, I did.

It wasn’t a technical operation, though it was operationally difficult. Black on black was potentially not the best choice, especially since at the time the days were down to 5-6 hours long. I think I had the wrong needle, and the one time I tried to work on it at ACW, the elders were all shocked that I didn’t use a thimble. Well, that explains how I wore off the pad on my left index finger. And here I thought thimbles were just for antique collectors.

But I struggled through, and after less hours than it takes to knit a DK-weight hat, I have an absolutely fabulous fur trim on my Kindercoat.

I am very very happy with my fur trim. N wants one for her coat, and I will do it if I run across a good piece. I’ll get a thimble next time. And I won’t do black.

So that was my one bit of sewing last year. Tomorrow: my one bit of sewing thus far this year, which was a rather… unusual… knitterly take on the same thing.