Making up for lost time

Kimmirut women learn the art of sealskin mitten making



Martha Padluq jokes that she really needed to learn the proper way to sew mittens, since her first attempt ended up with no thumbs.

“That’s how badly I needed to learn,” The 34-year-old Kimmirut resident said, laughing.

Padluq was one of a number of women who took advantage of a 10-week workshop in the community called the “sealskin project,” which taught younger women how to take dried sealskin from its rawest form to a pair of mittens.

The community’s economic development officer, Kyra Fisher, explained that when she came to the community in March, Jeannie Padluq, a member of the Masiit Elders Committee, came to talk about project possibilities.

“All the members of the committee are very traditional,” Fisher said. “They all have boats, live out on the land at times, and have all the traditional skills. They are a very energetic group.”

Funding was secured and two workshops, to train about 24 women, were held — one before Christmas and one after.

Jeannie’s daughter, Martha, said that as times have changed, many of the skills taught to daughters by their mothers have fallen by the wayside.

“My mom, because there was no school at the time and not much work, she had all the time to learn from her mom how to sew or skin seals,” Martha said. “For people like us, since we had to go to school and find work, we didn’t have much time to learn how to sew. This workshop was one of the ways to encourage us to learn how to sew.”

Sealskins were bought from local hunters for the project, but Martha explained, they had to be scraped clean of their oily residue to make the skin softer. Then ulus were used to cut patterns out of the sealskins to make mittens.

“It’s much easier,” Martha said. ” The women who have done sewing always used ulus, not scissors.”

The women sewed the mittens with strong thread, and some brought in sinew from the back of caribou to hold the pattern pieces together. They used regular needles with lots of thimbles to protect their fingers while pushing the thin needles through the thick skin.

“It was really slow, because sealskin is a lot tougher to sew than regular material,” Martha said. “There’s a certain way you have to cut up the sealskin. There’s a right and left way of doing it, even with the material. That’s how much we learned. You just don’t flatten out the material and cut it up, it has to be the right way. The funny part was the qallunaat were much faster then us.”

About four qallunaat took the course, mostly teachers from the local school, and the age of the entire group ranged from early 20s to the instructors, who were in their 50s. The majority, like Martha, were in their 30s.

The women were given the option of sewing duffle inner mittens to go with the sealskin shell and in the the class after Christmas, women learned how to embroider on the duffle.

The classes, which lasted between two and three hours, were a great chance for learning and socializing, Martha said, and women would take turns bringing in food for the event.

“There was this teacher who made a pair of mitts and both were on the same side. She corrected her mistake and then later on a lady from Grise Fiord was sewing and the teacher noticed that it looked like she was making the same pair,” Martha said, chuckling at the memory. “The lady from Grise Fiord said it was the style, the way they do it in Grise Fiord. When she finally looked at the pair, they were two the same.”

After her bout of laughter, Martha said the course was really fun and that she would definitely do it again.

“Hopefully this won’t be the last one because three weeks is kind of too short for people like us who don’t have the full knowledge,” Martha said. “We still have lots more to learn.”

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