How Sewing Sustains Inuit Seamstresses Through Generations
Inuit Art Foundation | November 24, 2021
Sewing has sustained Inuit since time immemorial. From women hunched over their seal and caribou skins cutting, designing and sewing their clothing with sinew and bone needles to women hunched over modern sewing machines stitching modern materials into timeless clothing designs—such as amautiit (Inuit women’s baby carriers) and japait (winter parkas)—wearable art is the norm for Inuit sewers. Now, women in Arviat, NU, (and all across Inuit Nunangat) are transitioning again, moving to make and sell pieces on online platforms such as Facebook.
Arviat seamstress Charlotte St. John first got into sewing as a way to make her clothes fit properly. “I made my own adjustments because I’m a smaller frame,” she says. “Plus I liked designing—it’s your own creativity that kicks in and you try really different and new things.”
“One day, it just clicked to me,” says Gabai Kaludjak, another Arviat seamstress. “I took apart one of my old parkas, and took some material from my mom’s sewing supply stash and just did my own thing.” There is something about the first time you try to bring what is in your mind to life: getting an amautik or a parka to fit perfectly around the waist, where the arms won’t be too big and the hood will sit just right, takes effort and patience.
Charlotte was taught by her grandmother, mother and aunts as well as her teacher when she attended residential school in Churchill, MB. Gabai taught herself with the help and mentorship from her own mom. I began sewing at a young age, when I watched how seamstresses cut and sewed garments together. One of the seamstresses I saw at work, while visiting with her grandchildren, was Charlotte St. John herself.