Thursday, February 6, 2014

Traditional Sewing of Kiiyuk Kamiks - Western Arctic Style

I've been trying to keep busy and entertained while getting much needed breaks from my little love bugs.

I have been working as a substitute teacher which is always a fun and exhausting day when the opportunity to be there arises. Today I got up and showed up only to find a power outage. Last week I had a call to be there and we had a blizzard. The Universe seems to be working against my attempts to stay busy outside of the house.
I spent last week in Librarian training with some folks from Hay River. My hopes that the role of Librarian will ever come to me are slim to none - though if I had a dream job in Ulukhaktok, that would be it - small town politics and a line up of entitlement to the job lay ahead of me.

We did just finish taking a class on Kiiyak making. Kiiyak's are traditional seal skin soled kamiks, or mukluks. This type of seal skin sole is chewed into its form.

Me beginning the chewing of my kiiyuks
Our first class we spent on the ground using old 12 gauge shot gun shells on the end of scissors to scrape all of the fur off of our Ugyuk skin. The Bearded Seal is used for this because of its tough, thick skin. The skin under the fur is dark in colour, almost black, and the reverse side is a sort of yellow shade, that sometimes doesn't smell very nice due to residual oils.
Our second class was when we started chewing. You can chew either side, happily we were chewing the dark side where the fur had been removed. The elders who were teaching our class had taken the skins home to soak them for us. We then cut them to the right size and made folds where our crimping via teeth needed to start and stop.

We scraped and chewed and gagged and chewed and eventually sewed them into finished products.
My first pair ended up being the wrong size sole as my pattern had been made too small. So I put them aside and made a pair to fit.
The pair that fits me I sewed without a design on them and in natural seal skin so that they are simple and match all of my attire. I am undecided about what kind of design to add to the duffle socks.

First finished boot without laces and with
 an unfinished duffle
My finished kiiyuks - just need to add
 some colour to the duffle
The second pair I am working on - the first small kiiyuks that I chewed - are my practice pair, which I got a little bolder with and sewed in a design. The ooh's and aww's I recieved in class and from the elders made me blush and made me overly proud of my first attempt at sewing with seal skin. They are far too big for Mekia, though her tiny feet get extremely cold so I may sew her some caribou slippers to wear inside these kamiks to keep her warm. 

My experimental pair. Sewing in designs is a lot of hard work

Katie's kiiyuks didn't fit her either so she made a second pair as well. Her first pair she finished in seal skin and her second pair she finished the traditional way - with canvas.

Katie's first pair of small kiiyuks

Katie's collection of Western style kamiks from left to right,
seal skin, caribou fur and the canvas kiiyuks she made herself
We didn't make it into the class that is running now, which certainly got me down. They are making seal skin parkas and couldn't take more than five ladies due to costs. My hope is to borrow a pattern from one of the ladies who are also making parkas for their small children and sew at home with my own materials so my boy can have one too. I am really enjoying sewing with animal skins, it is all done by hand with sinew thread which is thick and waxy, making it strong and water proof. My last experience successfully using a sewing machine must have been my days of making doll pillows with my moms machine. My comfort zone lies within the limits of hand sewn projects. Sewing traditional items has me thoroughly captivated, it's nice and relaxing to focus on the project at hand and it also opens my eyes up to the way they did things in the past - when they couldn't stop by the Northern store to buy new boots.

Our last Kiiyuk making class. Our instructors Mabel Nigiyok on the left, Mary Kudlak
in the centre and Mary's lovely daughter Emily Kudlak leading a drum song


Lilian Nattel said...

I so enjoyed reading this and seeing the pics of your beautiful and useful handiwork.

Melissa said...

Thank you Lilian! I so enjoyed learning and engaging in this project. It feels good to let your mind wander back to a time when you would have to know how to create these to provide any type of foot wear for your family. It is incredible to imagine the details of life from a mere two generations ago, and it is incredible to be a part of honoring those details and those lives.

Vee said...

I am just a random person who enjoys reading blogs from "up north", but I figured I should at least leave a comment!

All those boots are simply beautiful. I am amazed at all the talent. So gorgeous! I would much rather wear these than any store boots. I hope you will keep sharing your creations (and your northern adventures should you have time). I know I'll be going through your blog. :)

To be honest, I dream of one day living up north myself (though given my line of work, it is rather unlikely).

Lisa said...

So proud of my seal skin chewing daughter. I love you

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