Stay In Fashion (and Warm) in Greenland with Qiviut, Muskox Wool

IMG_5129  Kangerlussuaq, 67*N, midday January 2015 (-25*C / -13*F)

How do you stay warm in the Greenland winter? If you’re a tourist, take a tip from the locals. And if you’re a local, you take a tip from the wildlife.

Locals know best

Just like you might follow where the locals go to find the best live music in town, you should note what Greenlanders wear to keep warm.

Of course there are the usual suspects walking around like Canada Goose jackets and Sorel snow boots, but Greenlanders also use a whole host of sustainable locally-sourced animal products as functional, fashionable clothing.

It makes perfect sense, right? These are the very materials that allow Greenland’s wildlife to brave the sub-zero temperatures and icy waters of their Arctic home, and Greenlanders are using their meat and bones for sustenance anyway.

In the north, polar bear fur is common, and sealskin is more and more the image of urban Greenlandic fashion, thanks to the Great Greenland fur house.

But have you heard of muskox wool?

Muskox wool – Greenland’s cashmere

Muskox wool, called qiviut in Greenlandic, is very popular in Greenland for accessories like hats, shawls, and wrist-warmers. It is so fine a material – incredibly warm and soft – and it can even be washed without fear of shrinking. It is the underfur of the muskox, a goat-like animal with thick gnarly horns and an even thicker long coat, that is made into decadent yarn and woven into exquisite pieces. Some of the finest baby clothes I’ve ever seen were made of qiviut.

The best part for tourists is that qiviut is 100% approved for export (unlike polar bear and seal products). Therefore, you can buy up all the qiviut accessories your heart desires. I bet you’ll be the warmest person on the street once you get home! You could also buy the yarn in spools and take it home to the knitter in your life.

Here are my favorite personal qiviut items – a hat handmade and purchased in Kangerlussuaq at the Niviarsiaq Uld shop, and wrist warmers handmade by my colleague’s teenage daughter in Nuuk.

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If you find yourself in Sisimiut one day admiring a woman’s beautifully-woven qiviut scarf, chances are you just might be taking a tip from the local who knows very best.

Read more on Greenland.com about Anita Høegh of Sisimiut – the woman who pioneered the muskox wool industry in Greenland and changed how Greenlanders do warm!

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Handmade Sealskin Crafts in Greenland, Part 2

Never Too Much of a Good Thing

After writing Part 1 about handmade sealskin crafts this morning (a short How-To on making a decorative sash out of sealskin, with a sweet personal story behind it) I inspired myself so much that I used a few more hours today to play around with the material and see what I could come up with!

My pride and joy was this beauty – a mobile phone pouch 🙂 It is obviously fashionable as it is made of 100% fantastic red sustainable Greenlandic sealskin, and I embellished it with a cut-out of an Ulo (a woman’s knife / a classic Greenlandic symbol).

What’s more is, this phone pouch is actually a highly functional piece! In winter, the temperatures in Greenland can reach -30*C / -22*F. Such extreme temperatures have strong effects on technology like mobile phones, cameras, etc., and more than once my iPhone has shut off due to cold temperatures, even with a full battery! So this phone pouch serves to insulate a phone and protect it from extreme temperatures.

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Other Loot

The Ulo cut-out negatives from my phone pouch gave me a pair of small Ulos that I could well imagine turning into a pair of dangling earrings.

I also tried creating a bracelet. What started as an idea for a solid Cuff turned into this whimsical buckle-design bracelet. The fur on the strap faces a different direction than the fur on the square piece, creating a bit of texture with the opposing fur grains.

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With a creative mind, the possibilities are endless. What will you create today?

Handmade Sealskin Crafts in Greenland, Part 1

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Handmade with Love

On Tuesday I tried my hand at sealskin crafts for the very first time – all in the name of love!

A friend was getting married the next day and expressed that she felt her ivory wedding dress was a bit ‘plain’. The neckline was already beautifully detailed, so an embellished necklace would not suit. And then my thoughts went immediately to a colored sealskin sash!

After fruitlessly looking around the shops in Nuuk, I settled on buying my own skin at Anori Art and making it for her myself. I’m a creative gal, so how hard could it be? And here in Greenland, handmade is very common. Greenlanders do, after all, make their entire national dress, called Kalaallisuut in Greenlandic, by hand.

Sustainable Sealskin

Seal hunting is a traditional element of Greenlandic culture that still persists in today’s modern life. Yes, houses with central heating and European design have replaced turf huts, but no, the ‘acceptable’ foods of the world (ex: chicken, fresh fruits and vegetables) are still not cheap in Greenland. Therefore, there is a heavy reliance on Greenland’s own land and sea for nutrition and economic income, and this includes seal.

Seal hunting in Greenland is 100% sustainable as every part of the animal is used – meat and organs for food, skin/fur for fashionable yet functionally warm clothing – there are regulations for which types of seals can be caught, and there are quotas for how many can be caught. There is a very deep-rooted history of respecting nature in Inuit culture, so to assert that seal hunting in Greenland is anything but sustainable is actually quite an insult.

Read more about seal hunting in Greenland at Inuit Sila, an organization whose work is dedicated to spreading the right and true message about seal hunting in Greenland. Their website is in Danish, but you can watch this Inuit Sila campaign film in English.

Sarah’s Sealskin Workshop

This is the Great Greenland sealskin I bought at Anori Art in Nuuk. It comes from a Ring Seal (called Natseq in Greenlandic) and has been dyed red. Each skin is unique and of a different size.

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Step 1

As my target was to make a sash to go around the Bride’s waist, I needed one long, thin, rectangular piece of sealskin. I cut the sealskin into pieces like so, and I used the two narrower strips that measure 80 cm x 15 cm each (31.5 in x 6 in).

The tail pieces are just scraps while the three remaining pieces will be put to good use in my next sealskin creations!

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Sealskin for Dummies Hint: Sealskin has real fur attached, so, just like cutting hair, when you cut sealskin you will be left with quite a mess to clean up. For easy cleaning, lay newspapers or a trash bag down on your work surface before starting.

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Step 2

I sewed the two narrow strips of sealskin together at the short end to create one long 160 cm x 15 cm strip. The stitches are approximately 1 cm from the edge. This creates a seam in the sash. To make the seam as discrete as possible, I planned for it be under the Bride’s left arm.

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Sealskin for Dummies Hint: With the fur side up, make sure to match the two strips of sealskin so that the fur goes in the same direction, giving the impression of one long continuous piece of sealskin.

This is mostly about creating a smooth, continuous texture for the sash, as a visible transition between the two pieces of sealskin is imminent.

Step 3

Knowing the Bride’s exact waist measurement, I cut the excess sealskin off of both ends of the sash, so that the seam remained in the exact middle. This then allows for the closure end to be discretely under the Bride’s right arm. (For example: if I want the final sash to be 60 cm long, I would need to remove 100 cm of excess sealskin. Therefore, I would cut 50 cm off of each end of the sash.)

Sealskin for Dummies Hint: Since this sash is wearable clothing and the Bride needed to feel free to sit down, stand up, dance, and hug as she wished without worrying about breaking the sash, I added 5 cm (2 in) of “wiggle room” to the length of the sash. It was perfect.

Step 4

I sewed a small button on one end of the sash to serve as closure. The center of the button is 2.5 cm (1 in) from the edge, which also helps use some of the extra 4 cm wiggle room.

Notice that this button is blue – a special touch, as the Bride comes from a Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.. tradition!

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Step 5

I sewed a small loop of elastic cord on the other end of the sash to serve as closure. The ends are sewn 1 cm from the edge, and the loop extends past the edge of the sash. The loop depicted below is actually a bit too big, but it shows great use of the clip to keep everything in place 🙂

Sealskin for Dummies Hint: Clips really come in handy to tack pieces in place while you sew them together.

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Finished Product

Here is the closure of the sash. Notice how the loop and the button sort of sink into the fur of the sealskin so they are as discrete as possible. Notice also how the fur all lies in the same direction as if one continuous piece of sealskin.

The Bride’s sealskin sash in action. She loves anything red, so this was the perfect pop of color that also pays homage to her new life in Greenland.

Kammannguaq pilluarit! Congratulations my dear friend!

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