Why a scarf is the best accessory in Greenland

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Wondering what to pack for your cosy winter getaway in Greenland?

 

Winter is that time of year when you struggle to look different any time you leave the house because you typically wear the same parka and the same snow pants every single day from October until April – and if you are like me, they are both black. Hence why a selection of colourful and exciting scarves (or hats for that matter) helps to change up the look!

Here is a starting list of what I suggest you pack for a winter holiday in Greenland, in addition to your everyday indoor clothes:

  • Down parka with hood – I use one by Mountain Hardware that has never let me feel the cold ever, but a lot of Greenlanders use a Canada Goose jacket, too. They’re just too heavy feeling for me. A knee-length jacket is what I suggest for max warmth, but it is not the best if you will be doing outdoor adventures that require a lot of mobility of your legs, so you must choose a jacket that fits your activity needs. A good jacket will not require you to have excessive layers underneath, but you will want to use a medium- or heavy-weight long underwear top and a wool layer for half-day or full-day outdoor adventures.
  • Insulated snow pants – not that I can imagine a pair of snow pants that aren’t, but they should be both waterproof and windproof. Just wear them over your jeans or everyday pants when walking around in town, or layer a pair of medium- to heavy-weight wool long underwear underneath them for half-day or full-day outdoor adventures. I use:
  • Wool socks – important because if snow does get into your pants/boots, the socks will remain warm even if they are wet. I don’t suggest the scratchy wool kind.
  • Winter boots – in general, they should be waterproof and have very good traction on the soles as there is snow and ice everywhere (no down-to-the-concrete plowing here). It is best if they give a minimum-temperature guarantee, but not everyone does. Places in the Arctic Circle Region and North Greenland get down to -25 to -30*C / -13 to -22*F, while places in the Capital Region and East Greenland typically hover in the -10 to -15*C / 5 to 14*F range. South Greenland is even milder. Over the years I’ve used these brands, starting with the most satisfactory:
    • Hanwag Tatra Lady GTX – My current shoe. Quite happily surprised, actually, that these boots function well in winter, as I purchased them in summer as a hiking shoe. But they are completely waterproof as I’ve tested on many occasions, and I used them recently for a few hours’ snowshoe trip and they kept my feet comfortable and warm.
    • North Face Valdex Winter Boot – Also generally satisfied with these boots, but have experienced cold toes sometimes with them in -20*C / -4*F like in North Greenland. They are also very heavy!
    • Sorel Joan of Arctic Boot – Not wildly satisfied with these boots, despite I had high hopes for them since I saw so many people using them in Greenland. For me, the traction is awful, and it is never funny to feel scared you will fall down at any time. I also got tired of the fur on the liner, but that was easily substituted with an alternate liner.
  • Scarf – Wool is your best friend when it comes to accessories!
  • Gloves – Mittens are highly recommended over gloves with individual fingers, as the warmth gets circulated differently. I’ll be honest here and say that gloves made outside of Greenland have never been satisfactory enough for me. The only ones I swear by are my sealskin mittens and my muskox wool gloves, and you have the possibility to buy them yourself in Greenland. If you are buying sealskin products, be sure to know what your home country’s importation rules are about sealskin – you might run the risk it is confiscated from you. There are, however, no regulations against muskox wool.
  • Hat – I suggest a wool hat, as synthetic knits simply do not hold up to the wind. Again, the accessories I swear by on a daily basis are made of muskox wool (like the hat I wear in the picture below), which can be bought in Greenland when you arrive. Read here about why I only use muskox wool!

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8 ways to have a cosy time in Greenland

Greenlanders love to cultivate cosiness – whether that’s by completely enjoying your own company by curling up with the cat, a heavy blanket, and a good book… by feng-shuiing your living room on a Saturday morning… or by inviting friends over for a dinner party. 

I think every culture can recognise the concept of a true comfort activity. Think about gathering to watch American football games on Saturday afternoons in USA with chips, dips and beer. Think about shinrin-yoku / forest bathing in Japan to destress and reconnect with nature. Think about knitting in the Faroe Islands.

Here’s how I ‘do cosy’ in Greenland!

1. Go to Kaffemik (or host your own) – Kaffemik is a get-together of one’s family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances to celebrate exciting life events like a new baby, a baby’s christening, a child’s first day of school, birthdays, confirmations, weddings, a new house, etc. As host, you spend days baking and cooking in advance to fill your table with oodles of cakes, biscuits, coffee, tea, and all sorts of good things on the big day. The entire day is exciting and joyful with a constant flow of people coming and going. As guest, you bring a small gift for the honorary person. People often make Facebook groups to spread the news about kaffemik, but word of mouth is also just as effective, especially in the small settlements.

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2. Make arts & crafts – Of course, stretching your artistic legs requires that you have artistic legs to begin with, but for me, I have always loved putting energy toward drawing and painting and making beautiful things. The hours just fly by! Here is a card I made one evening for my friend out of plain old sequins, card stock, needle & thread, and a little inspiration from the Greenlandic women’s national costume, plus a few beaded necklaces I’ve made which also pay homage to the colourful patterned nuilarmiut, or pearl collar from the costume.

 

3. Make sealskin crafts – There’s no shortage of sealskin in Greenland, and using it is not only fashionable but functional. I love to make things for others, and what a luxurious gift sealskin is! I once made a vibrant red sealskin belt for my friend to wear at her wedding, and I’ve even made cell phone pouches out of the same. When the temperatures are very cold, sealskin works as a perfect insulator to keep your phone warm – and on! ‘Sewing clubs’ are a common thing in Greenland, but I’ll admit that all the ones I have experienced end up being much more about socialising than sewing – not necessarily a bad thing. Read here about my creations.

 

4. Relax with cosy candles and hot teaSelf-hygge is not always my strongest point. I admit, it can be a challenge for me to make myself stay in because I’m constantly wanting to be active, socialise, and take advantage of the fun events that happen in Nuuk. But when I do finally take that evening to relax with candlelight and a big pot of tea on a cold night, it feels oh so good!

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5. Bake delicious treats – Even if there’s no kaffemik on the immediate horizon, practice makes perfect, right? I don’t think there ever needs to be a ‘good reason’ to make something tasty!!

 

6. Make homemade soap – Okay, this one isn’t my own hobby, and I don’t think it’s that common anyway, but I have assisted my friend with soap-making twice now. It’s pretty fun! We tried a simple and gentle baby soap recipe with light lavender and bergamot scents. There’s something satisfying about seeing your hard work (1.5 hours of stirring with an electric mixer definitely counts as hard work!) come to something useful in a few weeks’ time. PS – the goggles and gloves are just a safety precaution when preparing the first step. The rest of the process is more fun and less mad-scientist! Photo credit: The Fourth Continent.

 

7. Eat meals together with others – Food is a universal language, and people bond when sitting to a shared table, no matter what. Whether it’s Friday morning breakfast at the office (a common thing in Greenland) or a burger night with friends or a little bit fancy dinner, meals are typically a super cosy time with tables full of delicious food, good conversation, and laughter.

 

8. Sunbathe on the terrace – Nearly every single town and village in Greenland is built on the coastline, so that means nearly every flat and house has some sort of fjord- or ocean-view and a terrace to take it in. Summers in Greenland can get quite warm, so shorts and t-shirts suit perfect for outdoor time. But when the view is that perfect, sometimes you also need a terrace day in the middle of winter. Here’s The Fourth Continent and I on her terrace out in Qinngorput on 14 February this year. With a thermos of good tea and some snacks, we stayed out there and chit-chatted for almost two hours!

Luckily for us, it does eventually get warm enough to sit outside without the winter jacket 🙂

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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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