Louisa Angugatsiaq Tungilik The Seamstress

Louisa Angugatsiaq Tungilik was my beautiful mother. She was beautiful externally and in her heart.

One of her great abilities was to sew Inuit traditional clothes. When she sewed caribou skin clothing, her stitching was so fine it looked only like a fine line where her seams were. Her waterproof kamiit were exactly that, waterproof.

She came from a line of perfectionists, and she was no different. I recall one time we were in an iglu and it was mid winter because the days light were short.

My dad Marc Tungilik had indeed been softening caribou skins he and my brother Kadluk caught during the early fall at the end of August.

It was the man`s duty to do the traditional skin softening process, while my mom is in the process of making clothing for every one in the family. My sister Angugasak`s responsibility was to chew the soles of the kamiit, and she was an expert at it.

She has strong teeth as we ate well most of the time in those days. Dad and Kadluk were good hunters and trappers.

That day in that iglu, I was watching my mom starting a pattern to maker an outer caribou skin qulittaq (exterior parka with fur on the outside) for my dad.

Since dad did all the softening process the skins were very soft and white
on the skin side, much pleasure to my mom.

Mom centered the skin then marked the center of the skin by pressing the folded edge with her teeth, lengthwise. She then pinched with her fingers on the skin making a wedge of line doing the patterning. Once she finished patterning she then cuts following the wedged edge as a guideline with her ulu.

This ulu is made solely for the use of cutting skin, my mom prefers it not be used for eating.

Inuit women when well off would have different sizes of uluit (plural of ulu) and each would be used for different function.

Like women who sew today who have different pairs of scissors and it was no different then with uluit.

An ulu used for cutting patterns would be small, while an ulu used for scraping seal skin is large and the handles have to fit well for good grip and greatest strength applied when fleshing sealskin.

Uluit used for eating are often medium-sized. In the old days only women used an ulu, men used knives.

Before modern sewing traditional sewing styles were very different. For example instead of using a measuring tape one would use the hand to make measurement.

Instead of store-bought needles one used a needle made from the leg bone of the caribou.

Instead of cutting the pattern with scissors, she used an ulu.

Instead of using thread one used a sinew thread, this sinew is the back muscle of the caribou.

The sinew is separated from the meat then rinsed in cold water. It is then softly rung by holding the sinew with one hand while the other semi-squeezes while making a down motion to the tip. The next one is to squeeze as hard to rid of water to speed drying.

My Mom, Angugatsiaq would then take out her agvik (wooden platform angled downward from the front to the end).

Then the sinew is put flat on the agvik. Mom then takes her saliguut (a rectangular shape with a wooden handle while the other half is hard metal. Long ago the handle were made from caribou antlers.The saliguut is not sharp as it`s function is to squeeze out the liquid without damaging the sinew.

Mom would go and dry it outside more on the shady side for slower drying. She uses plywood or rock to flatten on and it sticks to what it was laid on. It is left until it`s dry.

One had to peel off the dried sinew from it`s drying platform. It is then ready for use. Mom used to make her strands as thin as possible. Sinew is strong but one still needs to not cross the boundaries.

My mom knew how to take good care of the animal skins. This was easy for her to do when we lived in an iglu or a qarmaq (sod house).

When I was six we were told we had to live in a community now so all people living around the Nauyaat (Repulse Bay) area moved to Nauyaat, Nunavut.

In the first years we lived there we still in tents in the summer an in an iglu wintertime.

It was in the early sixties when the federal government made tiny one room houses for Inuit across the north.

This change of dwelling changed how we cared for animal skins. The house was so different from our old dwellings.

The heat was intense, not good for skins. Where once the skins were kept soft ans wearable any time, the house`s temperature were very much drying to the extreme that shrank the clothing and kamiit, and dried them hard.

Soon with having to live in a community and trying to adjust to this new way had it`s pros and cons.

As time passed living like the old ways became harder and harder. We changed to wearing fabric clothing, the cold kind.

But as hunters such ans my dad and my brother Kadluk, they still preferred traditional clothing and we soon found that they needed a different colder environment to keep, so they were stored in the unheated porch.

Taima for now.

Theresie Tungilik