Trip to Iqaluit

Posted: Jan 04 2012

A year ago, Rowena House, executive director of the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association (NACA), walked into Rowland Leather in Merrickville. She was extremely impressed with the quality of the work being done by local designer/craftsman, Michael Rowland. She wondered if it might be possible to entice him to share his expertise with talented seamstresses in Nunavut. NACA promotes the growth and appreciation of Nunavut artists, and the production of their arts and crafts. And so it began…
The next twelve months saw negotiations and preparation. Michael started experimenting with some of the arctic leathers and found them to be quite amenable to the tricks of his trade. A workshop was planned for mid February to take place in Arviat on the west coast of Hudson’s Bay. The weather, however, did not co-operate so the workshop was postponed and rescheduled to take place in Iqaluit.
Finally, in Sept 2011 Michael had the opportunity to spend a week there teaching his skills to ten very experienced seamstresses from all over Nunavut. They were very accomplished at working with fur, producing wonderful sealskin garments which are both culturally and economically important. Many of these talented women were graduates of Nunavut Arctic College, where they had expanded their skills of using northern materials for making practical clothing to also create innovatively attractive designs. The course at the college gave them confidence, and they became aware that their creations could harvest attention both nationally and internationally. They were, however, rather unfamiliar with leatherworking skills.
The first day Michael was in Iqaluit was spent working on patterns. He encouraged the women to make Inuit inspired fancy fronts on the first bags that they made together. There was a lot of enthusiasm for this co-creative venture. There were also challenges and hurdles to overcome. At the end of the workday Mr. Rowland had a look at the sewing machines, some of which were found not to be suitable for sewing leather. The provided machines were heavy duty, good for sewing fur. The ones in Michael’s studio in Kemptville are a bit more delicate with a finer touch. The participants were having difficulties with the sewing machines and Michael heard more than one scream of distress coming from the women as they sewed their bags. In addition, instead of being the strong nylon that he regularly used, the thread was soft cotton. One of the ladies on the course, Carol Tootoo, had a sewing machine at home that needed fixing. Without a repair man in the area, her option for repair is to send it to Montreal at a huge shipping cost. Michael was able to adjust the tension and get her Juki machine going.
Some of the seamstresses make beautiful coats and boots and mitts of their own design, among them Meeka Kilabuk. In 2009, Meeka received a Diploma in Fur Production and Design from Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit. For her women’s coat, she won the Grand Prize in the 2008 fur design student competition held by the Fur Council of Canada. For her men’s jacket, she won second place in 2009. The jacket was then entered into an international design competition held earlier this year in Milan, Italy, where it became one of the eight finalists in the competition.
Meeka has also worked in other art forms such as beading, writing and film-making. She has worked with many Inuit political organizations, was involved in the formation of the territory of Nunavut, and has travelled around Canada and internationally to represent the territory. She was challenged but encouraged by the workshop, telling Michael:
I love the zipper style; I would never have guessed how it was done. The whole workshop is a learning experience for me, big time. It's so different than sewing the seal fur or any other fur. I've made fashion designs, women’s and men’s coats, slippers, mitts. I have competed and won on the national level and made it to the finals at the international levels in Milan Italy, a first for an Inuit. This workshop will expand my skills and help me to compete with international purse makers.
Elisapi Aningmiuq also benefitted from Mr. Rowland’s teachings. She designs as well as sews traditional clothing, incorporating fashion into her practical yet stylish products. She believes that there is nothing like northern fur. Elisapi finds that the fur is beautiful, but is also versatile and durable. Michael also had the pleasure of working with Sherlyn Kadjuk, who was taught how to work with sealskin by her grandmother when she was only fourteen. Sherlyn maintains that fur is very versatile, finding it can add flair but also tradition to her modern designs.
Bag by Meeka Kilabuk
Michael wished he had brought so many more workshop things with him.
He is sure that seeing more variations of purses, briefcases, …. would have encouraged the artists to be even more creative. Despite this, MR feels that the trip was a great success! Personally he has been inspired in his quest for new ideas for his one of a kind purses and briefcases. He looks forward to the opportunity to teach such talented women again in the future. Plans are in the works.
 Bag by Sherlyn Kadjuk
Bag by Elisapi Aningmiuq

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