Quilt craze has Kangiqsujuaq in stitches
Old southern tradition a new northern sensation
Special to NUNATSIAQ NEWS
KANGIQSUJUAQ — A one-of-a-kind raffle prize at a recent festival in Nunavik drew oohs and ahs from the crowd.
But when Mary Pilurtuut, the mayor of Kangiqsujuaq, saw the decorative quilt up for grabs she had only one thought:” we have to bring those blankets to this community.”
In the end, Pilurtuut brought the means to create quilts in Kangiqsujuaq.
Thanks to a teacher in her community whose mother is an active quilter in Ontario, Pilurtuut located two quilting instructors who were eager to teach an old southern tradition to Kangiqsujuaq’s many seamstresses.
And that’s how Yvette Fournier and Gail Gallow recently spent nearly two weeks in Kangiqsujuaq helping a group of keen sewers learn the basic techniques of quilting.
“I wanted to learn how to make my own blankets,” said one the workshop’s younger participants Maali Tukirqi, adding she had never used hand-made bedcovers at home before.
In the past, some in the community had made blankets, but not with the same detailed stitching that characterizes quilting.
The two instructors showed Kangiqsujuaq’s novice quilters how to work with patterns, letting the sewers chose their own fabrics from several boxes of donated material.
Elder Lizzie Irniq, one of the most experienced sewers in the group, kept a smile on her lips while she worked on her project.
While Irniq sews something, whatever it is, she usually knows exactly who it is for.
But this time there were too many potential recipients to narrow it down to one, she said.
“Yesterday, my seven-year-old granddaughter came to look at (my quilt) with interest,” Irniq said. “She asked me. ‘What is that and who will get it?’ I didn’t give her an answer, but I am going to tell her that she can make one of these too— and I will teach her how.”
Irniq said she could see sewing igloo patterns and other symbols of Inuit culture into her next quilt.
Jessica Arngak displayed her finished quilt, an earthy blend of yellows, reds and greens.
Arngak was an enthusiastic participant in the quilting workshop, set up in a makeshift workroom in the lobby of the hockey arena.
But she said this experience shed light on another issue: local seamstresses’ need for an appropriate space to work in.
While the municipality provides sewing machines and supplies to local sewers, they are usually confined to a small and windowless storage room in the back of the arena.
There’s not much quiet with the sounds of hockey players thumping against the wall, Arngak said.
“We really need a sewing house,” she said. “That’s why sometimes on the weekend we go to our camps to sew and clean sealskins.”
Sometimes the painstaking techniques used in quilting looked tedious, judging from the many wrinkled brows during the slicing and sewing of colourful strips.
“It’s trial and error,” instructor Gail Gallow admitted. “But these women are talented sewers— they’re doing a wonderful job.”
The finished product? A quilt made of two layers of stitched-together fabric, filled with cotton or polyester batting, on which the sewer can create a unique design.
“They seem to pick colours that I wouldn’t put together,” said instructor Yvette Fournier. “That’s part of quilting – starting with
one design and drawing from that main fabric.”
“You can see they’re all very different,” Fournier said, gesturing to the bright quilts in progress around the room.
Although the sewers worked from a traditional southern patterns during the workshop, Fournier could already see their future quilts would take on a more northern flavor.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they started creating their own style. We appliqué flowers, but they could easily choose local animals and plants,” Fournier said. “They’ll adapt it to their way of life and what suits them. It will be interesting to come back and see what they’ve made – we may be buying their quilts one day.”