The Art and Technique of Inuit Clothing
Anonyme - Anonymous
Inuit: Inuinnaq (Kilusiktormiut)
1910-1915, 20th century
Caribou bone, bird bone, caribou hide, sinew, metal, pigment
2 x 43 cm
Gift of J. J. O'Neill
© McCord Museum
Keys to History
An Inuit woman stored and protected her precious needles in a container carved out of ivory or made from a hollowed bone. The materials used to make needlecases included bone, antler and ivory from land animals and sea mammals. Even the stalk of a bird's feather could house the fragile needles. The needlecase had two basic forms: cylindrical and rectangular. The most common type of needle storage using the tubular model employed a sealskin strap that passed through the length of the tube. The needles were stuck into the piece of hide, and the seamstress pulled it out of the tube to insert or withdraw her needles. Rectangular cases had a hollow interior filled with moss. Sometimes a stopper closed the case.
The shape, decoration and tactile and visual qualities of needlecases attest to the skill and devotion of the men who carved them. The designs, usually incised with an engraving knife, reflect motifs used in the past from all over the Arctic.
This needlecase is made from a caribou bone that has been split, hollowed, trimmed and polished. A strip of dehaired hide passes through the case in which is inserted a metal needle. The bone spatula, attached by braided sinew (singait), could be used to obtain marrow or as a boot creaser. A bone thimble and thimble guard are also suspended by sinew.
This needlecase was probably collected among the Kilusiktormiut, formerly known as the Copper Inuit. Their territories encompass the vast areas on both sides of Coronation Gulf, Nunavut.
Dr. J. J. O'Neill (1886-1965), the collector, served with the Southern Party of the Canadian Arctic Expedition, which explored the Kilusiktormiut areas from 1913 to 1916. The high polish on this case could be due not only to the weathering process but also to many years of use.
The ornamental designs made by the Kilusiktormiut hunter on this needlecase are evocative of the earlier Paleo-Eskimo tradition of arrow-like shapes, triangles and parallel lines. This decoration attests to the fidelity of the Inuit to their cultural heritage, passed from parents to children over millennia.