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© McCord Museum
Ulu and blade sharpener
Central Arctic
Inuit: Inuinnaq (Kilusiktormiut)
Anonyme - Anonymous
1900-1930, 20th century
Iron, antler, sinew, tooth (bear)
8.5 x 8.5 cm
Gift of Arctic Institute of North America
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

The multi-functional woman's knife, the ulu, is used to process and cut skins for clothing and footwear. The seamstress must ensure that the ulu is "held straight up when cutting skins or the edges can't be sewn together properly," as Lucy Meeko of Kuujjuaraapik, Nunavik, explained. As well, Jeela Alikatuktuk Moss-Davies has pointed out that "There is a certain way to cut furs, for example the trim around an amauti, so it will lie flat but curve when required."

The seamstress works with a razor-sharp ulu, sharpening the blade often with a steel or another ulu, or in the old days a stone or bone. If the skin is haired, she places the fur side down, holds the ulu upright, starts the cut with the sharp corner of the ulu and severs the skin smoothly in a motion away from her body. She lifts the skin enough to prevent the ulu from cutting off the hairs underneath for, if this happens, the seams and stitches will be visible in the finished garment, and the damaged hair will impede water and dirt from running off.


Dr. Robert McGhee, Canadian Museum of Civilization, confirmed that this small ulu is typical of those used by the Kilusiktormiut to cut and trim skins. The tang fits into the handle by a mortise joint and the metal blade is held to the tang by three rivets. Both the handle and tang are made of antler. The blade is sharpened on both sides. A bear tooth, used to sharpen the blade, is attached by braided sinew (singait).


The territory of the Kilusiktormiut encompasses both sides of Coronation Gulf - north to Victoria Island and the south coast of Banks Island, and south to the rivers that lead to Qurluqtuuq (Coppermine) and Umingmaktuuq (Bay Chimo).


Members of the Canadian Arctic Expedition - the southern party was led by Diamond Jenness - visited the region from 1913 to 1918. Many artifacts collected either as gifts or through trade by this and other expeditions were deposited in museums around the world.


A Kilusiktormiut hunter likely made this ulu and blade sharpener for his wife. While travelling in his Central Arctic hunting grounds, he may have met Inuit from regions to the east and west. He may have come by the Siberian motifs used in this ulu from the Inupiat and Yup'ik in Alaska, or from the Inuvialuit living in Avvaq or Qikiqtaruk.

© Musée McCord Museum