The Art and Technique of Inuit Clothing

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Parka and trousers
Anonyme - Anonymous
Eastern Arctic
Inuit: Nunatsiarmiut
About 1897, 19th century
Seal fur, canvas, sinew
49 x 119 cm
Gift of Mrs. R. Fairbanks and David Ross McCord
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Parka and trousers (2)
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Keys to History

The Inuit use sealskin clothing like this parka (qulittuq) and trousers (qarliik) in warm, wet weather because it is lightweight, sheds water and does not moult with dampness. Inlays of dark and white fur stripes at key places greatly beautify the outfit. These garments also have adaptations derived from non-Inuit culture: the parka has two welted cotton pockets at either side of the side front seam; the trousers have pockets, a three-button fly closure and wooden buttons of European manufacture at the waist to hold braces.

This outfit originated with the Nunatsiarmiut who occupy the southern two-thirds of Qikiqtaaluk (Baffin Island). Between 1576 and 1578 this region was visited by Sir Martin Frobisher, who was in search of the Northwest Passage to India and China. He took a number of Inuit captive and took them back to England. Images of these captives have been preserved in the watercolours of artist John White. There are many features in common between the 16th century clothing shown in these paintings and that of this 19th century parka and trousers.

  • What

    This man's parka (qulittuq) and trousers (qarliik) are made from the skin of young ringed seal, fur to the outside. The parka is straight cut, has side vents and a pointed hood. Both garments are loose-fitting to allow air circulation, thereby keeping the body cool and dry.

  • Where

    Siasi Smiler, Kativik School Board, and Judy McGrath, editor, archivist and curator in Labrador, have identified this clothing as coming from Qikiqtaaluk due to the pointed hood, straight-cut edge and side vents.

  • When

    These garments appear to have been made specifically for Dr. William Wakeham in 1897, the date when he commanded an expedition to the Arctic. Wakeham learned from the Nunatsiarmiut how best to survive in the Arctic, including what to wear. A photograph in the collection of Library and Archives Canada shows him dressed in this clothing.

  • Who

    Dr. William Wakeham (1845-1915) had this outfit made for him while he was commander of the S. S. Diana for Marine and Fisheries Canada. The ship visited ports on the Labrador coast, in Ungava Bay, on both sides of Hudson Strait and Hudson Bay and on the coast of Qikiqtaaluk (Baffin Island) up to Cumberland Sound.