BASKETS AND ORNAMENTS
An excerpt from Things Made By Inuit, compiled and edited by Marybelle Myers, head of Arts and Crafts Development for La Fédération des Coopératives du Noveau-Québec (FCNQ), and published by FNCQ in Montreal in 1980. The book was published as a catalogue for an exhibition of the same name. which toured 10 Inuit villages in Arctic Quebec in 1980 and, afterwards, became part of the permanent collection owned by the Nunavik cooperatives.
Inuit were always resourceful enough to find the materials they needed in their own land. In the old days, people living along the east coast of Hudson's Bay gathered grass and made it into containers which could be used to carry water. These containers could also be used as a place in which to store sewing and other household materials. One of the new uses for grass is as the base for Inujait scenes (Travelling inland (1979) by Leak Niviaxie and Sarah Eliasiapik, Chopping up a frozen seal (1979) by Annie Niviaxie, Getting ready for winter (1977) by Alacie Tukala, Elisapee Irqu, Sarah Qumaluk, and Lydia Koperqauluk, Miniature tent with occupants (1979) by Martha Mikpegak, The pulling game, by Annie Pov (1978) and Inuit couple (1979) by Umaluk, Tapia, and Kautjak Saviardjuk, and Suzie Illistuk.)
Grass has been used by people all over the world to make containers, bags, hats, shoes, socks and even clothing. We know that Inuit used grasses as the binding for their twig mattresses
(see for instance "Making a Mattress" by Alasi Audia, in Povungnituk, 1965). Perhaps it was used for other purposes too.
Basket-making was not practised everywhere in the Arctic. There are examples of basketry from Alaska and Labrador and there has been a recent revival of this craft on the east coast of Hudson's Bay, where it is being taught to children and has again become part of a way of life for some of the older women. A common sight in spring is groups of women gathering armfuls of grass from tundra still mottled with wet snow.
The grass must be picked just after the snow leaves the ground so that it is moist and pliable. It grows along the east coast of Hudson's Bay as far north as Sugluk where it is thinner than the robust variety near Great Whale River and Inoucdjouac. Consequently, the Sugluk baskets, which are quite rare, are usually small (diameter 16 to 35 cm) with thin, finely sewn coils. More southerly communities are distinguished by fat, even coilwork and it seems to be a matter of some pride to make an exceptionally large basket (a diameter of, say 60 cm). Sara Nastapoka's description of herself making such a basket is an example of this (see Sarah's big basket ).
There are two methods of basketmaking. In some parts of the world, they are made by weaving or braiding strands of grass to form different patterns. Some Indian baskets are made this way. The second technique, used by Inuit, is best described as the sewing of grass coils. Strands of grass are stitched tightly around grass coil foundation which must be kept at an even thickness. Since the grass must be kept wet while the woman works, she will, usually have a pan of water at her side.
Decoration of the basket is achieved through the incorporation of strips of black sealskin or, rarely, dyed strips of grass. The working of patterns into the basket is a measure at the skill of the craftswoman.
Usually the baskets have tightly fitting lids with a carving lashed on to form a handle. The carving is made of soapstone, bone, antler or, occasionally, ivory. Tradition dictates that this carving-handle be made by the basketmaker's husband although some women make their own. The grasswork remains exclusively the woman's work.
Needless to say, it takes a lot of time, work and patience to make a good basket. It is not unknown for a woman to spend over a month working on a larger production.Credits: