New model Saila Qilavvaq, my Maplelea Girl, steps out for the first time in a very unusual – to British eyes – parka for the colder months. This very distinctive garment is an Amauti, an ethnic garment worn by Inuit women in Canada. Saila is finding it more difficult to settle in here in the UK than the other Kit’s Couture girls, because of course life is very different here from her home in Iqaluit, Nunavut Territory. So to help her feel at home, I made her an Amauti suitable for our mild winters.
Traditionally the Amauti is made from animal skins – typically caribou – and of course its hood would often be lined with fur for warmth. This is very important because the hood of the Amauti, along with the loose pouch-like back of the garment, is where Inuit women traditionally carry their babies. It needs to be warm, secure, water- and wind-proof. In recent years, the Amauti tends to be made with modern fabrics like polar fleece with cotton cloth or waterproof outer layers. Modern Amautis are growing in popularity generally and fetch high prices.
Saila’s Amauti is made using the Wren*Feathers Arctic Parka pattern by Jennie Bagrowski. The pattern has some of the strangest-shaped pattern pieces I have ever seen, particularly the front which has two large lobes of fabric which extend over the shoulders and join the back to form part of the pouch. Instructions are essential with this pattern and it would be pretty much impossible to work out how the pattern fits together without them.
For the outer layer of the Amauti I chose a substantial white cotton fabric printed with white flowers and tendrils which reminded me of snowflakes whirling in a light breeze. The inner layer had to be a good warm fleece, and guided by the pattern instructions I chose microfleece in a royal blue. Saila is a Winter (how suitable!) so white and this clear cool blue suit her admirably. I decided against using fur fabric on the hood, as the winters in the south-west of England are so mild these days that it really isn’t necessary. Rick-rack braid is often used to decorate Amautis so I chose a light one also in royal blue, and a matching silk cord to cinch in the garment at the waist.
I started with the outer layer as it was the easiest to work with. Following the pattern instructions closely I pinned and stitched the pieces together, all the while unsure exactly what I was doing and how this bizarre assortment of cloth was going to turn into a wearable garment. First the hood is constructed, then the sleeve tops are stitched to the strange lobes of the front. At this point I stitched the rick-rack braid onto the sleeve cuffs. The the back tail piece is stitched to the back, and then we get to the bit that Jennie warns us is tricky: we stitch the front to the hood and back, going around the lobes and finishing at the side seams. That I did find difficult, as I had a little too much fabric on the back. If making this again I would ease-stitch around the low hood back to help it fit the hood front.
Then I turned my attention to the lining which was a fleece knit. I have learned to be cautious about knits as my machine will skip stitches if it possibly can. So I used a ball-point needle size 80 and set the stitch length to 3.5. These seemed to be the right settings and I had no problem with skipped stitches at all as I put the lining together. Because of its stretchiness it was much more obliging about fitting together, and as I had already done all this once I made good progress.
Before putting the two layers together I had to stitch the rick-rack decoration around the hemline of the garment. I set it so that the top edge of the braid was 1⅜” from the edge of the fabric. It had to be pinned on carefully all the way around and stitching a straight line on that wavy braid was very difficult – it felt as if I was zig-zagging too!
Now it was time to slip the lining inside the outer layer and join them together around the hem and hood with strips of fleece, in the same way as bias binding. My intention was to stitch the binding right-sides together and then fold the binding over to the wrong side and stitch in the ditch to catch it down invisibly. Unfortunately the pattern does not advise how wide to cut the fleece binding and I cut the hood binding too narrow at 1″ and had to do some hand-sewing to catch it down in places. So for the hem binding I used a strip 2″ wide, did all the stitching and then trimmed off the excess as needed. Last of all I slip-stitched the lining to the sleeve cuffs and then this complex garment was complete! All in all it took me three full afternoons to make.
Saila wears her Amauti over her Maplelea jeans and a Kit’s Couture T-shirt. Her outer layer is completed by her kamiik (Inuit-style boots which were part of her ‘meet’ outfit) and her Pang hat, which was actually made for Maplelea by Inuit women in Pangnirtung. As you can see, she is very happy in her new Amauti, and very pleased that her first modelling assignment for Kit’s Couture showcases this striking piece of Arctic chic.
After all this effort to make an authentic Amauti, I learned that only women with children would wear one. A young girl like Saila, or a childless woman, would wear an Amautit – that second ‘t’ makes all the difference – which has no pouch. For anyone who is interested, there is more about the Amauti and its history and meaning for the Inuit people in this report from 2001.