'It can make you sweat': Iqaluit workshop teaches art of turning muskox fur into wool

Helen Iguptak is leading several workshops as part of the Nunavut Arts Festival this week.

Workshops part of the Nunavut Arts Festival, running until Sunday

Helen Iguptak holds hair from a muskox, qiviut in Inuktitut, during a workshop in Iqaluit on Wednesday. (Angela Hill/CBC)

Helen Iguptak stands in front of a table covered in muskox pelts, bags of fur, combs and electric spinning wheels in the Inuksuk High School gym in Iqaluit.

These are the tools of spinning muskox, or qiviut in Inuktitut, fur into wool.

Iguptak is leading several Qiviut Spinning workshops during the Nunavut Arts Festival, which runs Aug. 20 to 25.

"Qiviut for Inuit is like gold because it's the warmest," Iguptak said.

"In the winter time you can get a little bit of Qiviut and put it in your mitts and it will keep your hands warm. On the other hand you can also put a little bit of Qiviut in your socks and it will keep your toes warm."

Iguptak, who was seven when her mother first taught her to sew, is a well-known artist in the territory, particularly for the hand-crafted dolls she makes. She was also selected as Rankin Inlet's Artist of the Year in 2012, according to the Nunavut Arts & Crafts Association.

'Qiviut for Inuit is like gold because it's the warmest,' Iguptak said. (Travis Burke/CBC)

Iguptak talks as she demonstrates how to first comb the pelt to remove handfuls of hair, then separates the course black hair away from the fluffy brown fur.

"Even just handling it can make you sweat."

Iguptak recalls a story of a hunter who went into the icy water. When they got him out, all of his clothes were soaked, but his feet were dry — his socks were made from muskox wool.

If it's the warmest wool in the whole world, then it's an absolute must.- Helen Iguptak, artist

"In those days when there was no spinners and no knitting needles, they used the muskox skin for bedding. That's how they kept them warm," Iguptak said.

She demonstrates the next step, running the fur through a drum carder, a hand-cranked device that untangles the fibres before they are spun into wool.

Iguptak accepted the invitation to teach the workshops because she sees the preservation of this traditional knowledge as essential.

"Well if it's the warmest wool in the whole world, then it's an absolute must," she said.

Igupak is holding spinning workshops Friday morning and Saturday evening. Admission is free and all tools and materials are provided.

The festival events wrap up Sunday with the Arts and Crafts Fair at the Frobisher Inn in Iqaluit.

Iguptak uses an electric spinner to turn the fur of a muskox into wool. (Angela Hill/CBC)