“needle case, needle bag”
Language: Qawiaraq Iñupiaq
miqutikuwik “place for needles”
Language: Qawiaraq Iñupiaq
Because there was no metal to make needles long ago, they made them out of squirrel or duck [bone]. They must always take care of their needles.
—Anna Etageak, 2001
This seal-shaped ivory tube was for storing bone or iron needles. Needles were stuck into a leather strap that pulled through the tube (not shown).
Object Category: Baskets, bags, boxes
Object Type: Needle case
Dimensions: Length 15cm
Accession Date: 1876
Source: Lucien M. Turner (collector)
Museum: National Museum of Natural History
Museum ID Number: E024487
Examining & explaining (1)
Oscar Koutchak: This one here is an ivory needle case.
Frances Charles: Miqutit puugat?
(Needle case/needle bag?)
Oscar Koutchak: Yes.
Frances Charles: Miqusrfik.
(Pouch for needles/bag for needles.)
Oscar Koutchak: Yes, or miqqutim aagivia [place for needles].
Frances Charles: Miqutikuwik.
(Place for needles.)
Theresa Nanouk: Miquti is “needle.”
Anna Etageak: Because there was no metal to make needles long ago, they made them out of squirrel or duck [bone].
They must always take care of their needles, because they’re bone. The needles are in here [tube].
Bill Fitzhugh: Anna, is that the kind of needle case that you use?
Anna Etageak: No.
Theresa Nanouk: No, it’s too fancy.
Anna Etageak: It’s from up north I guess. They never make ivory things like this at home.
Anna Etageak: My folks used a piece of cloth or maybe a piece of skin for their sewing things and rolled it and tied up.
Suzi Jones: And kept their needles in it?
Anna Etageak: Yes.
Theresa Nanouk: For sewing materials and storage.
Suzi Jones: Sometimes they call it a housewife.
Anna Etageak: Mm-hmm. Just like a sewing kit.
Theresa Nanouk: Immusrfik.
Suzi Jones: Do you have one of those?
Anna Etageak: No.
Theresa Nanouk: I have a cloth one.
[From discussion with Frances Charles, Anna Etageak, Art Ivanoff (Native Village of Unalakleet), Oscar Koutchak, Theresa Nanouk and Branson Tungiyan (Kawerak, Inc.) at the National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian, 5/07/2001-5/11/2001. Also participating: Aron Crowell, Bill Fitzhugh and Stephen Loring (NMNH) and Suzi Jones (AMHA).]
1. This was discussed with needle case E024496.
Sewing needles, made from slivers of bone or walrus ivory before metal trade needles became available, were among a woman’s most valuable tools. They were protected from breakage and loss by storing them in tubular cases made from bird bone, metal, or walrus ivory.(1) Needle case tubes were engraved with geometric designs and carved into animal and human features and figures.(2)
In Norton Sound and north along the Alaskan coast, Iñupiaq women used open-ended needle cases like this one, which is carved in the form of a seal. This type of case had a sealskin strap that ran through both ends of the tube (not shown here). A knot or stopper was tied at one end to keep the strap from slipping out, and a hook or loop was attached to the other end for a woman to fasten the needle case to her belt. Needles were stuck into the strap, which was drawn into the tube to cover them.(3) Small sewing tools such as thimbles, thimble holders, boot-sole creasers, awls and small whetstones were attached to the ends of the needle case strap.
(4) Women also hung pendants of small animal and human carvings (possibly charms or amulets), animal canine teeth, and their husbands’ starter labrets.(5)
South of Bering Strait, in the Norton Sound Iñupiaq, Yup’ik, Unangan, and Sugpiaq regions, a different style of sewing kit was customary. There, women stored their needles in tubular cases with wooden stoppers at the ends These tubes were tucked inside roll-up sewing bags (sometimes called “housewives”), along with the thimbles and other small sewing implements that in the north were attached directly to the needle case strap.(6)
1. Dall 1870:142; Fitzhugh and Kaplan 1982:131-35; Morrison 1991:75-76; Murdoch 1892:320, 322; Nelson 1899:103-04; Ray 1966:55
2. Bockstoce 1977:76; Dall 1870:142; Hoffman 1897:777; Fitzhugh and Kaplan 1982:135; Nelson 1899:103-04
3. Bockstoce 1977:75-76; Dall 1870:142; Fitzhugh and Crowell 1988:212-13; Fitzhugh and Kaplan 1982:134; Murdoch 1892:320-21; Nelson 1899:104
4. Bockstoce 1977:75-76; Emmons 1923:48; Fitzhugh and Kaplan 1982:135, fig. 147; Murdoch 1892:322; Nelson 1899:104, pl. XLIV
5. Bockstoce 1977:76; Fitzhugh and Crowell 1988: fig. 273; Fitzhugh and Kaplan 1982:131; Nelson 1899:48, 104; Smith 1980:82
6. Dall 1870:142; Fitzhugh and Kaplan 1982:134-35; Nelson 1899:103-04; Ray 1966:55