Needle cases gave the male Inuit carver much opportunity to exercise
his skill and express both his sense of aesthetics and his devotion to
his wife. These cases served as essential tool kits for Inuit women's
never-ending work of sewing and repairing clothing. A case consisted
of a cylindrical or rectangular hollow tube, which held a piece of skin
into which the precious needles were stuck. This was attached to a
thimble holder, which was usually a bird's wing bone or a toggle.
Carvers used either bone or ivory and decorated them according to the
local tradition. While Inuit in Labrador, the Baffin region and the
Keewatin used ivory to construct the centre part, the Copper Inuit
used caribou leg bone.
Although there is no example in the CMC collection, it should be
mentioned that needle cases in the West Coast region of Hudson Bay
often had numerous carvings as attachments.*
1901 The Eskimo of Baffin Land and Hudson Bay. Bulletin
of the American Museum of Natural History. Vol. XV, p. 94.
Needle Case, 19141916
Coronation Gulf region, Nunavut
Bone, black colouring
1.8 x 8.7 x 2.2 cm
Collected by Diamond Jenness during the Canadian Arctic Expedition
The passion of the Copper Inuit for symmetry is evident in this
elegant central part of a needle case.
"Kakpik Needle house," 1916
Area around Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut
Ivory, sinew, skin, dark horn
1 x 13.8 x 4.4 cm
Collected by Danish anthropologist Christian Leden during his expedition
to the Keewatin from 1913 to 1916
An almost identical needle case is illustrated in Birket-Smith's
report vol.V of the Fifth Thule Expedition.* As with Leden's needle
case, it was acquired from the Kenipitu, whom Birket-Smith refers to
as the Qaernimiut. The circle and dot motif can be found on various
objects such as combs and parka ornaments in Christian
* Birket-Smith, Kaj
1929 The Caribou-Eskimos: Material and Social Life and their Cultural
Position. Vol. 5, Pt. 1-2, Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition,
1921-24, ill. p. 248.