The smell of popcorn cooking wafts out of the room.

The bell rings as I open the door. Candles for sale decorate the entrance, and the smell of popcorn cooking wafts out of the room.

I thought I was going to Mersortarfik, the famous anorak house in Ilulissat, but what greets me is a curious place full of knickknacks, selling rows of gourmet chocolate, locally produced jams, and imported fresh flowers too.

A woman fiddling with the popcorn machine looks up, nods hello and gestures to the other room.

Sewing away

As I take a moment to figure out the place, the sound of ‘rrrr’ draws me to the opposite side of the boutique.

It is the rattle of a sewing machine at work. One lady working away, surrounded by at least nine different sewing machines. All with different purposes, I find out later, as there are only two who work at this place.

Her hands fly over the machine deftly, adjusting minute details with the flair of a craftswoman at work.

Her hands fly over the machine deftly, adjusting minute details with the flair of a craftswoman at work.

Facts

  • Mersortarfik can be found in the center of Ilulissat
  • Janni and Benedikte run the operations together
  • Here you can buy locally made sealskin fur gloves and anoraks
  • Mersortarfik literally translates to ‘sewing place’

A working pair

The seamstress’ name is Janni, and she is one of two who make up Mersortarfik, one of the sewing houses that produces sealskin and anorak products for all of Greenland.

It turns out the popcorn machine woman is Benedikte, who owns the business. Janni and Benedikte are a team, and together they run the gift shop and the sewing business, drifting wherever there is need of service.  

The pair have worked together for fourteen years, and their close relationship is evident when they say the same thing in unison.

The famous anorak with a twist

Mersortarfik’s signature product is a version of the national anorak, which is what men where for special occassions. It can be ordered and fitted to size in any other colour of the rainbow.

They can be adjusted to fit summer or winter in Greenland. There are traditional-style anoraks for men, and dresses in the anorak style for women.

The anorak is the national costume of Greenland worn traditionally by men on formal and happy occasions. Men will wear a plain white version, the colour which allows hunters to blend in with the snowy nature.

“They can easily withstand up to minus 25 degrees Celsius (-13F), and are easier to clean than traditional furs”, Benedikte explains.

"Today, the anorak is still used in Greenland, and its influence is evident in designs by popular Greenlandic fashion houses."

Today, the anorak is still used in Greenland, and its influence is evident in designs by popular Greenlandic fashion houses and brands such as Bibi Chemnitz.

Among the local people, the winter nylon anoraks are popular with the fishermen and the hunters. “They can easily withstand up to minus 25 degrees Celsius (-13*F), and are easier to clean than traditional furs”, Benedikte explains and continues,

“We are the only place in Ilulissat where one sews the national anorak, and there are fewer and fewer sewing houses left in Greenland who produce this locally anymore.”

“We are the only place in Ilulissat where one sews the national anorak, and there are fewer and fewer sewing houses left in Greenland who produce this locally anymore.”

I ask to try on a traditional male-style anorak, and Janni kindly obliges by pulling one in bright blue hues down. Benedikte adds amusedly that the local women still do not buy the traditional male version of the anorak, although female tourists will sometimes opt for that version. I know which category I fall into, but don’t really mind.

So next time you visit Ilulissat and walk into a gift shop boutique, check to see if it also happens to be the famous anorak house of Mersortarfik.

Check to see if it also happens to be the famous anorak house of Mersortarfik.