Published on March 18, 2014 by Amy
The Inuit people of Alaska live primarily in the Aleutian islands. The Inuits hunt caribou and sea mammals, such as whales, walrus and seals, which they use for food and to make clothes. Inuit clothing made from animal skins are worn in layers to help the wearer withstand the harsh Arctic temperatures. The Alaska Inuit developed clothing crafts based on the available resources that are designed for warmth and durability.
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The Inuit use needles fashioned from animal bones and sinew for thread. Animal sinew fibers are strong and flexible, even in extreme cold. Sinew swells when it becomes wet which helps to seal seams and keep water out. Inuit clothing crafts, especially shoe designs, employ a “tunnel” stitch to avoid punching holes through the animal hides on the outside of the garment. The tunnel stitch is made by pushing the bone needle through the first layers of the exterior animal skin. The needle and sinew thread is then drawn back through the bottom layer.
Traditional Inuit footwear are called “kamiks” and can be made from seal skin, caribou and moose hides, wolf fur or the hide of any other animal found in the Alaska wilderness. Kamik soles may be made from seal skin and flat or pleated. Kamiks with stiff soles are worn in the spring. More flexible soles are designed for the winter. Family groups and individuals may decorate the kamiks with signature designs, such as decorative stitches, a specific type of animal fur or feathers.
Fur pants are worn during the coldest months of the Arctic winter and on long hunts. Traditionally, both men and women wore fur pants, but the men would often wear two layers of fur pants when on a long hunt. Caribou skins and fur are often used to craft fur pants worn during the cold, dry season. Pants can be made from any animal skin. Seal skin is water resistant but caribou is a better insulator against the cold. Fur pants are sewn together using bone needles and animal sinew.
Inuit mittens are made from a three-piece pattern consisting of the top piece, palm and thumb. Sometimes a strip of fur is sewn around the wrist. The palm section is cut and sewn with the fur growth direction toward the wrist. Pointing the fur growth toward the wrist instead of toward the fingers helps improve grip. Mittens are constructed primarily from caribou fur, but may be crafted from bear or seal and may be worn in layers.