Traditional Skin Sewing

When we moved out to rural Alaska one of my goals was to become more self-sufficient. I’ve tried to work towards that goal for quite some time now. We’ve increased the amount of food that we get from subsistence means (hunting, fishing, berry picking, etc). However, I’ve also wanted to work on making my own things. Not just food related things, but other items that could be useful to my life. Last year, I had the opportunity to take a traditional skin sewing class and make myself a beautiful pair of beaver fur mittens. Beaver fur mittens are popular for Native Alaskans and have been for hundreds (maybe even thousands) of years. I was so excited to get the opportunity to make myself something so useful, as well as something so culturally significant.

Then, this year, the opportunity arose again. My school district hosts a week-long teacher inservice every October and they try to offer traditional cultural courses to help teachers familiarize themselves with the local areas they are teaching in. After taking the skin sewing class last year, I knew I wanted to do it again. The instructor offered that we could make mittens or hats, and while I really wanted to make myself a hat, I ultimately decided to think more whole-family and made Cody a pair of mittens similar to my own.

His mittens are definitely higher quality than mine, as my sewing has improved a bit since last year. Plus, this year, I was also ambitious enough to attempt to sew fur cuffs for the gloves. On my first pair I didn’t attempt the cuffs because I ran out of time. This time around though, I knew I wanted to try to make them.

The class was so much fun and so incredibly educational. The woman who teaches it is a local and a Native Alaskan, so she has so much wisdom to share in regards to traditional arts like skin sewing and in regards to advice on village living. Many of the teachers participated and we all had a blast bonding and making something new together. My main takeaway from it though was to always be willing to learn skills from new cultures and to have the ambition to create things for myself. These mittens would easily retail for a couple hundred dollars online, but I was able to make them for myself and see the instant benefit. Plus, we got our first snowfall this weekend, and some warm mittens are quickly becoming a necessity for us. Ice fishing will be starting soon too, and those mittens will be mighty useful!