Friday, June 18, 2010

Skin clothes, Arctic style

Image of a "Replica of the shaman Qingailisaq's parka. Made by Rachel Uyarasuk, Igloolik, c.1989" appears on the back cover of Arctic Clothing of North America—Alaska, Canada, Greenland.

Although we usually think of maritime history as pertaining mainly to vessels, naval, merchant, or recreational, the interaction with distance cultures is the result of ocean travels, campaigns and endeavors of all kinds. So the discovery of materials and methods for producing clothing, preparing food, as well as extoic natural resources, was a gold mine of opportunity and provided explorers with treasures of all kinds to bring home.

Arctic Clothing of North America—Alaska, Canada, Greenland. / Edited by J.C.H. King, Birgit Pauksztat, and Robert Storrie. Published by McGill-Queens University, 2005. 160 p., color illustrations, maps, bibliography and index.

This book about clothing grew from exhibitions on Eskimo boots in Great Britain in the 1980s. Since then anthropologists and biologists have studied methods of making skin clothing, with emphasis on technique and cultural and environmental influences. It has five parts, beginning with Personal Narratives, progressing to Materials, Styles and Techniques, Change and Responses to Outside Influences, and finally Clothing and Art.

You can learn how the clothing was made with techniques for preparing the pelts and creating garments for humans from pieces of marine animal skins. Waterproof boots, parkas and even stockings were crafted with great skill by cutting and stitching methods devised to prevent the loss of heat or create conditions of dampness. In the sub-freezing temperatures of the Arctic regions, small tears or openings could expose the wearer to risk of frostbite or even death, leaving their families without a food-procuring hunter. The Eskimo people of Alaska, the Inuit people of Canada, and the Greenlanders all produced skin clothing that protected them from their environment.

Museum volunteer: At the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, volunteers answer questions at the front desk, give museum tours, operate the tug ANGELS GATE, use the Morse code, build ship models, and staff The Sea Chest, the museum’s gift shop. Visit the web page at for more information.

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