Folio: The Artistry of Inuit Sealskin Sewing

Folio is a curated section focusing on unexpected materials, bridging the page with other media. This issue, Folio is curated by Jocelyn Piirainen.


Back to Basics: The Artistry in Sealskin Sewing and the Basic Materials of Inuit Clothing

Think about the clotheson your back, and the shoes on your feet. Someone, at some point, had to have come up with ideas about how to put these materials together. We may take these things for granted, since we have been programmed, from Day 1, to be clothed at all times.

For Inuit, clothing is — and has been — of the highest importance. Family identities have been sewn into the very fabrics that were made from the animal skins they hunted for food and survival. Inuit women were taught to sew from a very young age, and would learn from their elders.



For this Folio, I wanted to highlight this telling of Inuit familial lineage through clothing, particularly the boots, as I have come into ownership of a pair of kamiks — Inuit sealskin boots — that I intuitively know have a history to them, but have no knowledge of their origins. They were a $100 Etsy purchase; one that I found while just browsing the keyword “Inuit.”

Their history is quite evident: eloquently sewn into the skins, in the flowers atop of the duffle lining, down through the soles of the boots. These were made for a particular person in mind, because sizing for Inuit seamstresses is always quite particular (even today). But also because at the time they were specifically made (according to the Etsy post, in the 1950s but they could be from the decade before), these would not have been a mass produced product. They are truly a work of artistry, and one that has survived throughout the years. I am in such awe of them and wear them with much pride!

Inuit have passed on these sewing traditions through generations, and it is a skill that thrives today with Inuit merging modern styles into their craftwork, creating innovative and unique fashion statements. For more history of these kamiks and others like them, be sure to check out the Bata Shoe Museum.

Jocelyn Piirainen is an urban Inuk, currently working as a curator with the Art Gallery of Ontario on an Inuit art exhibition. When she is not travelling between Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto, she can be found quietly crocheting while watching films.

All images are courtesy of Jocelyn Piirainen.