The Inuits of the Arctic regions have traditionally made and worn parkas of caribou fur. This pullover-style hooded garment is made with the fur facing outward and with a complementary inner parka designed with the fur facing inward. Methods for making Inuit parkas are passed down from one generation of women to the next. Make an Inuit-style parka by approximating traditional methods and using synthetic or natural materials.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- String or soft measuring tape
- 5 to 6 yards of synthetic fur
- 2 feet of synthetic fur lining for the hood
- Parka that fits
- Fabric chalk
- Sewing machine
Measure the person who will be wearing the parka. Inuit seamstresses have not traditionally used measuring tapes, but use their hands, fingers and eyes, as well as sinew string and bone to take measurements. Approximate this process or use a soft measuring tape. Measure the distance from head to neck, neck to waist, waist to hips, chest, back, hips, shoulders and height.
Gather material for the parka. Caribou fur parkas usually required between two and three full caribou skins (approximately 5 to 6 yards) for the inner and outer layers, depending on the size of the wearer.
Lay an existing parka that fits the wearer on a flat surface next to the synthetic fur. Inuit women seamstresses often used older parkas as makeshift patterns. Following traditional methods, transfer the measurements of the wearer and the pattern of the existing parka onto the synthetic fur by impressing the pattern into the fur with a sharp bit of bone, or drawing it on with fabric chalk.
Cut out the material for the parka using sharp scissors. Inuit women use a crescent-shaped knife, called an ulu, which has a wooden handle bent at an angle designed specifically for cutting garments. Parkas consist of separate outer and inner pieces worn together, each made of a back, a front, the sleeves, the hood and shoulder pieces. The hood and back piece should ideally be cut from one continuous length of material.
Sew the seams of the inner parka, which should be shorter than the outer parka. Inuits often used sinew thread made from caribou, though a sewing machine with thick thread on a fur setting can be used. Sew the back and the front of the parka first, then attach the hood (if separate) and the sleeves. Inuit parkas do not have front openings like jackets, but are pulled over the head like a pullover sweater.
Fit the inner parka on the wearer for size and adjust as needed. Measure the material for the outer parka, which should be approximately one inch wider than the inner parka. Sew together the back and front. Fit the hood over the top of the inner jacket hood. The hood of the outer parka can be lined with synthetic fur, traditionally wolf fur was added to protect the face of the wearer.
Tips and warnings
- Many Inuits today still make and wear caribou skin clothing, but supplement their wardrobes with down jackets, Gore-Tex and other synthetic materials.
- The outer layer of the parka is called an anorak by the Inuit, as the word "parka" is from the Aleutian language.
- Contact an Inuit organisation or foundation for instructions, history and possible classes about skills and cultural values; it can take years to learn the techniques and skills required to make authentic Inuit clothing following traditional methods.
- Caribou skins are untreated, which makes them vulnerable to rot if they are not dried properly. Waterproof parkas or anoraks were often made from the intestines of sea mammals rather than fur.
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- "Copper and Caribou Inuit Skin Clothing Production;" Jillian E Oakes; 1991
- Pulaarvik Kablu Friendshop Centre: Traditional Sewing and Inuit Clothing
- Canadian Museum of Civilizations; Online exhibition - Inuit Parkas
- "John Tyman's Inuit;" People of the Arctic, Unit III: Inuit: Clothing and Shelter
- "Websters Dictionary:" Anorak