- About 1920
- Caribou hide, seal fur, wolf fur, rabbit fur, cotton, cotton trim, sinew, and thread
- 23 7/16 × 26 3/4 in.
Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College: Gift of Mrs. A. Lincoln Washburn, Class of 1935W; 174.2.25532visibilityLook & Discuss
People have survived winter in the Arctic for thousands of years because they learned to clothe themselves in the protective furs of the animals that thrive there. Hunting animals was traditionally the responsibility of men, while making clothing was the responsibility of women. According to an old Inuit saying, “A man is what his wife makes him,” because without skillfully sewn garments, a man could not provide for his family.
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Women once used curved knives of stone and bone, called ulus, to prepare and cut hides into shapes that could be sewn into parkas, pants, boots, and mittens. They used bone awls, bone needles, and sinew—tough fibrous animal tissue—to sew the pieces together into windproof, waterproof, incredibly warm garments. When Europeans arrived, they brought with them new technologies in the form of cloth, thread, ribbon, and steel needles, but European winter clothing could not rival traditional clothing for warmth and protection.
Constructed using a combination of early-contact and pre-contact materials and methods, this parka ensured that the child wearing it would remain warm and safe. The entire coat was custom-fitted to the child. The torso of the coat consists of a double layer of furs, one facing toward the body and one facing outward. The outer layer is caribou fur, second only in warmth to polar bear fur. The hood and edges of the coat are trimmed with other furs. Wolverine was used on many hoods because it does not freeze in the harsh elements, and it is warm and soft on the face. The parka’s maker sewed the furs together with sinew, which is stronger than thread and expands when wet, ensuring waterproof seams. She attached the purely decorative trade materials, like cotton trim, with thread because it is easier to work through hide than sinew.