Stitching Lives: A Family History of Making Caribou Skin Clothing in the Canadian Arctic

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5 Citations (Scopus)


During wintertime in the Canadian Arctic, the visiting anthropologist will likely witness a common enough scene: two women who meet by chance in a public place and find themselves at a slight loss for something to say will look to one another's hands and engage in conversation about the mittens they cover. These comparisons of, and discussions about mittens matters a great deal. Many Inuit women still sew fur mittens for themselves and for their family members for protective wear out of doors. On the streets of settlements, or in public indoor spaces, these hand-crafted, decorated fur garments are removed, huddled over, fingered and tried on by women. The texture and quality of the hides (made of caribou, seal, or other types) are evaluated as are the design, the stitches, seams and fur trim. The scene is often intimate, with discussions of mittens bringing on reminiscences about mothers; alive and deceased. No one, it is said, can process animal skins, clothe their family, and lovingly teach their daughters to sew, as their mother once did. In the past, mittens were a focal point for human relationships about enskilment, about nurturance and survival.

This chapter will tell the continuing story of Inuit mittens: their manufacture, exchange, and the social relationships they inspire. Drawing on object-centred inquiries in British museum collections and fieldwork in the Canadian arctic (learning to make mittens and learning about Inuit women’s private collections), I address the connection between Inuit mittens and storytelling, heirlooms and enskillment, and women and the material world. Through the making of mittens, I argue, differently configured relationships - between mothers and daughters, between animals and humans, between Inuit and outsiders - are fostered.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMaking and Growing
Subtitle of host publicationAnthropological studies of organisms and artefacts
EditorsElizabeth Hallam, Tim Ingold
Place of PublicationFarnham
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-4724-0260-8, 978-1-4094-3643-0
ISBN (Print)978-1-4094-3642-3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014

Publication series

NameAnthropological Studies of Creativity and Perception


  • Arctic Canada
  • creativity
  • material culture history
  • anthropology
  • ethnography
  • colonialism


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