Sealaska Heritage


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Photo essay: a peek into one of SHI’s skin sewing classes

Since time immemorial, our ancestors have lived off of the land—taking trees for dugout canoes and clan houses, roots and bark for baskets and fish and animals for nourishment. And we’ve used skins and furs to make regalia, moccasins and other pieces. In recent years, we were in danger of losing our ancient knowledge on how to sew skins. In response, Sealaska Heritage launched a skin-sewing program through which hundreds of Native people have since learned to make skin clothing and other items.

SHI’s goal is to revitalize skin sewing and to create a cottage industry, especially in rural areas where unemployment is high. Skin sewing can be a financial boon: studies have demonstrated that a single craftsperson can earn up to $35,000 a year sewing and selling products made of sea otter, which has one million hairs per square inch, making it the most luxurious fur in the world.

We have found there is tremendous demand for skin-sewing classes and thought it would be useful for people to see some of the processes and secrets to sewing furs. The following photo essay shows our most recent workshop, which was held in Juneau and taught by Louise Kadinger. (Photos by Brian Wallace)

Participants in SHI's skin-sewing workshop try on some of instructor Louise Kadinger’s pieces before beginning their own. Kadinger is shown in the yellow-green top.

Before sewing begins, the sea otter hide is stretched on a board...

...and then brushed.

Pattern pieces are laid on the hide and traced, and then cut out with a sharp blade.

Clips are used to hold pieces in place.

Participants hand stitch their pieces together.

Participants hand stitch their pieces together.

Instructor Kadinger, left in blue, consults with a participant.

Some of the participants modeling their finished sea otter pieces.

Some of the participants modeling their finished sea otter pieces.

This program is supported, in part, by Juneau Arts & Humanities Council, the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts. To get alerts on upcoming skin-sewing classes, sign up for our e-news below.