Images of cats from the British Museum collection, £9.99
Iglulingmiut, about AD
From Igloolik, Nunavut, eastern Canadian Arctic
Before sewing begins, skins have to be prepared properly to make them workable, soft and long-lasting. Different methods are used depending on skin type and end use: wet or dry conditions, winter or summer, everyday or festive clothing.
Scrapers were important tools in the skin preparation process. Today, they usually have a metal blade and a wood or ivory handle, but the scapula of caribou bulls can be used as well. Rachel Uyarasuk from Igloolik describes a method for preparing seal skin, explaining the use of the different tools:
have to remove the blubber from the skin with an ulu. Then we
scrape it with a sharp scraper, and spread it out on a drying
frame, or peg the skin to the ground. Once it is dried, we
stretch-scrape the skin using a blunt scraper. Once that is done,
you would run a cord or a line through the holes on the edges, that
had been used for pegs, and make a ball with the skin. Then you
stomp on the skin to make it soft. After that, you will need to
stretch it again with a scraper. Then you are ready to cut patterns
Rachel Uyarasuk, 1994
Other views: Stamping on sealskin to soften it, and Leah Okatsiak starting to work on caribou skin, Churchill, Manitoba, 1993. Photographs by Allyson Rae, Department of Conservation, British Museum.