It has been my tradition to make Jared a hat for Christmas most years since we’ve been married. Sometimes the knit thing is not a hat, but it’s still a “hat”.
I’d decided against Christmas knitting this year, but hats were still on my mind. I had promised a couple years ago now to make Jared a beaver skin hat, for which he had bought skins. His kamiik are coming, but should I sew him the hat first?
At the same time? Kate Davies’ collaborative hat collection, Milarrochy Heids, was coming out. I wanted to cast on every single one, and had assembled four possible Heids worth of yarn just from my leftovers. It was less than a month till Christmas, but that decided me. I can’t knit myself a Heid (Scots for head) till I sew Jared something for his niaquq.
It took me about three weeks to get from digging through the closet for pelts and patterns to finished enough to wrap. I had waited too long to order buckles, so I had to add those after Christmas, as well as fix a couple fitting mistakes. But I handled it, by the grace of God.
When I first started sewing with skins a couple years ago, I wanted to do everything properly. My desire was, and still is, to be respectful to the Inuit culture by using methods as I was taught. But as I learned from different teachers, I learned that there as many different ideas, insights, and opinions about sewing as there are seamstresses.
I’ve watched women adopt a new technique learned on Facebook from Inupiat in Alaska. I’ve watched women reverse-engineer a popular new commercial leather mitten style so they could make them with beautiful sealskin. What makes us resilient is not that we always do things the same way; it’s that we make use of what is available, always innovating and exploring, while still making things ourselves. My point is that the tradition isn’t necessarily making something a particular way; it’s continuing to make things by hand, excellently, using the materials available to us in a constantly changing world.*
So, even though I wished I could make the time to go ask for help at a few points, I felt more liberated than I did the first time around in coming up with my own solutions on this project. I resized the pattern myself. I fixed a few problems. I decided on the best way to attach a buckle strap, and I did it. (These skins aren’t waterproof anyway, so I didn’t really need to worry about waterproof seams.)
One issue I ran into was that beaver and rabbit skin together are not very stiff. This meant that when I installed snaps into the front flap and snapped it into place, it kinda… flopped. Pooched? Was not erect.
I toyed around with different materials I could insert to stiffen it up. Cardboard would get wet. I could use something like plastic canvas… but then I thought, the problem is that it’s the wrong kind of skin. What about using the right kind of skin? I still had all the scraps from the dehaired skin used in my kamiik. (Always save the scraps!)
Too beautiful, maybe, to hide inside. But it was perfect for the job.
Jared is over the moon happy about his new hat. I was really nervous about it for a while, but all seems well now. I’m glad I stuck with it.
Tune back in tomorrow for my Heid!
*It must be said that, while innovation is constant, on the flip side there are key traditional techniques that are essential to traditional sewing processes and important to pass down – moreso in traditional projects like kamiik, or when using home-tanned skins; less so in a project like this with tanned skins from southern animals. This is why it’s important to keep making these traditional objects; it’s the only way to keep that knowledge alive and learn from the elders we have.
**the title of this post means, a hat for a head.