Yuungnaqpiallerput - The Way We Genuinely Live - Masterworks of Yup'ik Science and Survival

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Ways of SewingWoman Sewing

Courtesy, National Museum of the American Indian,
Smithsonian Institution, L2738, Dr. Leuman M. Waugh, 1935

Cupungulria from Canineq, who was left-handed, sewing a seal-gut parka.

Arnat tua-i mingqurnaurtut tua-i tan'geqicuunateng.

Women constantly sewed, and though it was dark they could see what they were doing.

--Frank Andrew, Kwigillingok

Waten yuut tamakut eliqneruarateng-llu egcuunaki, tumarqurluki caurtaqluki. Qanganaam iigken akuliik; tua-i usguqu'urluki qercurtarrarmek qukalirluki. Aqevlequssaari-wa qanganaam aqsanri.

Long ago they never discarded small pieces of fur but patched them together and made something out of them. They would sew the skin piece between the eyes of a squirrel together with a small piece of freezedried skin between each fur piece. And the hanging decorations were made from the belly part of the squirrel skin.

--Elena Charles, Bethel

A woman's ability to sew and repair clothing was critical to her husband's success as well as the whole family's survival. A girl could only become a wife after she learned to sew.
Men sewed repairs for themselves while out hunting.

Tuluruaq Skin Scraper



Skin scraper with long handle for extra leverage. Annie Blue noted: "We use this to scrape and tan skins. We have to keep stretching the skin and remove the top skin layer until it looks good."

S. Jackson, 1890s, Sheldon Jackson Museum IIB158c


Science panel: Rendering skins pliant

The connective tissue in skin grows in layers. The outer layers, which are not as tightly cross-linked, can be broken down by heat and then scraped away, leaving the thicker, most flexible layers underneath.

Kakivik Sewing Bag


Sewing Bag

Sewing bag from the tundra region, which held a woman's needles, thimble, sinew thread, small knife, and whetstone.
Phillip Moses recalled: "Some men also kept them in their pockets. If they tore something or their skin boots ripped, they could sew it. I still sew up to this day."

E. W. Nelson, 1878, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University 50047

  Mingqusviutaq Needle Case

Fish-shaped needle case from the lower Yukon River. Needle Case
E. W. Nelson, 1878, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University 50089

Mingqusviutaq Needle Case


Needle Case

Seal-shaped needle case with removable head, from Nunivak Island.

M. Lantis, 1940, Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, Seattle 2-1233

  Mingqutet Needles

Needles made of squirrel bone. Theresa Moses noted, "They stored their needles by poking them in the sewing bags." Needles might also be stored in ivory needle cases or the hollow section of a swan wing bone. Needles
Gift of the Huffmon Family, Anchorage Museum 2002.025.239

Akngirnailitaq Shell Thimble



Akngirnailitaq/Shell thimble Betty Huffmon said that people went to the foot of Beluga Hill, on the north shore of Goodnews Bay, to collect shells like this to use as thimbles. Neva Rivers remarked, "I don't know how to sew without a thimble."

Gift of the Huffmon Family, Anchorage Museum 2002.022.093

  Uluaq Woman's Knife

Slate-bladed woman's knife from Cape Vancouver. Annie Blue said: "This was made to be an uluaq before metal came. When sharpened it could be used to cut open and skin any furred animal." Uluaq
I. A. Lee, 1905, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University 66318

Kellarvik Bag



Kellarvik/Bag decorated with kelurqut (fancy stitches) made by sewing caribou throat hair and sinew on thin strips of dyed skin or bird-foot leather. Elena Charles commented: "The first people worked very hard and did a wonderful job with their work. The ones I observed would sew without stopping. They called them munalriit [ones who are dexterous]. They put lots of very small stitches on this sack."

I. A. Lee, 1910, Nunivak, Peabody Essex Museum 13109

  Kellarvik Skin Bag

Skin bag

Elena Charles said: "That is a ring that represents the world. Here are the winds--north, south, west, and east. When they made marks on a round object that represented the world they called it ellanguaq [pretend or model universes]."

A. H. Twitchell, 1919, Kuskokwim, Courtesy, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution 9/3470


Courtesy, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, L2750, Dr. Leuman M. Waugh, 1935

Woman with a pierced nose.

Martina John recalled: "I envied those who had holes in their noses when they had seal party distributions. Back when they weren't wealthy and when they gave each woman a needle, those with pierced noses would put them through their holes. They were so desirable when those needles were poking out."

Mary Ann Sundown

Courtesy, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, L2270, Dr. Leuman M. Waugh, 1935

Mary Ann Sundown wears a parka with a beautiful sunshine ruff made with wolverine and the guard hairs of wolf on the outer rim.

Wassilie Evan said: "Sometimes the windward side of the face gets really cold, but ruffs break the wind."


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