Luxurious Apparel in Alaska Native Furs

Archive for October, 2017

“Taboo Kusax`an (love) Birds” Sea Otter Caplet

 

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2017 Cherokee Art Market “Innovation Award”

This caplet is made up of 40 individual pieces of sea otter, beaded deer leather and lace. This is the first time in the U.S. that sea otter has been colored and used in a garment. Because I harvest the sea otter myself, I can pick the best hides for natural color and any small or lesser quality hides for brilliant coloring. There are only 3 tanneries left in the U.S. that are registered with the federal government qualified to tan sea otters. Only Alaskan Native Indians can harvest sea otter for their meat and fur.

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The inspirational story for the “Lovebirds”:

For as far back as we can remember, Alaskan Native Tlingit Indians have descended from either Eagle or Raven clans. My grandmother Charmaine and her best friend Marianne were both from the Eagle Clan. When my grandmother was hundreds of miles away, Marianne taught me about making moccasins, smoking fish, and mixing up soap berry cream. She also loved telling funny stories about her and my grandmother growing up together. When they were young, they both had a crazy crush on a “Raven” clan hottie. They argued a lot about who was going to marry him. Finally my grandmother gave in and said you can have this Raven. Marianne and the Raven dated and her eyes twinkled with love. She decided to make a blanket for him to wear to show off their love. What better design then the Kusax’an (love) birds? That design has always depicted the love of an Eagle and Raven as they peer into each others eyes. When she was just about finished, she had found out he had cheated on her. She then decided to finish the Eagle and Raven with heads looking away in disgust. She gave the finished blanket to him and he wore it not knowing the design was a disgrace. Two weeks later the Raven came back and threw the blanket in her face. She laughed as hard then, as she did now telling me the silly story.

I wore that blanket in 1992 while riding my cousins horse in a Skagway Alaska parade. I was the only Alaskan Native in the parade and won $50 for most historic.

lovebird blanket parade

I am thankful to Marianne for sharing her knowledge and wonderful stories. While she is no longer here, she will continue to inspire me. I created this caplet “Taboo Kusax’an Birds” in her honor.

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“Alaskan Lady” Sea otter dress vest

Alaskan Lady main labeled

2017 Santa Fe Market “First Place Ribbon” in diversified arts.

2017 Santa Fe Market “Best of Show” in a fashion contest.

2017 Cherokee Art market “3rd Place Ribbon” in textiles.

It has taken me 2 years of hunting to find the three perfect hides to make this sea otter dress vest. The whole vest is made of six large pieces, which require flawless matching hides. Sea otters are very aggressive and mate all year round; which can damage their hides.

The otter population is booming in Alaska and we would subsistence hunt more, but the lack of good quality tanneries has limited our abilities to create our fashions. Sea otters can be “Native tanned”, but the fur is the densest in the world and cannot be thoroughly cleaned with just these practices alone. And sea otters are BIG, 100-pound animals that eat everything in the sea. Not an easy animal to tan!

Alaskan Lady collar front

The art of proper “Build Up” of fur apparel materials consists of lining, hem tape, muslin wool, horsehair cloth, collar wire tape, covered hooks eyes, and pocket material. It took five years to find a skilled amazing furrier willing to teach me the trade secrets of “build up”. Because of this secret, the art of fur sewing is quickly disappearing in the U.S.

Alaskan Lady inside

The “Alaskan Lady” collar is made up of 72 individual Alaskan fur pieces. I could have lined the collar underneath, but decided to use a leather paint to seal it and show the intricacies of fur sewing. I took it one-step farther and labeled the fur pieces with the correct fur name. Please take a look? I hunted the stellar sea lion and sea otters locally. The other furs are labeled as such; Kotzebue lynx, Prince of Whales beaver, and Pribilof fur seal.

Alaskan Lady collar