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© McCord Museum
Western Arctic
Inuit: Inupiat (Utqiagvimiut)
Anonyme - Anonymous
1900-1930, 20th century
46 cm
Gift of Mr. John A. Grose
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

Sinew (ivalu) is the thread used by the Inuit to make their clothing and footwear, and to sew bedding, tents and kayak covers. Sinew comes from animal tendons and from membranes of sea mammals and waterfowl. In caribou, a bundle of dorsal tendons (oliyut) lies immediately under the skin on each side of the vertebrae and attached to the tenderloins. The coarser tendons found on the caribou's back legs provide lashings and lines for hunting and fishing gear. Three-ply braided sinew (singait) makes fishing lines and drawstrings for boots. Four-ply cords are used for ice-hole fishing and for the stretching cords on drums. Harpoon lines have from four to eight strands braided together.

Although more and more women today use synthetic fibre, there is no completely suitable substitute for sinew. Its superlative characteristic is that, when damp, it swells and thus improves the waterproof quality of the seams.


Once the sinew strands (ivaluit) are split from the tendon and processed, they are put into a sewing bag and kept in a cool place so as not to dry out completely. Sometimes the seamstress makes up a braided bunch two and a half centimetres thick, as in this cluster, so that she can keep the filaments untangled and proceed more quickly with her sewing.


The collector, John A. Grose, obtained the bundle of sinew in Point Barrow, on the north coast of Alaska at the Beaufort Sea and near the territories of the Utqiagvimiut.


It is difficult to date the sinew but judging from its appearance and from the many objects in the John Grose Collection of the McCord Museum, we postulate a date of late 19th or early 20th century.


The Inupiaq at Point Barrow could have acquired the sinew from their trading partners, the interior North Alaska Inupiaq. After the caribou drive most interior Inupiaq would travel north by dogsled to meet the Utqiagvigmiut at the coast. There they traded their caribou skins, sinew and other products for seal oil and skins, ivory, and additional marine products.

© Musée McCord Museum