The Art and Technique of Inuit Clothing
Anonyme - Anonymous
Inuit: Inuinnaq (Kilusiktormiut)
1900-1930, 20th century
Caribou fur, lynx fur, sinew
49 x 10 x 25 cm
© McCord Museum
Keywords: Stocking (10)
Keys to History
During deep winter when the snow is dry, the Inuit wear boots made from the body coat of the caribou, the hair of which is long and bulky. Their footwear, as with the rest of Inuit clothing, admirably demonstrates their knowledge, developed over millennia, of humidity and temperature control. The human body, particularly the feet, emits an invisible water vapour called transpiration and, if overheated, perspiration. At a certain point, depending on the temperature both inside and outside the clothing, the moisture condenses and becomes hoarfrost. Fur, made of a keratinous substance, does not absorb moisture, and the frost is easily beaten off it.
When some explorers experienced the Arctic winter, they donned more and more layers of woollens because they did not understand the need to get rid of the humidity inside their garb. They became colder as the fibres absorbed the moisture from the body. When their clothing and leather boots froze and there was no way to dry them out, they were doomed.
This boot is made of heavy caribou fur. Six vertical gores of alternating light and dark fur, fur flow down, make up the leg. The top casing is of lynx, through which goes a drawstring of singait (braided sinew). The drawstring can be loosened to allow humidity to escape or tightened to keep out wind and snow.
Boots like this one were in widespread use across the Arctic, making it difficult to pinpoint the origin of this example.
We do not know exactly when this boot was acquired. Nevertheless, by comparing it to similar examples, it is possible to suggest that this footwear may date to the early 20th century.
Our research tells us that boots like this one were most likely made by a Kilusiktormiut seamstress; however, the boot may also come from the Kivalliq (Caribou) Inuit who live on the west coast of Hudson Bay or the Nunatsiarmiut of Qikiqtaaluk (Baffin Island).