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Sub Zero temperatures in Stone Age clothing!?

Some of you will have seen my recent posts on the various bits of clothing I'm making for my winter trip to Canada next year.

The trip is the culmination of a 2 year long course with Living by nature who will shortly be expanding their courses to the UK. Myself and Adam Logan will be running the year course which is tremendously exciting! Anyway, back to the clothing! Clothing for cold temperatures is highly specialised, and based around the idea of layers. It is very important to be able to regulate your temperature depending on your level of activity, and prevent the build up of sweat inside the layers. If this freezes, you can become dangerously chilled. Having modular clothing not only means you can suit you clothing to your level of activity, it means you can dry it more easily. This holds true for individual elements as well. For example; Mittens are made of 3 layers- an inner mitt made of soft fur such as rabbit/ felted wool, a mid layer of fur and buckskin and an optional outer layer made of canvas or waterproof leather. This outer layer is especially useful in extreme cold, or when its windy.

Modern fabrics do not always function well in extreme cold- fake fur becomes brittle and matted with frost , polyester and Gore-Tex become friable and weak and cotton next to the skin is a potential death sentence. You really can't beat fur and leather.

I have been working on my foot wear. This will be used are around -30 degrees, often in conjunction with snowshoes. and consists of a felted inner, and a buckskin ( or buckskin and canvas) outer. Since I will need two pairs of each, i want to make one ornate pair completely from leather I've tanned myself, and another more modern pair from buckskin and canvas ( which should be significantly faster to make!)

This picture shows the mukluks made by LBN instructor ( and ex colleague of mine from Woodlore; Willow Lohr. This shows the wrap style, all made in beautiful buckskin. I have calf muscles reminiscent of a roman legionary, so the leg wrap section would have had to be HUGE- 30cm x50cm or so, for each leg! which is basically an entire large hide. First I had to make the pattern. We had made patterns on the course- using cloth and scrap leather to adapt a proprietary pattern to our own feet. the pattern was made OVER our felted boots, as these are up to 1cm thick, and felted insoles.

For the full leather pair, I wanted to make boots rather than wrap top mukluks. The wrapped tops use a huge amount of leather, and I could not spare that much on this one item. A boot with a fitted leg uses far less material, and its in smaller pieces. This was important too, because the hide I planned to use was a Red deer buckskin which was a nightmare to soften, and developed a few holes in the process!

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I took the pattern I'd made for the foot part and using paper, then scrap fabric I pinned a 'leg shaped upper. This is a process of making a 2D thing ( i.e. the paper or fabric) Form a 3D shape, so you may need to add seams at places where there is a change in shape or angle- you can see here i have added a 'V' shaped seam in the front of the ankle because otherwise it was trying to sit with wrinkles- and I don't like wrinkles- it means a bad fit!! Its really important to mark up the pieces before you un pin it all. mark up the lines where the pins are, and add some 'balance points' points you can match up when you put it together. the centres, the beginning of the gathered sections etc. Next step was to lay out the pieces on my hide and try and cut them out with the least wastage, and also the least number of holes! I also tried to pay attention to the grain of the leather- cutting the pieces so that the right and left foot at least had stretch in the same directions, and comparable thickness. I marked the pieces out with pencil, then cut them with scissors

Next job is to start stitching it all together! I made a slight tactical error- I really wanted to see what the foot part looked like, so i did the gathering/ vamp and sole section first. what I SHOULD have done was sew the Salmon skin decoration onto the front of the boot first. Oh well, lesson learned!

The Puckering stitch is tricky to get right, its worth establishing some fixed points before you start, so you have an idea roughly how much of the 'sole' you have to gather into a given area of Vamp ( the top of the foot) I will try and do a video on this stitch at some point!

< shows the vamp and sole tacked together to give a guide as to the gathering.

v shows the puckering stitch. On mine I sewed them inside out, and added a welt, which is partly decorative, but also improves the durability of the stitching. I used a Glovers needle, and artificial sinew. A thimble was also very handy!

These pics are from an earlier attempt which I abandoned... I may resurrect them as my second canvas upper pair.

In arctic clothing it can be very important to have unique decorated clothing. Jewellery and tattoos cant be seen when you're always dressed in several layers in fact faces are often hidden! So visible patterns on clothing serve not only to identify members of a group to each other, but to identify families, 'tribes' etc. I wanted to use the pair of Willow bark tanned salmon skins I made to decorate the front of my boots, in conjunction with the bark tanned roe hide i also used for the welts. While I wanted to keep some of the overall look of some of the First nations-made pieces I admire I wanted to come up with my own patterns, that reflect me and the land I come from. The shape of the salmon skin fitted very nicely on the front of the boot, but it needed some kind of trim. In Some northern societies you can spot patterns that identify men's and women's footwear- for example, the upwards pointing triangle symbolises the tent- hearth and home, whereas parallel lines might symbolise spears or fishing lines. I wanted to so something that complimented the salmon skin and so I decided on a pattern reminiscent of waves. ( I also love canoeing)

Where Holes have to be patched, I will use leaf shapes from UK woodland- that way the more worn and tattered my clothing becomes, the more decorated it will get! ( plus its a really good way of using up scraps in an interesting way. I will be doing the same on my other gear, so it should serve to make it identifiable in case I get it mixed up with anyone else's! the patches are mostly sewn with Whip stitch using a milliners needle, not (a glovers needle ) and split artificial sinew. I got the idea from a piece of Theresa Kampers, you might have seen her wearing it on 'survive the stone age'. Its a bit more effort, but I think its worth it! I will show the finished boots in another post, For now I need to get the other boot to this stage!

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