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Working with furs

I'd worked with furs before- mostly to construct clothing for our stone age workshops, but also for my Fashion degree. In the latter example I was mostly using old fur coats which is more like using fabric as most of the 3D shape has been removed by piecing

For my parka the first stage was to tan as many furs as possible- I didn't start assembling the coat until I had around 15. The total ended up being around 15 after a last minute tanning session, with some of the poorer quality skins from the original 15 used for other jobs including mitts, liners, snood and water bottle cover The pelts have quite a variation of colours- some more orange, some more silvered with white guard hairs and some darker. The first job was to sort them into groups, and pairs. Two young fox pelts ( short but dense summer hair) I put aside and later used for glove liners. The two most unique pelts were picked out to form center back and front, and I began forming the shoulders and then front and back panels.

A benefit of having nice soft skins to work with was that I could actually pin them, although a lot of pins died on the job and ended in the bin as bits of twisted wire..... I mainly worked with the leather side facing out. It was a huge help to be able to work on a manequin. I set the mannequin to my body measurements ( augmented with various old bras) then dressed it in a thick jumper or two and a fur coat to simulate the other layers. The belly fur of the foxes is very thin, and sparse ( especially at the armpits) so those areas weren't usable for this project. They will be kept and used to trim other projects in the future as will the heads, tails and leg skins. I tried to cut them so that the edges of the grey/white belly fur formed a nice pattern, but most of it had to be trimmed away. Sometimes the 3D shape of the skin could be used to curve around the 3D shape of the body, but for the most part I had to make the skin into a flat piece- Basically this meant taking in a pleat (removing a triangle ) of fur from the armpit.

The basic method was Pin the skins, trim them to shape with a scalpel then add the white fox fur welts and begin the sewing. I used a sort of baseball stitch where the thread goes in a figure of 8. this allowed me to include a white fur welt in the seam, and since I was a bit worried about the strength of the seam I thought it would support the edge well and reduce the chances of the stitches ripping out. I sewed the seam a few inches at a time, loosely at first then drew the stitches tight using a curved dental pick or a bone awl. I was very suspicious of the strength of the white fur, so the seam was also made in a way that placed no strain at all on it- its just there for decoration. I also had to contend with a few holes- both bald areas due to fur loss and moth damage, tanning and skinning accidents and of course bullet holes. I found the best way was to measure the hole, and cut a patch. then draw around the patch on the skin to be repaired and trim the hole to the line- getting rid of any crusty hard edges and making it a smoother shape. sometimes i added 'register marks' so that I could keep the patch lined up.

By far the hardest area to finish was the junction between arm and body. I wanted to make sure there was lots of movement- partly for practical reasons, but also because it make tearing less likely. It might have been a time to resort to flat pattern cutting but I stuck to the 'draping' method, and just resigned myself to taking a long time at it. As much as possible I tried to avoid having seems meeting in the same place- I wanted to make it as difficult a possible for it to fall apart or come art at a point of strain. From the inside it is a total 'Frankenfur' but from the outside it all looks pleasingly deliberate.

I had to abandon my plan to trim the hem artistically with bits of leg and tail, but that can wait- i'm sure I'll be back in Canada at some point soon ;) the front opening closes with antler toggles. I might extend the front opening longer, especially if I decide to use it as a sleeping bag. the hood is slightly too big, even with the hat underneath, so I would like to add some kind of adjuster inside to make the hood smaller. and possibly line it with fur. I actually had very little need for it on the expedition in the end as we had warmer than average temperatures. I slept in it one night and was actually too warm! One plan may be to adapt the coat so that it can be used as the top half of a sleeping bag. I would also like to add pockets ( you can never have too many pockets) so that I can tuck my hands in when use it as a sleeping bag!

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Thanks for the detailed write-up. It looks fantastic! I especially like the white accents. You have a talent for descriptive phrasing that matches up very well with the photographs you included. Your fashion degree is obviously being well used :) You look all warm and toasty!

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