Project: Material Traditions: Gut, Ivory and Cedar
Grantee: Anchorage Museum Association
Organized by the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center at the Anchorage Museum and held at the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center in Bethel
Written by: Hillary Vild, participant
No, I am not performing surgeries at the hospital and stitching up guts. I am embracing this wonderful place I am living and experiencing some of their traditional crafts.
The Yup’ik museum holds some classes to teach crafts and continue traditions. This weekend, they held a gut skin sewing class. Usually it is with seal gut, but due to the federal Marine Mammal Act, only Alaska Natives can handle seal gut intestines. For us non-natives, we used hog intestines.
First: You tie one end and blow up the intestines like a balloon and tie the other end. Then, the intestines have to be stretched out straight and allowed to dry over night.
Second: Once completely dry, you identify the top and cut along the crease to open up the intestine and make it into a flat sheet.
Here you can see the opened up intestines. They are very thin and feel like tissue paper. They have a very distinct smell too. Kinda smells like a wet dog that rolled in something smelly outside.
Before I could even start to sew the gut, I had to prepare the thread. The thread had to be waxed with bees wax to make it waterproof and then towards the end, pieces of the thread had to be separated and taken out to make a thinner/tapered end. This made it easier/thinner to thread through the needle.
The intestine ends were lightly dampened to make it more pliable and re-enforced with strands of straw/grass.
Here it is! I can make it into a window ornament or wall hanging by adding decorative trim. Seal gut was traditionally used to make waterproof parkas, doll clothing, windows in houses, earrings, and many other things.