• top frame 
  • Photograph of an Inuit woman preparing sinew for sewing by moistening it with her lips.
  • Magnifying Glass

While sewing, I moisten caribou sinew with my lips so it stays a little bit damp. This helps keep the sinew from fraying and makes it slip through the skin easier.
Atanak Judith Amarudjauq
Photograph by Jill Oakes

A Peary's caribou carcass showing the tendons on each side of the spine. The tendons are used to make sinew for sewing.
Ellesmere Island, May 1973
Photograph by Rick Riewe

Sewing Tools

Sinew is the strong tendon which connects muscle to bone. The best sinew is found along the backbone of the large animals we hunt. We separate the bundles of dried sinew into strands for sewing. When damp, animal sinew swells up and stops water from leaking through needle holes along kamik seams.
Elisapee Alooloo, 1984

Traditionally, Inuit seamstresses used dried sinew as a thread for sewing. Sinew is most commonly made from the tendons that are taken from caribou's leg or from either side of the spine. Sinew is an ideal material because it swells when wet, thus preventing water from leaking into clothing through the needle holes. To keep sinew pliable and flexible, it is kept inside a bird skin bag. Bird skin bags are made from the inverted skin of a loon or duck sewn into a sac. The oils from the skin and feathers prevent the sinew from drying out. Inuit sewing needles were traditionally made from bone from a variety of animals. Thimbles made from caribou antler or polar bear bone were used when sewing very thick skins, and seal skin thimbles were used when sewing thinner skins and decorative trim.