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Video: Savoonga skin sewer carries her culture forward

Tara Young

Siberian Yupik fashion designer Christina Alowa of Savoonga learned to sew skins from watching both of her grandmothers and her mother, Annie Alowa, while growing up on St. Lawrence Island in the middle of the Bering Sea.

"When my grandma taught me skin sewing, she cut out seal skin socks for one of my brothers, and she showed me how to do the running stitches. I tried that and she undid it. I tried again and she undid my stitches. The seventh time she took my stitches out I said, 'I'm done. I'm not going to do any more sewing.' But then she made me start with whip stitch and undid that again. She said 'Never use bad stitches. Try to make smaller stitches so the wind doesn't go through them.' I'm always thankful that she taught me the skin sewing, because that's my income," says Alowa.

Six months of the year, Alowa and her siblings and parents would leave their village of Savoonga to set up camp for hunting and gathering. That's where her mother would gather animal skins for sewing.

"We lived subsistence. Subsistence means hunting for your skins and meat to eat," says Alowa.

Alowa uses beaver, seal, red and Arctic fox, land otter and cow hide for her creations.

"I can sew anything out of sealskin," Alowa said. She makes custom garments as well as beaver skin mittens, sealskin-covered boots and bearded seal plush toys. She's even made several sealskin power suits.


By Tara Young
Alaska Dispatch