Introduction: Inuit Style Mittens
First Prize in the
Sew Warm Contest 2018
Let's make amazing inuit style mittens together!
I first learned how to sew these warm mitts surrounded by young Inuits wearing them in a native community in northern Québec, Puvirnituq (What's up PUV?). Some school teachers and I gathered during the spring break to take advantage of that know-how that was just around the corner. We learned how to sew these paulueet step by step, as I am about to share with you (finally). I have now made about 20 pairs and I am still going because I find it relaxing to sew leather and because I enjoy seeing people's eyes when they get this as a gift. I will eventually make myself a pair... one day. I encourage you to get to know inuit culture and eventually travel north to meet these amazing communities and their immense territories. I also discourage using this Instructables to make profit by selling mittens. The ones that should profit this art are the inuit communities themselves. Also remember that my patterns are adaptations of the originals.
If it is your first sewing project (as it was for me back two years ago), take your time and don't worry, anyone that has functional fingers can do this. Sewing a complete pair of mittens takes me between 6 and 8 hours of work and it is always really relaxing to get my fingers busy, plus it makes great gifts. Your first pair should take longer (and you may have to start over some parts), but it's still worth the work.
I finally ask you to be comprehensive with me, for I am not an english native speaker and I am quite new to the english sewing world.
Step 1: Gathering All the Material You Need
To make these awesome mittens, you will need different types of materials and tools, some of which you can easily find in a thrift shop, some you already have home and others you will need to make or find in a textile/sewing shop. Once you have all what's needed, you can usually make more than one pair. Some of the things I used can easily be replaced, use your creativity and resourcefulness for that. Depending on where and what you buy, a pair would cost you between 10$ and 50$ in material. Inuit made paulueet may cost between 75$ and 300$ if you buy them directly from the makers, depending on many factors (leather, quality, embroideries, lining, etc.).
Let's look at the stuff you will need to get started.
- Leather sewing needles : they need to be solid enough to go through leather, but small enough to leave almost no visible hole behind. Chisel point, size 4/6 is what I use.
- Thimble : preferably metal, I like mine because it has a "crown" like top, let's you push in various directions while staying in control of your needle.
- Scissors : sharp enough to cut through leather and clean cut thread.
- X-acto or any sharp knife : I prefer a single blade to cut through fur (it's less of a mess).
- Pen and marker : to draw the patterns on your textiles
- Thread : heavy duty thread. I use Gutermann heavy duty thread for the lining and artificial sinew (split in about 5 threads) for every other part.
- Leather : You can buy new leather or older leather garments to be upcycled. The thickness, the visual quality and the color are some issues to consider while looking for leather. The thicker, the stronger, but also the harder to sew. Take a look at both the skin and the suede sides because both could show in the final product. Holes in the skin will let wind pass, reducing the efficiency of the mitts. If you wish (or must), you can use different colors. Look for garments with large untouched leather, so you can fit many pieces inside it. Seams in the leather make it harder to sew. For this instructables, I used a part of an old black skirt.
- Polar fleece : New or used, this part will be the visible part of the mittens that is inside, touching the "not cold anymore" hands. The color is of lesser importance because we wont really look at that part from an outside perspective. The softness is more relevant (at least on one side of the fabric). Mine is really soft on one side (I bought a large piece of new fabric), and gray.
- Quilt batting : These mittens are meant for extreme cold weather (or extremely cold hands), so this insulation is required. If you're lucky, you may find some quilt batting that is already machine stitched with polar fleece. I used to buy some where I learned to make my first paulueet in Puvirnituq.
Fur : Like with leather, you could use new fur or upcycle some old garment. Look for deals in flea markets or thrift shops. The color and the hair length of the fur will be your first aesthetic concerns. You must be able to draw and cut two identical rectangles of about 10 cm x 30 cm inside your fur part. For this project, I am using a fur hat that belonged to my friend's grandmother. The mittens will make a beautiful reminder.
Hand sewing these mittens is a delicate technique and every step will influence the final shape of it. The patterns that you use is also going to change the look and the comfort of the thing. The patterns I used here are modifications of the original patterns I got in northern Québec. Those originals were about 3 cm shorter, so that the wrist would sometimes be in the open air. Mine are a bit harder to put on, but are also warmer and more elegant (in my opinion). These patterns are free to use and transform.
- The big U shaped pattern is the back (B) part, the smaller part with a flat bottom is the front wrist (W) part and the curved one is the palm (P) part.
I suggest you take the patterns photo and print it (whole or part by part) so that you can transfer it on a more solid surface (e.g. drawn and cut on cereal box cardboard). The base of the B part should be about 14-15 cm and all other parts are proportional.
- You can extend or reduce the patterns to fit different hands. I found that the best way to do that is to scan the patterns and scale them. I made larger mittens by extending the patterns at 110% and smaller ones at 75%. 50% will do really small (and cute) mittens, but even new-born hands would probably not fit in.
- All your textile pieces will be cut following the same patterns, so you must put great care in that first step.
Step 2: Preparing Your Fabric Pieces
You will need two identical fur rectangles, about 2 times the base of the W pattern in length by ¾ the base in width (see photo). The width is adjustable but not the length. First get your fur flat and take off any thread blocking your way before drawing your rectangles on the skin side with a pen, then cut through the fur following the lines, using one single sharp blade (the x-acto knife or any sharp knife). Using scissors is not forbidden, but you will get a lot of cleaning to do, because cutting hair is messy.
I did not have to draw my rectangles because the piece of fur I had was just perfect in width and twice as long as I needed, so I just split it in two.
The same principle is applied here, if you must disassemble a garment. Disconnect most of the threads so that you have a flat leather surface to draw on. In my example, I opened up the skirt and I removed the inner soft fabric, then I was able to draw my patterns with a pen.
When drawing patterns, try to use your "Tetris mind" to optimize the use of your textile. In a coat or a skirt, you can usually cut enough material to make 3 or 4 pairs. Also here, take a look at both sides of the leather. Each side has its color and you might want to play with that to make real cool styling, but pay attention to imperfections on either side, so that your mitten shells will look perfect. Remember that mittens are (usually) opposable, so you need to draw SYMMETRICAL patterns, not IDENTICAL ones.
When your patterns are drawn, cut them carefully with scissors. You will also need long leather bands for step 4. Make them at least 1 cm wide and the longer the better (at least 30 cm). You will need different length, but you can cut them as you sew, later. They don't actually need to be straight, but too much curves will add a difficulty to the project. Imperfections here are not so dramatic, because will cut much of the apparent bands. Their purpose is for preventing wind from getting inside the mitts and really add some solidity to the sewing.
- Polar fleece and quilt batting
Draw your patterns (Tetris mind) on each textile with a marker and cut them carefully with scissors. As the fleece probably has a smoother side, respect the symmetry principle for that. You want both of your mittens to be really soft on the inside.
Step 3: Sewing the Lining
Now it gets real!
First take a look at the video (I did my best... with a tablet and a stand). If you are really new to the sewing world, you might want to check out this post first : https://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Sew./
- To get started, you need to put together fleece parts with their equivalent quilt parts. If one side of your fleece is softer, now is the time to take it into account. Fleece and quilt are then bonded together and they must not be separated. You also need thread (you can use doubled heavy duty thread or single thread artificial sinew for this part).
- Oppose the soft fleet sides of the W and the P parts, so that their thumbs are one over the other.
- Start by tying the two parts together in the corner that is the furthest from the thumb, on the thumbs' contour.
- Then, take your needle between the two pieces and through the fleece and quilt of one side. Go over this same side and through the fleece and quilt of the opposing side. Repeat at intervals between 0,5 and 1 cm. For the lining, all the stitches will be really tight, so that the fingers can't feel them in the final garment. I couldn't find a simple drawing of that kind of stitch, so I had to make it into words... Explaining how to make these stitches is harder than I thought... If only I had a nice camera and a stand.
- When you get close to the tip of the thumb, start making the stitches on the W part further apart than the ones on the P part. You can actually notice that the complete thumb line is longer on the W side, so you need to use this trick at some point. The thumb is the perfect place to use it, because it will make a beautiful 3D modeling, giving space for your thumbs.
- When the whole thumb line is sewn, secure your seam by making a tight knot.
- Adding the B part (soft fleece facing soft fleece) as showing on the photos, you can use the same stitch and sew from bottom to about 3-4 cm after the previously sewn seam (as shown on photos). Repeat on the other side.
- Here, we do the whole "boxing gloves" shaping by using a simple running stitch through all the remaining B part line. Instead of securing it at the end, pull the thread to make waves (see photos) before making a double knot to secure it. You want the curve made by your waves to be almost equal to the remaining P line that opposes it.
- Finally, take your needle through the P part and through an upward going wave BEHIND the thread that you see. Repeat to go through every wave and remember to sew really tight, here. Try to get the same space between each stitches. If you don't, the mitten might be deformed. It took me some time to get this part perfect, don't be shy with the tightness.
- In the end, you should be able to put on your mittens and feel no stitch inside it. You shouldn't see any thread either.
Step 4: Sewing the Shell
The shell will be a visible part of your artwork so if you wish to make a beautiful product, take your time in this part. It usually takes me about 2 hours for each shell.
You will need all your 6 leather parts (2 x W, B, P), leather bands, leather needles and artificial sinew. I suppose you could use different threads, but I am personally attached to that strong thread, imitating the traditional materials.
- If you are using artificial sinew, start by splitting the fiber so that you have a smaller thread. It is so strong that you don't even need to double it. Just make your thread go through the needle and make a knot barely big enough to hold in place. If you make it bigger, it will be really hard to bring your thread through the leather layers. If your knot is too big, try spliting your thread again. At the other end, make a double or a triple knot.
- This first sewing step really looks familiar, because it follows the same lines as in the lining sewing. The difference here is the fact that it is a running seam, going through three layers of leather. Place the W and the P parts one over the other and add a leather band just between them, along the sewing line, from beginning to end (you will curve the band following your stitches). When placing your parts, notice that the sides facing will be the sides showing in the final product. In other words, we are sewing the mitten inside out. All the seams that we make should become invisible from the outside. While sewing through leather, make it tight, but not enough to make waves (see photos)
- Sew along the line and while approaching the tip of the thumb, make longer stitches on the W part than on the P part. Again, this will model your mitten and make space for your thumb. The key is to get the perfect ration between the W part stitch length and the P part stitch length. If you are not satisfied when your thumb is done, you might as well start over or try to undo some stitches.
- Add your B part (remember the inside out and the leather band) and repeat the same seam type from bottom to about 3-4 cm passed the previously sewn seam. Repeat on the other side.
- As for the lining sewing, you can now make your thread go through only one leather layer following a running seam along the remaining B line. Pull this thread to make waves until you have a curve about the size of the remaining P line and secure it with a double knot.
- The next step is a little different from the lining part, because we use a running seam to go through EVERY wave, always piercing the wave upwards (see photos) and going BEHIND the thread we see. You need to keep the leather band aligned to both leather parts as you sew along the line. Make these stitches extra tight, all along, even though the result might look weird.
- When you're done and your seam is secured with knots, you can flip the shell over and you should see a nice result. The leather band that is not needed will be cut in the next step. If you see threads that you don’t like (like on the photos), you can unflip the shell and try to add some stitches to solidify the weakest points.
Remember to take your time and feel free to try other techniques if you wish. This part is really the harder to master. I don’t remember ever being truly satisfied about my work here. Ok maybe I'm being hard on myself...
Step 5: Assembling the Mittains
If you've made it this far, there is almost nothing that can stop you from getting your amazing mitts done.
Before assembling the lining, the shell and the fur together, you must take that extra leather band off by cutting it a little bit. The photos will guide you for the look your mittens should have before and after the cutting.
- What you do is really just cutting the extra leather band as close as you can from the shell, WITHOUT reaching the thread. You can stretch the band a little so it's easier to cut, but do not ever cut the thread. It happened to me once and it was quite a thing to repair. This part is mostly aesthetic, so again, take your time.
What I do now, and what I suggest you do too is that I join the fur with the shell, and then with the lining. Inuit mittens I have seen are made of two distinct parts that merge : the leather shell; the lining, sewn with the fur. That way you can separate the mittens in two part, so it's easier to repair or replace. I chose to join all the pieces together.
- Sew the fur on the shell, the hairy side facing the leather. The fur will be flipped at the end, so think about the orientation you want to give to your fur. The seam is quite easy : after joining the fur and the shell with a loop and a knot, go through the fur first and then the leather. Pass over and repeat until you have completed the circle around the wrist. Sew tight and no thread will appear when you flip the fur at the end. The more stitches you have, the more solid your fur will be.
- When the circle is done, keep on sewing, but along the fur to join both ends of the rectangle together, making it a cylinder. If you have extra fur, cut it with an x-acto knife, just enough to be able to close your cylinder.
- Flip the fur and bring in the flipped lining (see photos)
- Sew a running seam, joining the fur and the lining. The hairy side of the fur has to be over the fleece. This part is kind of tricky... I tried taking good pictures, but my tablet has its limits. In the end, try securing your seam with a discreet loop and knot. Hidden in the hair, it shouldn't be a major issue.
- Delicately un-flip the mitten so get to see your final artwork.
Now try them on as often as you like, or trade them, or give them as gifts (people love them, especially when they know YOU made it) and enjoy warm hands, all year long.
Please let me see if you have tried to follow these steps and have a final product to show us! And also, don't be shy if you have any comments about my post or questions during the making. Thank you!
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