• Feature

Learning the Disappearing Art of Black-bottomed Sealskin Boots

Nov 03, 2021
by IAQ

Nunatsiavut black-bottomed sealskin boots are a traditional style that involves unique stitching techniques and a detailed and laborious process. The meticulous effort that is put into making these boots yields a rewarding result: beautiful, comfortable and waterproof boots that can withstand the harshest winters and wettest conditions. Despite this, not many know how to make black-bottomed sealskin boots these days, except for a few who strive to keep passing on the knowledge.

Artist Andrea Flowers (1934–2019), taught her granddaughters, Vanessa Flowers and Veronica Flowers, how to make the traditional boots, an experience that the two young artists hold near to their hearts. The IAQ spoke with Vanessa and Veronica to learn more about making the black-bottomed sealskin boots and how their grandmother taught them. 

“When we were little, we would go over to her house and she was usually cleaning a sealskin in the middle of her living room.  One time the whole living room was taken up because she was cleaning a polar bear skin. She was always cleaning a sealskin or a polar bear skin and there was always sewing supplies and sealskin on the table. She was always either making mitts or boots. There was always something on the go.” – Veronica Flowers



“She started making sealskin boots when she was in her early twenties. So that would have been in the ’50s. Sometimes she wouldn't even use a thimble. She would just say, ‘My fingers are tough. I don't need a thimble.’” – Veronica Flowers



“Not many people know how to make black-bottomed sealskin boots from start to finish anymore. That’s why it’s important to keep the tradition alive. The first time we made them was April 2018. We wanted to try and we had some sealskin, but it wasn't very fresh. The fresher the sealskin, the easier it is, because it's softer. It was a bit old, so it was a bit tough. And we had to really work hard to get it soft and ready to sew.” – Vanessa Flowers



“You get the seal, you clean the seal, you tan the sealskin and you use that natural sealskin. Traditionally you would use caribou sinew to sew with, but nowadays we just buy synthetic stuff from the store.” – Vanessa Flowers






“You sew them inside out, and then you flip them to the right side. And then you sew them again. So they’re stitched twice. Each part of the boot has a different, specific type of stitch. So it’s not the same all around and that makes them strong. Every part is specific to make them waterproof.” – Veronica Flowers






“They could be used in the winter and for the summer—they were used for everything back then. They’re waterproof and everyone would use them. That’s why they’re so special. Over time people had access to stores and would get store bought boots instead because it's so hard to make them and there are so many parts to it. It was like all of a sudden, we didn’t need to make sealskin boots anymore. But now looking back on it, it’s a lost tradition.” – Vanessa Flowers







“It took over a week to make them. We had to keep taking out parts because Nan didn't like the look of it. So we had to keep taking it out and trying it again. At one point, Nan said, ‘Well, it took us over a week to make one pair. When I was younger, in my twenties, I used to make two pairs of sealskin boots a day.’” – Vanessa Flowers





“We’re thankful that she was able to teach us and we were able to learn from her because it just feels natural for us. Like a part of who we are. People know us for sewing and carrying on that tradition. Even though Nan's passed on, we're still making the slippers and the boots and the mitts—the exact kind that she would make.” – Veronica Flowers


This series was made possible with the generous support of the Ontario Arts Council. 

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