Beauty Restored: The Treatment of an Inuit Parka
by Heather Dumka, Conservator, Artifacts
One of the treasures of Glenbow Museum's ethnology collection is this Inuit beaded amautik or women's parka. This parka, which has many tears and losses, was recently treated in the conservation lab. The parka is made of caribou skin and is elaborately decorated with beadwork sewn onto heavy wool panels. The parka was repaired at the museum many years before there was a conservation lab or a conservator. Many of the panels were rebeaded, and the skin was repaired using leather patches stitched onto the back of the damaged areas. Unfortunately, these heavy patches caused further damage and they also distorted the original shape of the parka. The first part of the treatment involved removing many of the old repairs. Since the beaded panels are very heavy they also had to be temporarily removed during the treatment.
Tears and losses in the skin were patched with a lightweight fabric that was sprayed with a heat-activated adhesive. The patches were "ironed" in place using a heated spatula. To provide extra support the inside of the parka was lined with the adhesive fabric prior to sewing the beaded panels back into place. One of the beaded panels was not previously repaired and had to be laboriously stabilized and lined with new fabric before it could be replaced. While this treatment was long and complex, it successfully restored the beautifully crafted work of an Inuit seamstress.