How to Sew with Real Sinew
Many hobbyists and re-enactors use artificial sinew (waxed Dacron) to sew together bags, clothing, and other items. It’s hard to tell the difference between artificial sinew and real sinew after the sewing is done, and the artificial stuff is sure more convenient to work with; but this is a blog about survival and primitive skills, and you don’t find waxed Dacron in the wilds. So in this post I’m going to show you how to sew with real sinew. The project I’m working on here is a set of straps for the pack basket that we made in the last post. By the way, if you try this kind of sewing you will gain a quick understanding of why things like steel awls, metal sewing needles, and linen thread were such popular trade items with the Native Americans.
The Pack Straps
We could just twist up some rawhide or yucca fibers into large cordage to make our pack straps, but I know from experience that narrow straps are tough on the shoulders. I’m going to make some straps for my pack basket out of brain tanned elk hide, with the finished straps being about an inch and three quarters wide. Straps this wide that are made from a double layer of soft leather will be a lot easier on the shoulders. Here’s the procedure:
First cut the straps about three and half inches wide, then fold them in half lengthwise. This will give a double layer of leather and a finished strap that is about one and three-quarters inch wide.
Now it’s time to prepare the sinew. You want the longest sinew possible so that you don’t have to constantly be tying off an old thread and starting a new one. In this case we will use an elk loin sinew. This will give us sinew threads that are about two feet long. Pictured below: Elk loin sinew with dollar bill to show scale When you first strip off a thread of sinew it will be kind of fuzzy and rough. Pictured below: Freshly stripped sinew thread
When you have your sinew prepared, it’s time to take your awl and start punching holes in the leather. It’s a waste of time to punch more than two or three holes at a time. The holes in the leather will shrink back up and make it hard to thread the sinew through, so it’s easier to punch the holes as you go. Pictured below: top, leather awl made from a sharpened nail and hammer stone; bottom, using a awl and stone to punch holes in the leather
Start sewing by running the sinew up from the inside through one layer of the leather. This will hide your knot in between the layers. Go to the second set of holes and sew down through both of them, then back to the first holes and up through both of them, then once again down through the second set of holes. This makes your first stitch a double stitch with the knot hidden between the layers of leather.
When you run out of sinew, you will have to start a new piece. I have never found any definitive information on how this is done, so I have tried several different methods. I tried twisting the new sinew and the old together. Didn’t work. The wet sinew would pull apart. I tried tying the new sinew to the old. Didn’t work. Again, the wet sinew would slide out of the knot. If I let it dry first, the knot would be hard to pull through the holes, and you never knew if the knot was going to end up showing on the outside of a stitch. So, this is what I came up with. I don’t know if it’s historically accurate, but it works for me. First I tie a knot in the old sinew so that the knot will be in between the layers of leather.
In my next post we will attach the straps to our pack basket, and finish the basket out.