Sewing Fish Skin Lanterns

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scraping fish skin with an ulu
salmon skin "panels"
sewing fish skin
salmon skin lanterns

Sewing with fish skin is not for everyone. After laboring over the filleting of the fish without nicking the fish-skin, then scraping the flesh off the skin for what seemed like days, the sewing was slow and equally laborious. But despite the many cuts to my skin, and living for a few days with fishy, water-logged hands, turned out fish skin sewing was for me. A satisfying process full of inspiration and collaboration, rooted in native arctic textile and basketry traditions, with a magical result. Under Emily’s skillful guidance, our circle of sewers created luminescent lanterns using traditional techniques for a future modern dance performance, part of her Vermont Performance Lab residency. At the end of the workshop, the lanterns remained with the artist, but participants did not go home empty-handed. Gifted with generous amounts fresh salmon fillets, I took the opportunity to make gravlax – a delicious celebration of a wonderful few days. With many thanks to the women and girls in the sewing circle, to Sara, Emily and Judy for sharing their talents.


GRAVLAX (adapted from Scandinavian Cooking by Beatrice Ojakangas)
Approximately 2 pounds very fresh sushi grade (or commercially frozen and thawed) salmon fillet (traditionally with skin on; works equally well without)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper (or white if you have it)
1 Tbsp. freshly ground pepper
1 – 2 bunches of fresh dill – about ½ to 1 cup (don’t skimp on the dill)
Combine salt, sugar and pepper in a small bowl
Wash and chop dill – stems and all
Rinse and pat salmon dry with paper towels
Place salmon in a 13×9-inch glass dish (or ziplock bag)
Sprinkle half of the salt mixture and half of the dill over the fish
Turn fish over and sprinkle with remaining salt mix
Top with remaining dill
Cover with plastic wrap (optional – add stones/weights for more compact texture)
Refrigerate for 24 – 48 hours**
Occasionally spoon juices over fish (or if using ziplock bag – flip it around a few times)
Drain fish, remove dill, pat dry
To serve, cut diagonally in ⅛-inch slices, pulling each slice away from the skin if the salmon has the skin on
Arrange on platter with fresh dill, cream cheese, capers, lemon slices, thinly sliced cucumbers, sweet/honey mustard, sliced red onion…
Serve with dark rye bread or crispbread
Can be kept up to 1 week in fridge; 1 month in freezer


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