Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Canadian Costume ~ Part 3: Coat Construction

Unfourtunately, I haven't documented the making of my blanket coat, as I was eager to get it done by the New Year. It is a very basic construction with piping in the seams, and no lining except for the sleeves. I managed to finish the coat by New Years, apart from the hood and decoration on the shoulder.

I observed much of how to construct the coat by looking at photos of original Canadian Snowshoe costumes from the McCord museum. You can see some of these photos in my earlier post.

From these photos, it's pretty easy with a knowledge of sewing, to figure out how these coats are constructed. The main questions I still had was whether or not these coats had a lining, and that question was answered by this photo from the William Notman collection.


As you can see, the bottom corner of the blanket coat has been turned back revealing that, while there is a facing, there is no lining.

After cutting out my pieces, I hand-serged all edges to ensure that there would be no fraying. This probably wasn't needed, but I felt it would help the coat last longer. I added the facing along the front edge of the forepart, turned it, and top stitched. It was difficult to top stitch through all the layers, since it was close to 3/4 inch thick. The top stitching reduced it to just under half an inch. I then constructed the main body of the coat. This was done by sewing the side-seams, the centre-back, and the shoulders. While doing this, I added a blue piping, as is seen in the original coats.

Next were the sleeves. The sleeve was constructed with a top sleeve and an under sleeve. I sewed the back seam of the arm with piping, and the front seam without. I hemmed up the cuff, and added a lining. I attached the sleeve to the coat. In sewing the sleeves onto the coat, I could have done a sleeve cap out of the same blue melton I used for the piping. I didn't for time's sake, but I will most likely take off the sleeve and add the shoulder cap at a later date.

I did a blanket stitch along the bottom edge of the coat. This was more typical than hemming the edge. Then I got to the complicated bit: the hood and collar.

The hood and collar are difficult because the layers of fabric create a massive amount of thickness. There's the coat itself, a layer from the hood, a layer of hood lining, and another two layers from the underside and the topside of the collar. This accumulated into a thickness of well over an inch.

Once again, I made a compromise for time's sake by forgoing the hood for now, and just adding the collar.

I finished the outfit in time for New Years, and wore it out to the park. Since then, I wore it to Trout Lake, which was frozen for the first time in 20 years. I also wore it to Fort Langley's Festival du Voyageur.


As to the construction of the hood, I've still been doing a bit of research on this, going back and looking at photos from McCord museum, it appears most common for the hood to be sewn in under the collar. However, I did notice in one of the original snowshoe coats, it appears that the hood is attached under the collar, but not in the same seam. It looks as if it was laid on, and top-stitched.

I then found images from an auction on Ebay of a Snowshoe costume from Winnipeg in the 1930s. This coat had a few interesting features. First, this was the first snowshoe costume I'd seen that was made from a Hudson's Bay blanket. The slightly more important feature to me was that the hood attached separately with buttons.

1930s Snowshoe costume. Photo from Ebay.

Coat back and hood.

Buttons to attach the hood.

Attaching the hood with buttons would solve the problem of all the bulk and allowed me to add the hood without taking the collar off. It will probably be some time before I make the addition of the hood, but until then, I'm finished and working on other projects!

Spring weather is already on the horizon here in Vancouver, so I won't be needing a snowshoe costume until next winter.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Canadian Costume ~ Part 2: Components

Once I gathered my reference material, I went about breaking down the Canadian Snowshoe Costume into its individual components. 

This is one of my favourite images of the Canadian Snowshoe Costume. I used about 200 reference photos, similar to this one, to determine the components I need for my outfit. Starting from head to toe, I'll describe the components of the outfit.

Starting with head wear, it's fairly obvious that he's wearing a knitted toque. The toque itself belongs to French-Canadian and voyageur fashion. The toque is most likely blue or red. Those toques worn with the snowshoe costume will often have a pom-pom or a tassel. While the toque is the most common choice for the Canadian costume, an alternative would be a fur cap of several different forms, rounded, or a wedge-cap, made out of Persian lamb, beaver, seal, or mink.

As I don't know how to knit (yet), a fur cap would be the easiest option, especially considering I already own a fur cap in the fur wedge shape, known as a Canadian Busby, which is a military style of hat. I do plan on either knitting a toque or finding someone to knit one for me in the future, but a fur cap will do for now.


The next piece of the project to acquire was the blanket coat. The blanket coat was already an established piece of Canadian and French-Canadian clothing, and already enjoyed a long history in Canada. Anglo-Canadians of the time adopted this as part of their Canadian Snowshoe Costume.

My plan from the beginning was to sew the blanket coat, so I began looking for a blanket. The obvious thing to do would be to search for cheap Hudson's Bay blankets. The only catch with this plan is that, I don't like the white and multicolored striped blankets, and I couldn't find any reference to the blanket-coats being made from HBC blankets.  I went looking at Antique shows and thrift stores, and searched Etsy. This lead to finding multiple blankets. The first of which was at a local antique show. I managed to get an off-white blanket with pale pink stripes made by Kenwood Wool. The blanket had just the right weight and texture, being close to a Bay blanket. The only problem was I didn't want pink stripes. But for the price of $20, I figured it was a good step in the right direction. If I had to, I could exclude the stripes and make a plain white coat.


The second blanket I found was on Etsy, and it was the perfect blanket. It came from a seller in Montreal, and it matched in texture to the coats in the McCord Museum, and had narrow stripes in blue and red. It was described as a handwoven blanket sewn together from two panels created by cottage industry in Quebec, pre-1920. I bought it right away. When I received the blanket, it felt truly old. I took it to my friend and mentor who is a costume historian. He gave me a rough dating of anywhere from 1860-1910, as blankets of this type are very hard to date. With this information and already feeling attached to the blanket, I couldn't bring myself to cut into this historical artifact to make my coat. So the search continued!

Then I found another blanket in off-white at the local Value Village for $30. This blanket had no stripes, other than embroidered initials with the date of 1953. By this point, I had caught the blanket fever! I couldn't stop! Right away, I went to purchase that one, and thankfully, my dad got it for me!


The blanket I finally settled on was one I found on Etsy. It was a much larger blanket, it had the same texture as the first blanket, though a little bit heavier. The blanket had a one inch wide black stripe, six inches from either end. This one was actually close enough that I could go pick it up.

The other materials needed for the coat were blue and red wool Melton for piping and detailing, as well as a cotton sleeve lining, heavy linen thread, large shell buttons, and a tassel and drawstring for the hood. The tassel is simply made of wool yarn, though I don't know what the drawstring was made of, so this will require more research.

The next piece is the sash. In French, it was called the ceinture fléchée, and in English was known as a coloured sash. This is another item borrowed from voyageur fashion. Usually finger woven, these sashes were very colourful and originally used by voyageurs as back-support to prevent hernias while transporting large bale of furs for the Canadian fur trade. Because it was associated with the fur trade, it was regarded as a quintessentially Canadian piece of clothing. This is one of my favourite pieces of the Canadian costume. I already had a coloured sash which I got at Fort Nisqually Brigade Encampment, made by a wonderful weaver who participates in the event.

As for gloves, I have a couple of options: Wool knitted gloves, leather gloves, fur gauntlets, or fur mittens. It appears in the photo above that the fellow might be wearing wool knitted gloves.  I plan on making a pair of fur gauntlets in the future. Right now I have leather gloves. My mother also has a pair of First Nations beaded fur mittens passed down from my great-great-grandmother, which would be possible to borrow.

The most common legwear for the snowshoe costume were blanket-cloth breeches. Breeches were very popular in 19th century sporting wear, and would be appropriate for the sport of snowshoeing or tobogganing. These breeches would be worn with a heavy woolen sock that reach above the knee.  I received a pair of 1920 ski socks, from a friend, to go with the breeches. Another option often seen is wearing regular high-waisted trousers of the 19th century.

There are a couple forms of footwear seen in the William Notman photos. The most common are the moccasins of various styles. These work very well with snowshoes. As I don't know much about moccasins, this is an area of further study. Lacing boots, worn typically with trousers, rather than breeches, are also prevalent, though I suspect that they were worn for the portrait, and not for actual snowshoeing. I also noticed there were some shoes that appeared to be leather or rubber that fastened with a buckle. These may have been specially made for snowshoeing or winter sporting, since they are unusual.

Finally we get to the bottom, which would be the snowshoes. The snowshoes are a traditional style, made out of wood and rawhide lacing. I was thankful that my grandfather has allowed me to borrow his personal pair of snowshoes. Many different styles and shapes are shown in the William Notman photos.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Canadian Costume ~ Part 1: Research

It all started when I stumbled across this picture and rare reference to Canada in Punch Magazine from 1883.

Lord Lansdowne in 1883.

First, I noticed the coat was similar to Canadian blanket coats that you see in reference to fur-trade, and early Canadian winter carnivals. Then I noticed the caption, "Lord Lansdowne: in his Canadian Costume specially adapted to remaining some time out in the cold".

I found it interesting that they referred to this as 'Canadian Costume'. I was curious to know whether they thought this was a Canadian national costume, and if it reflected a Canadian stereotype of the time. I began to think that this may be the outfit for me to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday.

I went looking in my other Punch Magazines for cartoons depicting the same outfit and I found another from 1862.

"Oh, it's all very well to laugh! but it was too bad of Little Binks
to come in his Canadian Dress and Snow-shoes to our Fancy Ball." 1862.

This cartoon referred to this style of outfit as 'Canadian dress'. After seeing both outfits, I was  convinced that I was looking at a Canadian stereotype of the time. With this knowledge in hand, I began scouring the internet for more references to this style of clothing, using search terms such as "Canadian Blanket Coat 1880s" and "Canadian Costume 1880s".

My searches came up with several extraordinary results from the McCord Museum, which happens to have several original Canadian blanket coats of the 1880s.

                    Source                                                                         Source

With more searching on the museum webpage, I discovered a collection of William Notman Photographs. William Notman (1826-1891) was a Montreal photographer famous for his winter scenes. Within his photographs, there are nearly a hundred that depict Canadians in this style of dress engaging in various winter activities, such as tobogganing and snowshoeing.

Snowshoeing and tobogganing. Source

After seeing Notman's stunning photographs, I knew I had to make one of these outfits (being a Canadian, of course), even though I live in Vancouver, the one part of Canada that rarely gets snow.

The other major incentive for making this outfit was that I wanted to create an outfit specifically for the Sesquicentenary (150th) anniversary of Canada's Confederation.  This outfit is perfect as many of Notman's photographs of this style of dress date from 1867, which is the year of Canadian Confederation.

I religiously started collecting photos and prints to my Pinterest as reference materials.

Happily, a book I had received years ago as a gift, entitled "Canada - 1892: Portrait of a Promised Land" contains some of the same images I was now collecting.

During the course of my investigations, I discovered that people of the time most commonly referred to this outfit as a "Snowshoeing Costume". This style of outfit was used by the Montreal Snowshoeing Club as their official club uniform.

The Montreal Snowshoeing Club. Source

I also found a book called "Fashion - a Canadian Perspective" which included a full chapter on these Snowshoeing Costumes. This book gave me a lot of information on the history of the blanket coat and its impact on Canada. The chapter explores this uniquely Canadian outfit and its use within the sport of snowshoeing. There's no way I could summarize the sheer amount of information I found on the subject of the Canadian Costume.

Armed with the reference material, I was ready to begin planning the outfit!

(All McCord images can be found on their website.)

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Happy New Year!

Canada has entered it's 150th Year since confederation in 1867. I've been looking forward to this for some time now and I'm thrilled it's finally here! I'm currently working on some special projects for this year.

One of the projects I already finished with the exception of a few details is my Canadian Costume.

This Punch Magazine portrait is my original inspiration. After finding this outfit I had to make my own, I am Canadian after all.

Here I am wearing my new Canadian Costume on new years day. I finished the outfit the day before especially so I could wear it on the first day of Canada's 150th year,

And in colour though I prefer the black and white.

A woman I met in the park wanted her dog to get a photo with me, and she sent me the photo.
I think it's a great photo.

"To one and all who ever may hear I wish them a Happy New Year!"

I will be posting more about the research and making of my Canadian Costume.