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.

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