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.

Headwear:
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.

(PHOTOS SHOWING OPTIONS FOR FUR CAPS - A FEW OPTIONS - CAP THAT I'M USING, AS WELL A COUPLE REFERENCE PHOTOS OF TOQUE WITH TASSEL, FUR WEDGE AND FUR CAP)

Coat:
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.

PINK STRIPE BLANKET

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!

(BLANKET THREE)

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.

Sash:
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.

Handwear:
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.

Legwear:
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.

Footwear:
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.

Snowshoes:
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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