My name is Kate; I am one of the summer students here at the Canadian Canoe Museum. Each one of us gets the opportunity to work on an artisan skill, and I have chosen to make a pair of mittens out of Hudson’s Bay blanket. Before starting as a summer student, I was a volunteer at the Museum for about a year. This gave me plenty of time to admire and fall in love with the work displayed in the Artisan Gallery as well as in the Museum's gift store Tumblehome. The beautiful stitch work and designs were something that I wanted to be a part of.
Blankets were a trade item of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and when a piece of clothing was needed these blankets were used to make it. The Metis would take used blankets and make garments such as mittens, capotes (a sort of coat) as well as rifle cases and drum cases- among other things.
I began my mittens with a piece of a Hudson’s Bay blanket; I used a stencil to cut out the components of my mittens to the appropriate size (child size for my small hands). Once I had each component of my mittens cut out, I started to play with the design. I decided early on that I wanted to do a flower pattern to stay with a more traditional Metis design.
I first planned out a rough design on paper, then cut out each flower petal and leaf from the blanket. I took each of these pieces and placed them where I wanted them; but before stitching them down, I roughed in where I wanted the stem of the flowers and curly cues. I stitched this out using a daisy stitch and some green wool. Once this was completed, I used a small needle and thread to anchor each petal and leaf to my mittens. This step makes it easier to stitch later on. I stitched each piece using the blanket stitch and some wool of the respected colours.
After finishing the stitching on the design, I plan to use beads to accent the flowers and the leaves. Traditionally, beads would not have been incorporated into everyday-use mittens, but were sometimes added to gifts or showpieces. Before I stitch all of the components together, I will make an insert. This will cover the stitching on the inside of the mittens and will be softer on the hands than the wool of the blanket. All of the components will then be stitched together using the blanket stitch and wool.
I had some difficulties using the blanket stitch on so many small and round pieces, but so far my mittens are coming along nicely. When I began this project, I had some idea of what I was doing, but I did receive a lot of guidance from Museum volunteer Ipie Van der Veen. She showed me a few stitches that I could practice and use and made suggestions along the way. Ipie makes all of the mittens, capotes, gun cases, etc… that are displayed in the Artisan Gallery and in Tumblehome. She is a brilliant and overly talented volunteer, if you have the chance you should come in and check out her work!
You can also stop by to see my progress. While you’re here you can try your hand at some stitching, or try on a capote and a pair of mittens!