Monday, February 29, 2016

Meet Linus!

I've dipped back into historical sewing, but in a different sort of way. When I got this American Girl "Kaya" doll, I knew two things right away: not a girl, and not going to wear the commercially available fringe-and-feathers stereotypical nonsense. 

So meet Linus Charbonneau, an eleven year old boy of Metis heritage living in North Dakota in 1982.  He likes playing basketball and racing slot cars with his older brother Leon.

During the height of the North American fur trade, many French trappers and fur traders took native women as wives. The women served as important social go-betweens, guides, and translators for the newcomers to the native population, and the resulting mixed-heritage generation is now recognized as the Metis. 

Linus is wearing some typical regalia of his French and Chippewa heritage. It's modern, but based on traditional clothing from earlier generations. 

The red wool coat is called a "capote". They are constructed from a single Hudson Bay Company blanket. Red and black ones like this were popular, and also cream-colored ones with wide multicolored stripes. Length also varied, from shorter hip-length jackets on down to mid-calf or more. Linus's coat is quite long, but it gives him plenty of room to grow. 

Capote were usually worn tied shut around the waist with a wide woven sash.  The sash is probably the most recognized article of Metis clothing: brightly colored, intricate, and useful. Folded over and tied around the waist, it was a perfect pocket to stash small necessaries, and a single thread was occasionally pulled from the long fringes at the ends to use for quick mends.  I haven't made a sash yet because I'm still learning fingerweaving, so that will have to wait for now. I want to do it justice! 

At the back is a generous hood, with a black tassel. The tassel was decorative, but also useful to tuck into the sash to keep the hood from flapping around while it was down. 

French traders carried lots of silk ribbon. It was light to carry, colorful, and popular in trade. One of the ways native people used it was as decoration on shirts and jackets. Today ribbon shirts are a part of many tribes' powwow regalia. Linus is wearing a blue cotton calico with shell buttons. The blue ribbons represent the Metis people, and the yellow represents prosperity. The Metis are well-known for their exceptional beadwork, so Linus has a small beaded flower at his collar.

Beading was often done on fabric which was then sewn onto garments. This way it could be removed when the garment became worn, and put onto something new. This is the very first beading I have ever done, and I'll admit it's not the greatest. It's also on a small scale, so those beads should be about 1/3 the size they are, but jeepers, I'm new at this! Someday I can re-do them properly in tiny wee beads, and then it will be easy to take off the fabric and replace it with glorious, beautiful, in-scale work. 

Here's a close-up on my nascent bead work. I think it's pretty, though not a patch on what real Metis work looks like, of course. 

All in all, I learned a lot while designing this outfit. Metis history is fascinating and it was interesting to see how the French and native cultures blended together.  I still have moccasins, that sash, and a bag to make in the future, so you may see more of Linus later on. 

Now go make something! 


  1. I love this, and the Fry Bread sweatshirt is fabulous.