Art & Clothing
Métis art was greatly influenced by both European and Native cultures. However Métis art has also influenced other Native groups in Canada. Métis art was often wrongly labeled, with credit given to another Native group in Canada. Many Europeans wanted to buy art from ‘real’ Native artists, so the Métis were often forced to sell their art to other Native groups (who resold it to European traders). This caused confusion over the origin of the art.
The Métis were famous for their floral beadwork, and were often called the ‘Flower Beadwork People’. The symmetric floral beadwork, often set against a black or dark blue background, was inspired by European floral designs. They used seed beads. Beadwork was added to: Jackets, Bags, Leggings, Gloves, Vests, Pouches. These items were traded throughout North America and Europe. It was common for the Métis to decorate their saddles and other horse gear.
The Métis were also well known for their floral silk embroidery, which was introduced to them by the Ursuline Nuns(from Europe) who taught the Métis girls the art of embroidery at Mission Schools.
The clothing of the Métis people, like most aspects of their culture, was a combination of both Native and European styles. Their clothing was greatly inspired by the clothing of the French-Canadian fur traders (les coureurs des bois), as well as the Native clothing of the area. The Métis women were in charge of making all the clothing for their families. They either used tanned animal skins, such as deerskins or moose hide, or they used cloth that they had acquired through trade with the Europeans.
Beadwork and Floral Design
The Métis decorated their clothing with fancy beadwork and floral patterns. They were so talented, in fact, that they became known as the ‘Flower Beadwork People’. The floral beadwork became an important part of Métis culture, as it was distinctively ‘Métis’. Beadwork was used on: jackets, bags, leggings, gloves, vests, moccasins.
The Métis had three different types of coats: a capote, a buckskin jacket, and a Red River coat.
Red River Coat: A Red River coat was made of animal hide, and was adopted from a Cree design. The coats had a European influenced cut, beadwork, floral designs, quillwork, and embroidery.
Capote: A Capote or ‘Capot crait-rien’ was a knee-length wool jacket with a hood. It was made out of a single HBC blanket, and was most commonly tied around the waist with a Métis sash.
Buckskin jacket: A buckskin jacket, made from deerskin or moose hide, usually had fringes and elaborate beadwork. An example would be the Métis riding coats, which were major trade items in Canada and Europe. They were often made of moose hide, and were decorated with porcupine quills, bird feathers, glass beads, and coloured thread and paint.
Vests: Métis vests were made out of elk hide or velvet (acquired through trade) and decorated with glass beads, plastic buttons, and beaded floral designs.
Leggings: Leggings or ‘mitasses’ were worn over pants. They were made out of leather or velvet, and decorated with beadwork and embroidery.
Hats: Métis flat hats were made out of animal skins or cloth, and were decorated with beadwork and embroidery.
Moccasins: Métis moccasins were adapted from the moccasins of the Plains people. The moccasins were made of animal hide and decorated with beadwork, fringe and fur (such a rabbit fur).It was also common to decorate the moccasin with embroidery and beadwork, mainly floral designs. The Métis women were responsible for tanning all the hides to make clothing. Moccasins were usually made from brain-tanned caribou or moose hide.
Bags: The Métis made bags to carry supplies, such as gun powder and tobacco. The Métis made a special type of bag that became known as an ‘Octopus’ pouch. An Octopus pouch was named that because it appeared as though it had several legs [generally eight] hanging down from the bottom edge of the pouch. These bags were carried over the shoulder and were used to carry pipes, tobacco, flint, and steel. Bags were decorated with fancy beadwork that often represented family specific patterns.
Gloves: Gloves (also called gauntlets) were often decorated with embroidery, quillwork, and beading. They were usually made from deer hide. The embroidery style (with the floral designs) was greatly influenced by European missionaries.
Shawls: Shawls, made of cotton or wool, were part of the traditional Métis dress. Women usually wore the shawls on special occasions. Most shawls were decorated with the traditional Métis floral motif.
Dresses: Métis dresses were fashioned after European designs. Most were made of cotton, wool, or velvet. The ‘Basque’design was common with the sleeves that puffed out between the shoulders and elbows.[ This can be seen in the dresses worn in the George McPherson and family photo].
A typical Métis man's clothing:
- Cloth or tanned deerskin or moose hide trousers
- Beaded suspenders (sometimes)
- Shirt (brightly coloured wool or cotton) OR Shirt (tanned deerskin or moose hide)
- Jacket (with beadwork)
- On feet: woolen stockings and beaded moccasins
- Leggings (deerskin or moose hide)
- Hat (woolen caps, large brimmed hats)
- In winter: capote (like parka) made from HBC blanket
- Sash (wool) to fasten the capote
A typical Métis woman's clothing:
- Dresses (long, straight, dark coloured, with high neckline) OR Skirt (gathered and decorated with ribbon)
- Blouse: Decorated wool or velvet leggings (worn with dress)Moccasins (beaded)
- Scarves or shawls (on head)
- In winter: wrapped in blanket (usually HBC blankets) or HBC coat
- The early Métis women wore dresses that were inspired by Native styles. Over time, their styles became more‘European’ in appearance.