Warming Upby Niamh McCooey
Between our winter coats, our hand-knitted gloves and our trusty hot water bottles, here at Selvedge we're wrapping up warm to keep the January cold at bay. And with that in mind we take a look back at issue 9 of Selvedge, to Janet Collins' history of the iconic Hudson's Bay Blanket...
The famed Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) 'point blanket', originating in Canada is known the world over, and has changed little since it was first introduced in 1780. Contrary to popular belief, the 'points' – short black lines woven into the blanket above the bottom set of stripes – were not an indication of the blanket price in beaver pelts. Rather, the point system was invented by French weavers in the mid 18th century as a means of indicating the size of a blanket. This shifted from time to time and today, HBC blankets are available in point sizes: 3.5 (twin), 4 (double), 6 (queen), and 8 (king).
For 100 years, the 100% wool blankets have been made by the same mill located outside of Leeds, UK. This is the same mill that produced specialty textiles for the renovations at Windsor Castle, and the Woolsack at the House of Lords. The multi-stripe white blanket bearing a series of stripes (natural indigo and synthetic yellow, red and green) is the most popular today.
In the past, scarlet blankets were much sought after by the Haida people who incorporated the cloth into their famous button blankets. The colours of the stripes had no other significance than they were popular and easily produced using good colourfast dyes at the time. However, the colours have always had a special significance to the aboriginal people who were HBC’s original customers. Green means 'new life', scarlet often stands for 'battle or hunt', yellow relates to 'harvest', and blue represents 'water'.
The Indigenous people of the Great Plains and Canadian Prairies often wore the blankets instead of buffalo robes. The Métis peoples fashioned the blankets into a wrap coat with hood and fringing called a capote. During the War of 1812, when British troops were unable to obtain greatcoats, they ordered HBC point blankets and made similar coats.
Until 1973, blankets were marketed as unseparated pairs whose double length could be folded to form a sleeping bag. As Canada became more urban and there was less need to sleep under the stars, individual blankets became the norm. Today, coat-making classes using HBC point blankets are offered at several Hudson’s Bay Company stores...
You can continue reading this article in Selvedge issue 9.