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Métis Sash

Throughout its history  the sash has meant different things to different people.  However, no one has celebrated and adopted L’Assomption sash as part of their proud heritage, as have the Métis.  As Métis women gained access to wool from both the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company, sashes began to be made in distinctive colours and patterns.  Métis families soon developed their own patterns, much like Scottish clans had their own tartans.  “L’Assomption sash”, gave way to “Métis sash.”

Taking its name from the Quebec town where it was produced, L’Assomption sash was not only functional, but colourful and identifiable as Métis apparel.  The sash is a finger woven belt made of wool approximately three metres long.  Most traditional hand-woven sashes were about fifteen centimetres wide and two metres long, although some reached six metres in length.  Quality sashes were made from very fine wool, which was waxed and re-twisted.  These sashes were woven so tightly that they were water-resistant and could be used to carry small amounts of water.  A top quality sash, using 300 to 400 fine waxed woollen threads, usually took about 200 hours to complete.  A lower quality sash made from 100 or so thicker woollen threads could be made in 70 to 80 hours. 

Métis SashFor the Métis, the sash was more than a decorative piece of clothing.  The sash could be used as a rope, which could be used to pull canoes over portages.  It could also be used to harness heavy loads on the backs of men and women who unloaded freight canoes and York boats.  It could also be used as a dog harness.   It also served as a  first aid kit, washcloth, towel, and as an emergency bridle and saddle blanket.  Its fringed ends would become a sewing kit when the Métis were on a buffalo hunt.  In the winter it could keep a capote fastened to its wearer.

During the early nineteenth century, sashes became an important trade item for both the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West company.  These fur trade sashes, were originally made in L’assomption, and were sold mainly to the Métis in the Red River Settlement and to French Canadians.  Overtime, the Hudson’s  Bay company began manufacturing sashes in England, using less time and labour intensive industrial looms.  These mass manufactured sashes were less durable and attractive than the hand-woven variety, and they almost led to the abandonment of the art of finger weaving.  Fortunately, the art was revived and finger-weaving is taught once again through institutes, museums and art classes.

Today, the sash is still worn by Métis people.  Métis women occasionally Métis Sashwear it over the shoulder, while others wear it the traditional way, around the waist and tied in the middle, with the fringes hanging down.  The Métis sash continues to be an integral part of Métis cultural celebrations. Métis communities often honour the social, cultural, or political contributions of talented Métis by awarding them the “Order of the Sash.”  Sashes are awarded to non-Métis as well.  On September 24, 1998 the then President of South Africa, and great human rights activist Nelson Mandela, was given a sash by the Métis National Council.

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