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  The Catalogue: Canadian Skin Shirt  
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About this Resource
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Length (overall) 1.26 m, (sleeves) 0.62 m plus 30 mm fringe; Width (shoulders) 0.55 m
A knee-length closed tunic made of caribou skin, probably frost-dried, and decorated with fringes and porcupine quillwork in a variety of techniques. A single skin forms the back and sides of the garment, supplemented by a wide front panel cut from a second skin. One-piece sleeves, cut straight at the base and tapering slightly to the cuff, are set with slight puckering into vertical slits at the shoulders. Small triangular gores, one in each armpit, may serve to piece out the material rather than as structural features. There is a third small insertion at the rear of the left sleeve. Both sleeves are seamed on the underside for the whole of their length. The front panel is cut slightly shorter than the main piece, to leave an oblong neck aperture. Part of the base of the front panel has at some time been cut away. A cut over the left breast, perhaps sustained in fighting, has been carefully repaired with sinew thread, as have some smaller rents. The decorative bands on the shirt are attached by top-sewing to small folds taken up in the skin. Click for larger version of this imageThe sewing is somewhat casual but seems to be in keeping with the age of the garment. The bands themselves may be older; all but one have raw, untrimmed edges, which suggests that they were cut from other clothing and reused. The quills that make up the bands are used in their natural white, or dyed yellow, orange, red, and brownish-black.
This shirt is generally believed to be older by some three generations than any other surviving skin garment from the North American Indians. As such, it should afford invaluable information on aboriginal clothing in early seventeenth-century Canada, but in the absence of precise contemporary documentation, it remains something of an enigma. The materials and the techniques of manufacture and decoration are clearly Indian, but the unusual cut of the skins and the rather slipshod treatment of the decorative bands suggest that the shirt as a whole cannot safely be regarded as 'typical' of any given area.
Museum Id. No:
1656 p. 47: A Match-coat from Virginia of Deer-skin, or, A Match-coat from Canada
1685 B no. 209: Vestis Indica nostratis subuculae formam exprimens, manicata