Métis women have a long tradition of needlework practice, which stemmed from the necessity to sew and create clothing for their families and expanded to include the embellishment of everyday items, clothing and accessories with their unique artistic expressions. Quillwork, silk and cotton embroidery, beadwork, and caribou hair tufting became signature methods used by Métis women. Métis women drew inspiration from their First Nation and European ancestry, which can be seen in the items they used, such as porcupine quills, caribou hair, horsehair, flower seeds, animal teeth, glass seed beads, silk thread, wool stroud and ribbons; as well as, the floral and geometric patterns they designed. This unique combination of influences is what lead to the development of Métis people’s unique artistic style.
Using porcupine quills to decorate clothing and items is a traditional art form practiced by First Nations people for centuries . This technique was passed down through generations from the grandmothers, and the techniques were adapted to create their own artistic expressions. The Métis influence in quillwork was quite strong, especially among neighboring communities. Prior to the 1800’s, quillwork was primarily geometric patterns, but by the late 1820’s, other communities were influenced by the floral patterns used by the Métis . Traditionally, quillwork could be found on shirts, leggings, jackets, moccasins, vests and hats as well as on many non-clothing items. Contemporary Métis quillwork can still be seen on moccasins and clothing, as well as earrings, accessories, and framed wall art.
Silk embroidery was introduced to the Métis in the Red River settlement in the mid 1800’s when Grey Nuns Convent and Missions Schools were established. At these schools, and other schools that were established later in other Métis communities, Métis girls were given a basic education in domestic skills, reading, writing and arithmetic. The domestic skills included needlepoint embroidery or “Fancywork”. Métis women experimented with embroidery designs and colors, creating uniquely distinct floral patterns inspired by the land, plant medicines, and the natural world around them. These elaborate designs were later applied to a range of items, from clothing to everyday accessories and household items. Over time, certain Métis communities and families became known for their distinct designs and artistry. Their work was sought after as trade and souvenirs by European traders and was a key source of family income. This classic art form is still practiced by Métis artists today.
Beads were among the first trade goods to come to Canada. The availability and access to beads provided Métis women with a new medium to create with. Métis women soon expanded their silk embroidery work to include needlework designs with beads. Métis women would often bead on black wool stroud, velvet, or hide. Most, but not all, Métis beadwork patterns are based on floral designs . Animals, birds, and shapes were also part of the Métis aesthetic repertoire, although not used as extensively as floral imagery ; so much so, that Métis people are referred to as “the flower beadwork people”. Métis women beaded everything from clothing such as: moccasins, gauntlets, jackets, pants, vests, smoking caps, to everyday accessories and household items, such as: moss bags, firebags, pocket watch holders, scissor holders, dog blankets (“tapis” or “tuppies”) and handkerchief holders. Now a days you will find both Métis women and men bead workers, creating a variety of diverse and elaborate bead art in both traditional and contemporary styles. Métis beadwork is undergoing an exciting resurgence and is an important contributor to the economy.
Métis people are well known for their colourful woven sashes. The ceinture fléchée or Assomption (arrow) sash is a traditional piece of French clothing that became an essential item and tool worn by fur traders. Over time, Métis people adopted the sash as a symbol of Métis identity. The original sashes were finger woven, a style of braiding. Each sash would have been between 32 and 42 strands and would take 70 – 300 hours to complete, depending on the pattern and experience of the weaver. In time, sash makers switched to looms, which proved to be a more efficient process. While the majority of sashes that are made today are manufactured by machines, there are still Métis weavers who practice the beautiful art of sash making by hand and by loom. Sashes can be seen worn at Métis events and occasions, as well as at occasions celebrated by French Canadians such as Quebec’s Winter Carnival.
Métis people are known for their love of music and dance. The French and Scottish fur traders brought the fiddle from Europe during the fur trade. Over time, the mixed peoples of the fur trade adopted and adapted the music and it became a part of their culture. The Métis style of fiddle playing has been described as having “crooked melodies” - as rugged and natural as the land itself. The music was medicine that brought communities together in strength and resilience. Fiddle music like the iconic Red River Jig is a prominent part of Métis culture and celebrations. The Métis have their own distinct dances that include: the duck dance, rabbit dance, broom dance, and the sash dance, to name a few. Many of these dances were born from French and Scottish dances like the “li danse du crochet” and “the chateuse”. Métis jigging is a unique dance style that combines the intricate footwork of First Nations dances with various Scottish, Irish and French folk dance forms, all to the up-tempo rhythms of Métis fiddle music. Modern Métis dancers still practice the traditional jig steps, and others have also fused traditional jigging with contemporary hip hop and breakdance moves.
As modern Métis people, our culture is continually evolving and Métis artists in particular are finding new ways to express their Métis culture through contemporary art practices. Métis contemporary art is Métis themed art that tells the story of Métis people and culture in a medium not previously used by our Métis ancestors. This could include mediums such as painting or digital art, or possibly a blend of heritage arts with contemporary mediums. As our Métis culture continues to grow and flourish, it is important that we welcome new ways to share and express our stories, experiences and pride as Métis people.
Métis Heritage Arts Image References (in descending order)
Métis Contemporary Arts Image References(in descending order)