Canadian Leather Tunics

Native American leather tunic, early 17th century, Canada. Native American leather tunic, early 17th century, Canada. Courtesy Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, acc. no. AN 1685b.209.

Canadian leather tunics are knee-length garments that were traditionally worn by native Americans in what is now the northern USA and Canada. The tunics are sometimes referred to as shirts, but technically they are tunics, as they are not open down the front.

These garments were often made of caribou leather and decorated with fringes and porcupine quillwork. Normally, one skin formed the back and sides, another skin comprised the front panel, while other skins made up the sleeves.

One of the oldest examples of this type of garment is now in the Tradescant Collection (AN 1685b.209) of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (UK). The tunic dates to the early seventeenth century and comes from Canada. It is believed to be the oldest extant native North American leather garment. It is decorated with quillwork in natural white and dyed yellow, orange, red and brown-black colours. The quills are applied using various techniques. It is also possible that the bands of quillwork may have been cut from another garment and re-used, and so are perhaps older than the Tradescant leather tunic itself.

See also: Native American decorative needlework

Ashmolean Museum online catalogue (retrieved 8 May 2016)


Last modified on Tuesday, 24 January 2017 17:04
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