The Indigenous Peoples who traded with the Hudson's Bay and East India Companies used the cloth in a variety of ways. They adapted and incorporated it into items that were traditional to their own communities.
Why was the cloth so desirable?
Some of the cloth's special properties made it very attractive to Indigenous Peoples.
It was ready to use and easy to sew. Much simpler than animal hides, which took a long time to clean and prepare!
Because it was colourful, it was an ideal background material for decoration. What's more, the strong colour of the cloth made it desirable as a dye source. The feathers that can be seen on the photograph of Crowfoot's shirt are said to have been dyed with colour from tradecloth. As well as this, there are reports of the Navajo using tradecloth to dye yarns.
The cloth also had other features that made it suitable for decoration:
- It could be easily decorated with beads, quillworkor appliqued silk ribbons
- The striped or saved list selvedges could be used as a design feature. This feature was particularly important to Indigenous Peoples.
1st Strowd water a cloth about 4d broad about 4/ p yd blue or red in purchasing wch a regard must be had not only to the Cloth and Colour but also to the list about wch the Indians are Curious [i.e. exacting].
Letter to England from James Logan, Quaker scholar and merchant in Pennsylvania
Tradecloth could also be unravelled to form yarn tassels like the ones on the model snowshoes in the image library.
What was the cloth used for?
Large pieces of cloth were used to make clothing like the strap dress in the image library.
Smaller pieces of cloth were used as decoration on hide or textile objects, such as the broad red cloth tassels on the Burmese bag or the cloth panels and cuffs on North American moccasins.
Tradecloth was also used to decorate other types of items, including quirts and weapons.