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Bison Wool Clothing

Curated Submission
Winnipeg, Manitoba
DIMENSIONS in centimetres
120 x 26.50; 29.5 x 11; 20
Materials & techniques
Sheep and bison wool, vegetable dyes; Weaving, rug hooking, knitting, vegetable dyeing
Gift of Kitty Churchill and Flora McIvor
Manitoba Crafts Museum and Library 54.00, 55.00, and 56.00
These items are the creation of three members of the Crafts Guild of Manitoba. Flora McIvor, Marilyn MacTaggart, and Kitty Churchill banded together in 1942 to undertake an experiment in fibres and vegetable dyes. Because the vast majority of wool produced during the Second World War was reserved for military use, sheep’s wool was a scarce commodity. In search of alternatives, the women contacted the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg and were allowed to collect 1.5 pounds of fleece from the fences of the bison enclosures. The bison fleece was spun, dyed, woven, knitted, and hooked to produce these three pieces.
This bit of prairie ingenuity was not without historical precedent. In 1825 Lady Selkirk and Sir George Simpson initiated a similar project to stimulate the growth of the Red River Settlement. They attempted to establish almost industrial-scale production of bison wool – bringing in supplies, training the settlers, and paying high wages. The settlers quickly earned enough money to buy their first cattle, but the wool produced was unpopular, and the project was deemed economically unfeasible. While the Guild’s project was much smaller in scope, the participants reached a similar conclusion. Bison wool is difficult to collect and highly resistant to most dyes, and it was not considered a satisfactory replacement for sheep’s wool.

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