ISSUE 17  |  North Country

Object Lessons: The Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket

April 29, 2014 5:00 PM

BY Megan Wilson

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Native Americans aren’t generally associated with sheep, especially not sheep dotted about the limestone villages of the English Cotswolds. Yet the Hudson’s Bay Point blanket owes its existence to both, with the Hudson’s Bay fur trading post in Canada acting as a halfway point between the two cultures. The 18th century Plains Indians valued the preshrunk and felted Cotswold wool blankets for their ability to retain heat and repel water, and used them for bedding and clothing. In exchange, the British received beaver pelts, much in demand for use in the construction of top hats.

The Hudson’s Bay point blanket, with its familiar off-white background and green, red, yellow, and blue stripes at either end, has remained exactly as it looked when it was known as the Chief’s Blanket. According to Hudson’s Bay Company, the colors don’t hold any special significance and were chosen simply because they were popular and used the most reliable colorfast dyes at the time. The black stitched lines, or “points,” at the top of each blanket have not changed either; they were the means by which a trader could gauge the size of a blanket without having to unfold it. The only real change is that the wool now comes from sheep grazing in Yorkshire; Hudson’s Bay Company continues to sell the blankets in Canada, and Woolrich holds the official license to sell them in America. Here are a few examples:

Above: The Egan House in Seattle; photo by Michael A. Muller for Remodelista. A similar Hudson’s Bay Multi Wool 6 Point Queen, 90 inches by 100 inches, is available for $460 at Woolrich.

Above: An early 20th century advertisement for the Hudson’s Bay blanket, via Cavender Diary.

Above: Hudson’s Bay blankets are often repurposed for cushions, curtains, and clothing. Image of a cabin at Camp Wandawega in Wisconsin via Martha Stewart Living.

Above: Hudson’s Bay Company continue to sell a large range of the traditional blankets in a variety of colors and styles. A lighter Multi Stripe Knit Throw, 42 inches by 70 inches, is available for $150 CAD.

Above: Over the years, colors have been introduced or taken away. This grisaille king-size Woolrich Hudson’s Bay 8 Point Wool Blanket, 100 inches by 108 inches, is on sale for $295 at Sierra Trading Post. 

Above: Vintage Hudson’s Bay blankets are available from vintage dealers on Etsy and shops, including Modern Fifty.

Object Lessons columnist Megan Wilson is the owner of Ancient Industries and curator of the Remodelista 100, a collection of essential everyday objects presented in the Remodelista book. Watch for her column every Tuesday, and have a look at her past lessons on Lodge Cast Iron CookwarePastel Enamel Pots, the Ercol Stacking Chair, and Humble Cotton Cleaning Cloth.