I’ve seen plenty of pictures of Voyageurs with their sashes but I have never paid particular attention to them. We received a beautiful one from our Voyageur’s Hudson Bay Expedition Crew and it hangs in the lodge at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters.
The sashes were used by the Voyageurs in a variety of ways. They could be used as a belt or tied around the waist to prevent a hernia. When tied around the legs they could keep pants dry while getting in and out of a canoe. On portages it could be slung around the forehead to support packages being carried as a tump line. The sash could be used for warmth, as a rope in an emergency and could even be traded. I’m sure there were many other ways the sash was used.
I decided I wanted to know a little bit more about the Voyageur Sash so I Googled it. It turns out the common name for the sash the Voyageurs wore is “ceintures fléchées” which means “arrow sash or arrowhead sash.” The sashes were hand woven using wool but these days they are mainly made by a machine.
There are a few people who make them by hand and I found an article about a woman name Carol James. It takes her about 60 hours to finger weave a sash! You can buy her book about how to make one or check out this website for step by step directions. I don’t think I’ll be weaving one any time soon.
The Voyageurs weren’t the only ones to wear sashes in fact Native Americans and Métis wore the sashes for practical and ceremonial occasions. They were also worn as a mark of distinction and the pattern and colors on the sash would most likely be distinctive to their region of origin. There were many other patterns besides the fléchées or arrows. Other patterns used were ‘flammes’ or flames, ‘éclairs’ or lightning bolts, the “W” or double chevron, and the ‘tête de flèche’ or two toned arrowhead.
I might just have to bring my sash along the next time I head out into the BWCA, you never know how or where it might come in handy. At $500 a foot for a hand made sash I’ll make sure mine was a machine made one before heading out into the woods.