Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Capote, Witney Point Blanket Coat, Wool Winter Coat

wool capote
The new wool coat, custom made from a Witney point blanket, is here! Mr. FedEx Man pulled up yesterday morning and delivered a box, and I've been on cloud nine ever since. The latest of my imaginative ventures has come to fruition. With a lot of help from my Mom and her sewing skills.

wool coat
This all got started a few months ago when I latched onto Harold Tichenor's wonderful book, The Blanket: An Illustrated History of the Hudson's Bay Point Blanket. Therein I learned that one of the chief uses of point blankets back in the old days was to make heavy wool coats, or capotes, such as were often worn by Indians, French voyageurs, mountain men, and whatnot.

Tichenor's book is full of old photos and paintings of people wearing capotes. Googling around online, I found more pictures. The mania began to seize me. The mania of having a capote of my own. Of all the pictures I ran across, the one that came closest to what I was envisioning was a picture (above) from the cover of the December 1930 issue of The Beaver, the official journal of the Hudson's Bay Company.

wool capote
So I hunted around online some more, and located Northwest Traders, which specializes in supplying blankets and capote patterns to historical reeanactors. I ordered a Witney point blanket and a couple of capote patterns from them. If you're thinking of making a capote, I can heartily recommend Northwest Traders— they really do go the extra mile in customer service.

Anyhow, I now had a 5 point Witney point blanket, white with black stripe. The number of points indicates the size of the blanket: if, as is most likely the case, you're not as big around as I am, you could do with a 4 point blanket. Maybe I could've, too, though when I got to work on it, I was glad I had a 5 point blanket, big as I am.

wool capote
The wool point blankets that historically have been used in making capotes are all manufactured at woolen mills over in England. That includes Hudson's Bay Company point blankets, one of which I've had on my bed for many years now. That includes Witney point blankets, manufactured at Witney, Oxfordshire. Originally the woolen mills in Witney supplied the Hudson's Bay Company. Later they became competitors.

As far as I can figure, the only difference in a Witney point blanket is the label it carries, plus the fact that it costs only about half as much as a Hudson's Bay Company blanket. Early's of Witney began in 1669, and continued in business for more than three centuries to become "the second oldest British company still trading," before it closed its doors in 2002.

horn buttons and llama braid
I also obtained from other suppliers some horn buttons and some llama braid. I used 1 1/8" horn buttons on the coat (actually more like 1 3/16"), anchored in back with smaller 9/16" horn buttons. The llama braid is an edging which was sometimes used on capotes, braided not woven. The Hudson's Bay Company used to keep some llamas in Nova Scotia. Today llama braid is more economically made of wool. From old texts and pictures it appears that red llama braid was often used on capotes. I decided on black llama braid instead.

coat label
I mixed and matched two capote patterns in an attempt to approximate that picture on the cover of the magazine. When I was over visiting my folks at Christmas time, we laid the blanket out on the kitchen floor, and after much measuring and remeasuring, I cut the pieces of the coat out of the blanket— a rather nerve wracking venture, as a wool blanket like this one is not cheap! My Mom's advice on the patterns and the cutting was invaluable. And after I headed back over to Iowa, she continued to work on the coat, sewing it together, sewing on the edging, and all.

The Witney point blanket came to me with two labels in the corner. The Northwest Traders label, above, I had removed and sewn inside the coat, below the collar, where coat labels usually go.

coat label
As for the politically incorrect Early's of Witney label, I left that where it was— in the finished coat, inside the front coat flap toward the bottom.

Old pictures indicate that there was a lot of individual variety in the style of capotes, as is to be expected in garments which, like mine, were often hand made from a point blanket. I made various minor alterations in the two patterns I mixed together. I had the hood shortened so it wouldn't be quite so long and pointed. Old capotes also often were fastened with a wool belt cut from blanket fabric, rather like a bathrobe: here I decided to go with buttons, as in the picture I was following. And I decided to skip the fringes and other decorations which one does sometimes see in old photos, though I think much more often on modern-day capotes than on ones from times of yore.

wool coat
So ends another brainstorm. I get cool ideas like this all the time, but most often they don't come to fruition. This time the capote, Witney point blanket coat, wool winter coat, has materialized on this terrestrial plane, due to a lot of planning and perseverance and in particular a lot of hard work by my Mom, without whom it just wouldn't have happened. I can testify, the coat is comfortable, and warm— extremely warm, we're talking wool fabric a quarter inch thick, it'll do me in subzero weather— and historical, and unique.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love it! It looks fantastic and oh so warm!!!!

Kudos to your Mom...

Thursday, February 01, 2007 7:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I LOVE your capote!

I also have Tichenor's book and the December 1930 "Beaver" capote is my favorite in the book. I've often thought of making one like it but don't have the guts!

Where did you find the llama braid and the horn buttons?

Thursday, February 01, 2007 9:48:00 PM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...

Well, thank you, both of you! :-)

I got the horn buttons from Crazy Crow. They offer three sizes, I got some of each to see which would work best. Ended up using the largest size buttons, with the smallest size buttons anchoring them from behind.

I got the llama braid from Wooded Hamlet Designs. They have it in various colors, including black and cranberry (which I take to be some shade of red).

Friday, February 02, 2007 8:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just today took delivery of a capote I had made from a 6 point hbc white with black blanket based on the same painting. And I just got home from taking the dog out for a walk on a fresh winter night. I was warm and cozy. Gotta love a good capote!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008 7:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You look GREAT-and the coat is beautiful!!! Tell Mama she did a wonderful job! I am shopping for a coat on-line-not sucessful yet-may have to go to Canada! Are you married? Merry Christmas!!! Barb

Monday, December 15, 2008 4:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you put a liner inside the coat? Thanks Michael I receive my blanket today and going to hire a tailor to sew it.

Thursday, February 05, 2009 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...

No, I considered putting a liner inside the coat, but in the end I decided not to bother. I imagine it wouldn't be that difficult, especially if you're hiring a tailor.

Thursday, February 05, 2009 10:54:00 AM  
Anonymous steelbeard1 said...

I'm keeping my eye out on eBay for a Hudson's Bay 4-point blanket to make into a capote. I'm insisting on using an HBC point blanket for authenticity. The capote you got looks great. Too bad Early's of Witney folded.

Monday, December 14, 2009 1:35:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Paul, thanks for this article. I've been looking all over for a Capote, but it seems that most are very expensive to buy. But you enlightened me to a very inexpensive way to obtain one. Thanks a million! And by the way, your coat looks wonderful.
Sincerely, Andrew

Monday, April 05, 2010 9:21:00 AM  
Anonymous steelbeard1 said...

I got the capote I had made using a 1950s vintage Hudson's Bay point blanket. I picked the Nor'Wester style that Northwest Traders made for me.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010 5:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Cindy Robinson said...

Came across your capote coat and have to say your mom did a beautiful job! A note on fringe: Fringe was not just for style, it served the purpose of wicking away moisture.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010 2:47:00 PM  
Anonymous steelbeard1 said...

My own capote is shown worn by myself in the Wikipedia article about the Hudson's Bay point blanket at

Friday, November 09, 2012 3:01:00 PM  
Blogger panavia999 said...

Fabulous. Thanks for all the pointers.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013 6:32:00 PM  
Blogger Matt Cross said...

Very cool! Just scored an HBC 4 pointer in emerald green for US$40! Psyched! Will probably buy some fleece and make a practice capote before I go tearing into this one.

Thursday, January 17, 2019 5:37:00 PM  

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