A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a workshop at the Art of Yarn with Sylvia Olsen of Salish Fusion Knitwear.
Sylvia is a Cowichan sweater historian, award-winning author, knitter, designer, and storyteller.
In this workshop we heard stories of the women who knit the Cowichan sweaters, the development of the sweater from the early years to what we know as the Cowichan sweater today, and we learned the technique used in the colorwork of these amazing sweaters.
Here's a brief history;
The Coast Salish people were originally weavers who wove blankets out of wool spun from mountain goat and a breed of small dog that is now extinct. When the Europeans arrived in the 1900's they brought sheep and knitting. The Salish people picked up knitting needles and began to create sweaters which evolved into the Cowichan sweater we know today.
What made these sweaters unique and sought after?
The sweaters were tightly knit with a handspun lanolin rich wool (the Salish women washed, carded and spun the wool themselves), the sweaters were knit in the round and had beautiful colorwork which was knit in a way that created a warm stretchy fabric with no stranding behind the work. (This was the technique we learned in class, it produced a beautiful piece of fabric both on the outside and inside. I will definitely be using this technique in my cowl knitting.)
Here is the hat we made in class,
If you would like to learn more about the Cowichan sweaters Sylvia has written a book on the history called Working With Wool. There is also a documentary which you can watch on YouTube The Story of the Coast Salish Knitters. She also has a beautiful pattern book which comes with short stories called Knitting Stories and finally she has written a children's book that my daughter loves called Yetsa's Sweater.
Sylvia's website is http://salishfusion.ca