Wednesday April 25, 2012
The sweater that is a Canadian Favorite!
With the new generation of knitters there is renewed popularity of Cowichan Sweaters. These sweaters are the original art of Cowichan women who had a history of working with fibre. They knit these sweaters, firstly for their family members and then as a means of income. They have been popularly known by other names such as Indian Sweaters and Salish Sweaters. Only the women of the Cowichan Band can lay claim to true Cowichan sweaters but knitters who love their rustic appeal can make a similar version using our collection of Vintage Patterns and Prairie Wool or they can order a Cowichan Sweater Kit.
These sweaters were so popular that knitters wanted to create versions of them for their own family. These were usually knit with bulky roving yarns that were not spun but the twist from the knitting made them a strong and light. A popular brand of yarn used for this was White Buffalo Wool. The White Buffalo Company created pattern designs that although not exactly like the Cowichan designs were in the same spirit.
Cowichan Sweaters – A little history.
The women of the Cowichan tribe as well as the Coast Salish people created woven blankets from fibre collected from wild goats or sheep; the yarn they spun was often mixed with hair from white haired dogs that they kept for this purpose. These blankets were very prized and were a measurement of wealth. They were the most treasured and valuable gifts that were handed out at Potlatch. The Potlatch was a coming together event of the people where they feasted and exchanged gifts.
With the arrival of immigrants from Europe the indigenous women learned how to knit and adapted their experience with the heritage of fairisle and Nordic knitting to create their own unique designs. The new immigrants brought their sheep and spinning wheels and they passed their skills on to the Cowichan women. The women soon learned to create their own yarn using the fibre from sheep. They made practical sweaters incorporating designs that were familiar to them. The fibre was washed but not scoured so much of the lanolin remained in the yarn; this made warm garments that help protect against the environment.
Originally the designs were geometric sometimes quite similar to Nordic designs but eventually animal images worked their way into the sweaters. Eventually due to demands of the buyers other images that were perceived to be “Indian” began to show up in the sweaters.
The Cowichan women knit pullovers in the round. At a later date openings were added; the sweaters were cut and a zipper or buttons were inserted.
If you wish to knit your own Canadian classic then you can order a kit or order a copy of a vintage pattern. These can be knit with any natural yarn that knits to about 9 stitches per inch such as our Prairie Wool or in Cascade Magnum.