A Nod to a Classic

A Cowichan woman shows a sweater for sale in front of her home. 1941–1943. Customers in search of Cowichan sweaters would go from house to house looking for knitwear to purchase. Photograph by Don Coltman and courtesy of City of Vancouver Archives.

Cowichan sweaters are heavy, wool garments that are worn as outerwear. The patterns evoke the wildlife of the knitter's environment: deer, snowflakes, birds, native symbols, and so forth.

I was first introduced to Cowichan knitwear tradition by a college roommate, who had the most beautiful handknit Cowichan sweater. She bought it while visiting Vancouver Island in Canada.

Here's a little about the Cowichan sweater and its history. As my reference, I used an article excerpted from Working with Wool: A Coast Salish Legacy & the Cowichan Sweater (Winlaw, British Columbia: Sononis Press, 2010). The article appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Knitting Traditions.

These sweaters are knit by the Coast Salish Cowichan people, an indigenous people of the coastal and island areas off of British Columbia, Canada. There's a rich history to Cowichan sweater knitters; like so many handknitting stories through history, women started knitting sweaters from necessity and ended up knitting them to make money to feed their families.

The woolworkers of the region began by making blankets that became highly-prized items used for trade as well as daily and ceremonial use. When Europeans came to the area, knitting needles came with them, and the Cowichan knitted sweater was born.

In the 1920s and 30s, Cowichan sweaters were sold very successfully, and during the Great Depression, the sales of sweaters became the main income for many families. Sales were made in bazars, through traders, in stores, and directly from knitters' homes. In the 1930s, a sweater could make the knitter anywhere from $5 to $25–the upper range was enough to support a family for a month.

Retro Spirit Jacket

Cowichan sweaters are still being knitted by native people, but they go for considerably more than $25! And they are well worth the money. My college roommate still wears her beautiful sweater, more than 30 years after she bought it!

Our newest kit is a nod to the classic Cowichan. The sweater is called the Retro Spirit Jacket, patterned with images of stags bordered by attractive colorwork motifs.

It's closed with a zipper, which makes it a great piece of outerwear. And knit from bulky yarn, it'll be a relatively quick knit that you can wear this fall and winter.

Get your jacket kit today, before they're gone!


P.S. Do you own a Cowichan sweater? If you're that lucky, tell us about your sweater and where you got it.


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