Fringe and Friends Knitalong 2015: Cowichan style

Fringe and Friends Knitalong: Cowichan style

The pattern: Cowichan-style Geometric Vest by Pierrot Yarns (free pattern)
The schedule: Start now or whenever. Knit at your own pace!
The hashtag: #fringeandfriendskal2015

Ok friends, here it is! The pattern pick for the Fringe and Friends Knitalong 2015 is the Cowichan-style Geometric Vest from Japanese yarn and pattern company Pierrot. In true Japanese fashion, it’s simply a chart with a few annotations — by which I mean every stitch of the vest is charted, not just the colorwork motif. There are no written instructions — you simply knit what the chart depicts. It’s like the paint-by-numbers version of knitting, and this is an ultra-basic example. (Beginner-friendly, even, if you skip the colorwork.) The pattern is a free download right here — go ahead and take a look.


So raise your hand if you guessed this year’s pick was a Cowichan-style sweater? Congratulations, you were right! Now raise your hand if you guessed it was a Japanese pattern for a men’s vest. … (waiting) … Nobody? Ok, I warned you it was kind of a kooky pick. But give it a minute to sink in. First off, it’s not really a men’s sweater. It’s perfectly unisex in the way that Cowichan sweaters (real or -inspired) are boxy, unisex shapes. It just happens to have a 39″ chest circumference, which can be altered by adjusting the gauge. Think of it: Boys and girls, knitting together! Second, don’t let the Japanese part scare you. What we have here is an incredibly simple vest (very versatile as a wardrobe piece), knitted at superbulky gauge, that can be done with or without the colorwork. To demonstrate these points, I knitted a solid colored one (in O-Wool Balance held triple) at pattern gauge and dimensions, and modeled it above. Cute, right? That’s about 6″ of ease on me, and it would be also be cute with less ease.

So it’s not a whole lot of knitting but it does present some interesting challenges (knitting from a chart instead of written instructions, knitting colorwork flat — or not) and gives us lots to talk about while we knit. We’re going to talk about Japanese patterns, about Cowichan sweaters (and their being co-opted by other cultures), about ways to work that collar, and whatever else comes up along the way.

On Monday I’ll be introducing you to this year’s illustrious Panel of Knitters and their swatches, but I’ll tell you now that we’ve already got a bunch of very different sweaters about to happen from this one pattern. This is going to be a blast.

If you’re perfectly comfortable with the pattern and want to dive right in, go for it. If you have any trepidations at all, I would recommend holding off until you read all of the thoughtful notes from the panelists about how they’re (we’re) each swatching and approaching the sweater — what yarn we’re each using (all drastically different, but all good options), what we’re doing with gauge to change the dimensions, what modifications we might be planning to make, etc. Lots of good food for thought in that Meet the Panel post coming Monday.

And I’ll also have a Hot Tip for you on Tuesday about a way to make it a whole lot easier to swatch with yarn held triple, if you go the DK-held-triple route. So there will be a lot of useful information at the beginning of the week that you might want to read before starting.


The vest is knitted at superbulky gauge of 2.5 stitches per inch, but the recommended yarns are not superbulky yarns. They are  Pierrot Yarns Soft Merino Bulky (a bulky gauge yarn) held double, and Pierrot Yarns Soft Merino (a DK yarn) held triple.

If you’re substituting, you can use any yarn with which you get your desired gauge. You could knit it all with a single strand of superbulky, or with a bulky held double, or a DK held triple, or any combination of these things. You just need to get your gauge right. I’ve done the math for you, but make sure you round up from these numbers to be sure you’ll have enough; yardage does vary from one knitter and one yarn to the next—

MC (brown) :
pattern calls for 12 skeins x 44 yards = 528 yards of bulky (held double)
= 264 yards superbulky
= 792 yards DK (held triple)

CC1 (red) :
pattern calls for 3 skeins x 104 yards = 312 yards of DK (held triple)
= 104 yards superbulky
= 208 yards bulky (held double)

CC2 (black) :
pattern calls for 2 skeins x 44 yards = 88 yards of bulky (held double)
= 44 yards superbulky
= 132 yards DK (held triple)

I repeat: These are approximate numbers. Please buy more than you think you need, just to be safe!


There is no sign-up form or deadline (or Ravelry group to join) or anything like that. To knit along, simply knit along!

Ask questions and share your progress in the comments here, and/or use the hashtag #fringeandfriendskal2015 wherever you post. It was lovely to see so many friendships forming on the hashtag feeds on Instagram and Ravelry over the course of last year’s event, and I look forward to the same kind of community forming around this year’s sweaters.


I will be awarding prizes in late October sometime, rather than taking the WIP of the Week approach like last year. There will be a few categories, and I’ll post those down the line a bit when it’s all sorted out. But yes, there will be prizes.

Fringe and Friends Knitalong 2015: Cowichan style


Just like last year’s Amanda knitalong was more broadly a fisherman knitalong, this year’s is more broadly a Cowichan knitalong. While the panel will all be knitting some version of the vest noted above, you might opt to knit a different Cowichan or Cowichan-inspired sweater or accessory altogether. Here are a few possibilities:

TOP LEFT: Nehalem by Jared Flood (See also: Rockaway)
TOP RIGHT: Yetsa’s Bolero by Sylvia Olsen
MIDDLE LEFT: Takoma by Julia Farwell-Clay
MIDDLE RIGHT: Cowichan Jacket by Pierrot Yarns
BOTTOM LEFT: Cowichan Snowflake Vest by Pierrot Yarns
BOTTOM RIGHT: Tokul by Andrea Rangel


Photo of me by Kathy Cadigan

87 thoughts on “Fringe and Friends Knitalong 2015: Cowichan style

  1. Nice pick! I took a class with Sylvia Olsen this may where she taught us the traditional Salish method just such a garment. Plenty of stretch (!), no floats and a beautifully finished product. This would be interesting and useful technique to delve into as a follow up article.

  2. would love to jump in on this but I have to admit my fear of the chart – is the front knitted in pieces like it’s shown? with the rib detached – what is that all about in the picture… likely getting ahead of myself. very interesting pick, Karen! I have to say I’m intrigued. Maybe I’ll wait til discussion gets going and jump in with the idea that I will follow your lead! Until then – I’ll contemplate colors.

  3. Boy, do I love how you stretch us! Thank you for such a cool knit. And actually, thank you for providing a touch of knitting/fiber inspiration every day. Reading Fringe Association is a happy daily routine for me.

  4. Something I’ve been wanting to knit for ages!! I’m in. Will scrounge together some stash yarn.

  5. A colorwork vest in a super bulky weight yarn! Love your pick, Karen! Will definitely jump in on this, as I am not gifted with a natural talent in colorwork knitting and the only way to get better at this is A LOT of practise…

    • I’ve never knitted colorwork flat before, but it’s definitely a bit different, and I sort of feel like working the odd rows from the purl side will give me a better sense of colorwork in general somehow. But yes, it’s a very fast bit of practice!

  6. Oh wow. I took a look at the pattern and it is certainly, um, minimalist. Now I am pretty accomplished at colorwork but the thought of knitting it flat, with the strands carried over purl stitches…gulp. Then again, at 2.5 stitches/inch it would go extremely fast. Hmm…I’m going to wait to hear from the panelists.

    Incidentally, KnitPicks has just introduced a new superbulky yarn called Tuff Puff which might be perfect for this an an economical choice. 44 yds per 100 gm. and 2.5 sts on size 15 needles.

  7. I have a lot of feelings regarding knitting Cowichan and Salish patterns… I’d really like one, but I would feel better buying one rather than knitting it myself, mostly because I feel like they are an important income source for indigenous women. I’m not sure I’ll be in for this one. I do love a good vest though, and i like the shape of this so maybe I can modify the colourwork part and still participate… Does that still count or would it be too unrelated? I guess the whole theme is “Cowichan” so maybe not?

    • In reply to my own comment: looking at the alternative patterns I see they are much less directly traditional Cowichan, with argyle and star patterns, so I think doing something along those lines will be a good choice for me! Those ones seem more about the colour choices and simple patterns as inspiration.

      • Yeah, the main pattern is definitely Cowichan-inspired and not true Cowichan. And you’re welcome to take any approach to it that works for you, including knitting a Cowichan-shaped sweater with no colorwork, as in the solid green vest above.

  8. I love the openness of your knitalongs and am excited to learn more about Cowichan colorwork — I’d never heard of it until now! Not sure if the vest will fit with my wardrobe, but the bolero really caught my eye, and when I clicked through I saw that Sylvia Olsen also has a great Cowichan-inspired skirt too.

  9. Also looking forward to the discussion about the Cowichiwan style being co-opted. Thanks for thinking of intellectualizing the conversation beyond the knitting, truly.

  10. I am elbow deep into a time consuming project, but, I do love Nehalem, so I will follow with interest! BTW, very pretty photo of you, Karen.

  11. I’ve wanted to knit a vest for ages but keep stalling. This is perfect without the colorwork for me right now. (I love the vest you knit for yourself!) Now I’m the one moving. Which means a stretch of chaos for a month or two. Actually, the simple knitting with bulky yarn will be wonderful to pick up when I can. Excited!

  12. I love the idea for color work for this knit along.

    However, being from Vancouver, we are very sensitive to how our indigenous people are treated. Knitting a cowichan sweater, to me, would be equal to buying a fake designer product or wearing fur.

    That being said! I still want to play! There are so many options out there for color work including designing your own! Thanks Karen for organizing a great event :)

    Here is a beautiful documentary on the struggles of the Salish people.

    • Thanks for sharing that link, Alina. It’s an important conversation, and as I said, we’ll definitely be exploring the issues around this. But we all knit things for ourselves all the time that are inspired by a wide range of cultures, whether it’s a Fair Isle sweater or a Lopapeysa or a fisherman knit — these traditions all started in other places and inspire each other and knitters around the globe.

      I wouldn’t suggest anyone who isn’t Coast Salish call their sweater a Cowichan, and certainly wouldn’t condone anyone trying to pass a non-Coast Salish knitted item off as an authentic one for sale. But I do think there’s a big difference between being inspired by or paying tribute to something versus trying to pass off a fake. And that’s putting aside all of the other issues with designer fakes (slave labor, etc) that make that a whole different matter than someone making something for themselves, no matter what it is.

    • I’m excited to see what you decide to do! I’d like to make sure my knit is also sensitive to the Salish people… but it’s hard to know how close you can be to the style without being offensive. People have different levels of offensiveness, too. I hope my vest will be a good medium of acknowledging the tradition, but also putting my own spin on it.

      Do you have any suggestions for where to buy actual Cowichan/Salish goods? Either online or in Vancouver?

    • Wow! thank you for sharing that link Alina! AND for hosting this particular KAL, Karen – I will think about these women and their beautiful sweaters while I work on mine. Would love to buy one of thiers too!!! sounds like there will be lots to learn from this kal.

  13. What a great project! A Cowichan cardigan has been on my list for a long time, but I hadn’t even though about a vest. How easy and fun would that be?

    Since people are sharing info about the Cowichan knitting tradition, here’s my little contribution:
    I’m a white woman who studies a language (Puget Salish) that is related to the language spoken by the Coast Salish. When I started learning to knit almost a year ago, I wanted to incorporate language into my knitting. I was amazed by the amount of terms there are for, mostly generic fiber crafts, but also specifically knitting. I think my favorite word is x̱úlalus (nine stitches)–they have a special set of numbers just for counting stitches and another set for counting rows. And to knit is to ‘knot many stitches at once’. I’m not sure how to talk about ‘purling’, though.

  14. Yay! Thank you so much for giving my the kick in the ass I’ve needed to finally start my Cowichan-inspired sweater! I’ve had the yarn for ages but have been putting it off for one reason or another. Now is the time to join the madness, though! And I’m really looking forward to learning more about this style and a thoughtful discussion on the use of the style by non-natives. Cheers to a great design!

  15. I’m in and I might actually have some yarn in the stash that will work! I’ll be making a plain (non-patterned) version like yours because I’m a plain kinda person! (and I do love that green you chose-that mossy green might be my most favorite color)

  16. I have one sweater ready to block, another 95% done, one about 70% done, and still another barely begun (it’s Alice Starmore’s “St. Brigid”, and of course I had to make it!) But…I love me a vest in the winter, and this looks quick to make. How much yarn did you use for the solid version? I guess I could add up all those amounts you helpfully posted for us, would that be the best idea? Anyway, thanks for the knit along, I’m ordering yarn asap!

  17. hello. I am wondering if you are going to share recommended brands/weights of yarn. You did this with the aran sweater and it was really helpful! I see you have touched on it with weights but specifics for an advanced beginner like me always helps. Thanks!

    • In the Meet the Panel post on Monday we each talk about what yarn we’re using, so that will give you at least 5 good ideas! But like I said, anything reasonably woolly and rustic with which you can get gauge will do the trick. It really depends on whether you want to hold multiple strands or not.

  18. Wow Karen! Another pick that really expands my sense of style. When I first saw this pattern I will be honest… My thought was “Ugh, I don’t think I would ever wear that” but I’ve been mulling it over and now I can’t live without it. :D I may have some yarn that will work as well, but I will wait to read the more detailed post on Monday and see what some of the ladies are doing about gauge.

  19. Really interested in this knit along. My friend recently finished her master’s thesis discussing the appropriation of Cowichan sweaters, especially in regards to the Hudson Bay company stealing the designs during the Olympics in Vancouver. So many hand knitters now do it as a hobby that I think there’s a real disconnect from these women who had to knit to live. I’m really glad you’re including a discussion on this issue. Since I live in Victoria, tourism capital of Vancouver Island, there are just egregious appropriations of First Nations culture lining the streets, and most visitors are unaware of the ways this violates First Nations. If you are looking for anyone to talk about Coast Salish knitting traditions and how they’ve been appropriated, I’m positive my friend would love to share her research.

  20. Super excited with this pattern choice! I also love that there are so many interesting opinions, information and viewpoints about it already just from this first post’s comments. Looking forward to learning more and to knitting along! Thanks Karen!

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  22. That is a great idea. I’ve always been really interested in cowichan cardigans but never dared trying one… I don’t know yet if I’ll jump the step this time, I need a little more time to think (and to prepare my mind) but I definitely know that if I do, I’ll knit this one :
    I think it might count for this KAL ! And I admit it would be a delight to knit it along with all of you !
    Thank you Karen for this event and thanks for the wonderful daily read your blog is.

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  24. Karen, thank you for providing so much support with the KALs! I don’t think I would’ve had the bravery to a knit lace hat or L’Arbre without your support!
    I am considering the following pattern:
    I am currently learning to knit circular, two-handed colorwork (throwing and picking.) I am really intimated to learn to do this while purling. I found this video tutorial helpful:
    Is it common to knit the stranded/fair isle sections with larger needles than the single color sections? Thank you!

    • A lot of times, people work stranded knitting more tightly due to the knitter being tense and knitting more tightly overall. And it’s also common for colorwork to be at a tighter gauge because the floats across the back are too short, so it’s literally constricting the knitting. If you keep your knitting even and your floats loose (i.e, the same width as the stitches they’re floating behind) then it’s not an issue. Otherwise, you might need to use a larger needle.

      FYI, the Squirrel vest looks like it probably involves intarsia as well as stranded knitting, which is a different process. So if you haven’t done that before, and you’re already intimidated about the stranding, I’d pick one that doesn’t involve intarsia.

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  31. Is there a deadline? I’m very intrigued by this KAL! I don’t know yet if I can do it, but I’d love to if possible. So we just knit along at our own pace and post on instagram, basically? Thanks!

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