Elsewhere: Cowichan edition

Elsewhere: Cowichan links edition

Although I picked it simply because I loved it and wanted to knit it, I had hoped the pattern pick for the Fringe and Friends Knitalong this year (Pierrot’s Cowichan-style Geometric Vest) would stir up some interest in Cowichan sweaters — despite the fact that it’s Cowichan-style and not an authentic Cowichan. Happily, there’s been even more questioning and discussion than I had imagined. I have a Q&A coming up with panelist Andrea Rangel about Cowichan Valley and the people and their sweaters, which has always been part of the plan, but I thought I’d preface that today with a special edition of the usual Elsewhere links list: a Cowichan edition. These links should offer some background as well as some specific guidance for those planning to knit along.

Note, too, that I have a conversation coming up on Monday with panelist Meri Tanaka in which we talk about Japanese patterns, how to read them, and specifically how to read this one. So if you’re nervous or having any difficulty interpreting the chart, look for that on Monday. For now, some links—


Cowichan knitting history at Wikipedia (somewhat flawed, as all Wikipedia entries are) which also talks a lot about the wool

The Story of the Coast Salish Knitters
PLEASE READ BEFORE CLICKING: Panelist Kathy Cadigan told me about this documentary before the knitalong kickoff, and it’s been mentioned both in the comments here and on Instagram. This is a pirated film — it was based on knitting designer Sylvia Olsen’s thesis and is on YouTube without the filmmaker’s permission, so it is a copyright violation. Sylvia herself is conflicted about this, as discussed in this blog post of hers, because it’s apparently the only way to see it. Follow your own conscience.

The Cowichan Sweater of Vancouver Island, a great piece on how things went terribly awry when the Vancouver Olympics committee tried to make a Cowichan the official sweater of their Olympics, shared by Alina in the comments


I am not in possession of any of these, but plan to rectify that asap! Some are out of print, but used copies can be found—

— “Salish Indian Sweaters: A Pacific Northwest Tradition” by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts

— “Knitting in the Old Way” by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts (pictured above, photo courtesy of Jess Schreibstein)

— “Working with Wool: A Coast Salish Legacy and the Cowichan Sweater” by Sylvia Olsen

— “Knitting Stories: Personal Essays and Seven Coast Salish-inspired Knitting Patterns” by Sylvia Olsen

Thanks to @kathycad and @thekitchenwitch for the recs.


Several of you have seized on Kathy’s comment in Meet the Panel about trapping the floats on every other stitch, which is how true Cowichan sweaters are knitted. We don’t know of a tutorial online that’s specific to Cowichan, but this technique is also called the woven method of stranded knitting, and Kathy sent me two fantastic links:

The first — the two-handed Fair Isle technique by Philosopher’s Wool — is a great intro to the two-handed method of stranded knitting, in which she also demonstrates trapping floats every other stitch when working from the knit side of the fabric.

The second — Weaving two-handed Fair Isle in purl and knit by Jodie Gordon Lucas — shows how to work the same technique from the purl side, which you’ll do if you’re knitting colorwork flat.


A few people have asked where they can buy authentic Cowichan sweaters — i.e., from the Coast Salish tribespeople — or how to make a donation. I have googled but don’t feel good about linking to anyone selling Cowichans online without having a way to say for sure that they’re dealing fairly with the Coast Salish knitters. If anyone reading this does know of a sure, reliable resource that sells online, please let me know or leave a link in the comments below. And that goes for any links you think are worth sharing! This list is certainly far from comprehensive, so bring it on!

. . .

Wabi Mitts kits are back in stock at Fringe Supply Co

IN SHOP NEWS: The time is right for my Wabi Mitts, and the kits are now back in stock in all 8 gorgeous colors of Habu’s incredible linen-wool roving. And if you’ve been looking for any of the sold-out sizes or colors of bone and horn buttons — either the narrow-rim or concave styles — look again! We got a bunch in this week. Get those and more at Fringe Supply Co.

Thanks for a great week, and please have an amazing weekend!


PREVIOUSLY IN #fringeandfriendskal2015: Meet the Panel! (full series here)

29 thoughts on “Elsewhere: Cowichan edition

  1. Fascinating post ~ I’m so glad that it’s almost the weekend so that time can be spent reading every single link you provided.

  2. Thanks for this post. I knew nothing about Cowichan style before your offer of knitalong, just some pictures. The history of those knitting people and how knitting was part of their life all over the world is amazing and a real mutual improvement and cross polinisation :-)

  3. Karen, thank you for leading this respectful, thoughtful discussion. A technical question–
    Does anyone know whether the weaving method of stranded knitting affects color dominance and amount of yarn required?

    • Pam, a while ago I test knit a colorwork skirt for Sylvia Olsen’s book Knitting Stories and asked her the same question. Unlike Fair Isle, there is no color dominance effect in this style of knitting.

      • Oh, interesting. I’ve been wondering the same thing — how to think about dominance when working from the purl side. My stitches definitely look different from the first checkerboard row to the next, but I wasn’t sure if that was just a function of different tension on the purl row.

  4. Roots Canada last year made Cowichwan sweaters for their 60th anniversary along with Mary Maxim http://www.thestar.com/life/fashion_style/2014/09/10/roots_mary_maxim_collaborate_on_iconic_curling_sweaters.html
    You could either purchase the sweaters in the Roots stores or you could buy the kits and make them yourself through Mary Maxim. They are joining again this year to do the same. The sweaters were beautiful – though I was not thrilled with the yarn quality supplied for the kits.

  5. Karen, for those asking, Hill’s Native Art in Duncan, B.C. sells genuine Cowichan sweaters direct from local knitters; each sweater is labeled with the name of the knitter who designed and knitted it. I purchased a beautiful cardigan (posted photo on IG) there when Anna and I visited Andrea in Cowichan Bay. Their website: http://www.hillsnativeart.com

  6. Does any know of anyone in BC who repairs Cowichan sweaters? My husband’s sweater has a massive hole in the shoulder, and as a new knitter I am in no way competent to fix it.

  7. In researching for the panel, I was dismayed to discover that The Story of Coast Salish Knitters had been inappropriately posted to YouTube when I came across Sylvia Olsen’s blog post. I originally screened the film at the University of Washington Souza Library a few years ago when it was still available for purchase through the National Film Board of Canada. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, I was unable to locate the Film Board’s e-commerce listing for the film but today, on a whim I checked again and good news!

  8. One of the things I find … ?odd … about “-style” garments is that the “-style” typically seems to refer to appearance, not construction technique, material, all the other things aside from look that make a thing a representative thing. BIG thanks for providing resources to become informed about other aspects! (Even if some of us are too lazy/ingrained in own ways/changing to meet own needs to adopt them. :) )

  9. A treasure trove of links. The Cowichan style reminds me so much of the heavy wool stranded sweaters we used to buy in Mexico. Almost always in natural colors (gray, black, off-white), very chunky and oversized … maybe there is a connection between the Salish tribes and those in Mexico? Anyway, thanks so much for a wonderful post that I look forward to exploring.

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  12. Hi,

    I have been to Vanouver BC a few times and if you go, walk into a Roots store. I saw in a recent magazine they will be selling Cowichan inspired sweaters for Fall although not yet on their website. This post was from January but the designs give you an idea on how one might make a sweater their very own. This article shows a collabboration with Mary Maxim-also a Canadian company


  13. Hmmm…quick question – I love catching floats every other stitch. It has definitely helped me with my tension! However, I’ve found with the super-bulky yarn I’m using for the vest pattern, the woven floats in the contrasting color show through on the right side of the knitting. Am I catching them incorrectly, or is this unavoidable? I didn’t notice this happening when I practiced this technique with a finer yarn.

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