The Guild is ever so grateful for Julia’s contributions to the Fiber Camp weekend of events. Julia presented her informative lecture on Cowichan knitting, she taught a number of classes, and rounded up a clutch of her designer friends to model their knitwear in Saturday’s Fashion Show.
Last Friday, Julia Farwell-Clay spoke to members and guests of the Common Cod Fiber Guild, kicking off the Guild’s Fifth Annual Fiber Camp. Julia spoke about the history of the Salish People of British Columbia and the evolution of the Cowichan sweater. She shared images, stories, and sweaters she has collected.
The Cowichan sweater is knit in the round from a bulky, single ply yarn and is known for having a collared front closure with a zipper or buttons, and features bands of geometric and nature based images. Some designs sport a central image of an animal. (See Briggs and Little #5008 Canadian Pride 2010 for a free pattern). If you like to collect obscure knitting books, look for Priscilla Gibson-Roberts’ Salish Indian Sweaters, but know that this book is out of print; you’ll have to do some detective work at your library in the hopes of tracking it down. Julia has a number of pattern designs which were inspired by this style of knitting, including Tacoma and Fox Love.
Julia began the evening by sharing the tale of her dad and his “winter coat”. They lived in a cold region of British Columbia and her dad chose to wear a Cowichan style sweater, never an overcoat. Over the many years that they lived in that climate, she recalled he wore it even in the coldest of weather. When it wasn’t being worn, it was relegated to the basement, thanks to the distinctive odor. Just before retiring to Florida, the family had a ceremonial burial of the sweater in the backyard, it was that revered. Cowichan sweaters are truly the durable, insulating and dependable outerwear to choose.
The history of Salish knitting began before the arrival of European settlers. The Salish people used the wool of mountain goats and dog hair and organic materials to spin wool which was woven into thick blankets. These blankets were a form of currency; the number of blankets owned was a direct correlation to one’s standing in the community. The Salish traded blankets for goods with people outside their tribe.
When the European settlers moved into the area, they brought sheep and a desire to domesticate and convert the Salish people. One group of nuns taught the women to knit, and women and children began to process more wool and created socks and mittens, and later, underwear and sweaters. These garments provided a source of income for the families. Eventually the Cowichan sweater became a distinctive style.
The samples of Cowichan sweaters that Julia brought were densely knit, with probably 3-4 stitches to the inch. The samples of Fox Love and Tacoma are knit with softer, less dense yarns and the drape creates a more flattering silhouette. Please visit Julia’s Ravelry pattern pagen and add some of these sweaters to your Queue and Favorites as a way to show your appreciation of this tradition of knitting.
Julia’s last slide showed where to start looking for more information: