For Your Information: History of Cowichan Knitting

The History of Cowichan Knitting

Cowichan knitting is a form of knitting developed by the First Nation people of the Cowichan Valley. Cowichan, from southeastern Vancouver Island in British Columbia is host to one of the biggest First Nation community, Cowichan Tribes.

The popular Cowichan sweater, which are made heavy-knit and bulky for warmth and temperature regulation, showcases the acculturated art form that Cowichan knitters produce. 

The Cowichan First Nations use a combination of European textile techniques and Coast Salish spinning and weaving methods to create the gorgeous Cowichan sweaters.

Prior to European contact, the Coast Salish people of Canada (including the Cowichan people) wove blankets, leg warmers, and tumplines. These attire were mainly made from mountain goat wool, dog hair, and other local, long fibers. The animal’s wool was spun with a spindle and whorl, and the blankets were woven on a two-bar loom. Although there is not a lot of historical information about the Cowichan knitting prior to colonization, there are rare woven items in museums.

As more Europeans set over in Canada, sheep were first introduced to Vancouver Island around the 1850’s, providing a more plentiful source of wool for the Cowichan knitters. This was around the same time that the first Europeans arrived in the Cowichan Valley.

Cowichan sweaters are always hand-knit from thick, handspun, one-ply natural-coloured yarn; usually produced in two or three colours (cream, black and grey). In producing a warm, bulky, Cowichan sweater, the Cowichan First Nations used them to keep warm in the winter months. After years of production and wear, the Cowichan Sweaters began to get popular with the Europeans and tourists; making them the iconic sweater that they are today.

Present Day (Editor's Thoughts)

If you live in British Columbia, Canada, Cowichan Sweaters can be spotted at least a few times a day - it's part of our culture. Their recent rise in popularity seems like a fad, but the amount of people buying sweaters has been steadily rising for a long time.

Cowichan Sweater owners are loyal to the sweater because they know it will last them probably most of their life. They don't even have to really spread the word, as its iconic look can be identified a mile away.

Here are some reasons Cowichan Sweaters are held in such high regard:

  • Never be too hot or too cold: The bulky wool keeps you at a perfect temperature year-round. The wool breathes in the summer, but keeps warmth in the winter.
  • They last a lifetime: Most owners attest their sweater hasn't shrank or ripped in 20 years+ of use
  • Water Resistance: Knitted wool is extremely water resistant, and is able to breath, unlike many materials.
  • Great Look: Nobody can deny the Cowichan knitting style is eye catching.
  • Supporting Families: They isn't such thing as a Cowichan Sweater factory. Each and every sweater knit is hand-made supporting a real family, not a giant conglomerate.

So whether you are on the west coast, or even the middle of the united states, you are bound to see a Cowichan Sweater at least one time in your life, be it Spring or Winter. These long-time West Coast culture fixtures are here to stay.