Knitting Cowichan Sweaters

Cowichan Sweater sample

On April 30th I took an all day class at Yarn Over (sponsored by the Minnesota Knitters’ Guild) on knitting Cowichan Sweaters with Joan Schrouder. (Joan is retiring from teaching at the end of this year, so I feel fortunate to have had this class with her!) Not only did I learn about Native Tribes of the Pacific North West  I learned some really fun techniques that I can use on my other knitting as well! I really enjoyed spending this rainy day inside knitting.

The “baby” sweater shown above took me the full 6 hours of class to knit.  It measures about 20″ around and 12 inches long. I started the sleeve on one side to get the idea of how it is done. . .I don’t think I will knit anymore of this because I’m afraid it is too small for even a tiny human:) The yarn is a bulky yarn that I purchased from Gale Woods Farm – a lovely lovely yarn! (after I wound it into a ball, I kept it on my desk so I can gaze upon it because I love the texture and sheen so much!) The arrow shapes around the belly part are traditional and sometimes are knit so the direction of the arrow changes direction in the center of the back. I knit it the same all the way around.

The collar isn’t wide enough.  If I would have made more increases to widen it, the collar would fold back better and be nice and neat. Here is a good example of learning something by doing it wrong.

Close up of my too narrow collar

Adult sweaters weigh 4 to 5 pounds and are usually about 1/2 ” thick because they are knit using two strands of bulky single ply wool. Yes, two strands even when no pattern is shown. The stitches are twisted around each other over the color patterns and when knitting with 2 strands of the same color. Knitting with two strands of the same color keeps the sweater the same weight throughout. If you only knit with two strands on the color patterned part and not the solid part the sweater would have areas of thick and areas of thin knitting. . . it wouldn’t be as warm or as consistently stable.

Arrow pattern as seen from the inside

here is a close up of the inside of the arrow design. If I do say so myself it is a nice and tidy job of weaving in the carried yarn!

Inside of the bird pattern

here is the inside close up view of the bird pattern. . . I carried the gray yarn all the way across even though the pattern of the bird didn’t fill up that much of the back.

the "public" side of the bird pattern on the back

This is the right or “public” side of the back showing the traditional bird pattern. It looks pretty good – not as smooth as I would like it to be – the carrying/weaving of the second  color on the inside shows through to the outside a bit. But this is “traditional” for this type of knitting and I’m learning to appreciate it. You can see under the bird, where it is all white – I was carrying the yarn in the same way but with 2 strands of the same color. I also need just a bit more practice (or more time:)) on picking up for the sleeves. The sleeve caps are done with short rows. A few stitches are picked up across the shoulder seam and then working back and forth you pick up stitches down the armhole. Very cool!

Cowichan Sweater Shoulder bind off

This is one of the coolest things I learned during this class. It is a way to do a 3-needle bind off that creates the look of two crochet chains down the seam. This gave me the idea for a new project – – – not telling just yet – – – but look for it soon. I had a great day and can’t wait to knit an adult size sweater.

I recently met a woman from Montana who raises Navaho Sheep. . . when she has some spun I’ll get to knit a sweater out of it! Can’t wait!

Here are a few places to find out more info about Cowichan Sweaters and the people who knit them.

An interesting article about Cowichan Sweaters and copyright issues that arose around them during the Olypmics

Link to a an artist that has some interesting history about North American Tribes and their weaving and knitting.

A link to Sa-Cinn – a place to buy original Cowichan sweaters and hats.

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