I don't know when my fascination with Cowichan sweaters started, but last February when I visited Victoria, I purchased the lovely book, Working withWool and Yetsa's Sweater, both by Sylvia Olsen. When a Cowichan Sweater class was offered at VK Live in Seattle last April, I signed up right away. Barbara Brown taught the class and had us knitting a doll-size Cowichan inspired sweater vest using Prairie Wool by Custom Woolen Mills. I enjoyed the class, but it left me wanting more. I got really excited when I saw this post by Andrea Rangel. So, when Kathy Cadigan contacted me a few months ago to see if I would be interested in visiting Cowichan Bay, hang out with Andrea Rangel, AND learn about the Cowichan sweater -- I knew I had to go.
On October 18th, Kathy, Paula, and I left bright and early to catch the 8:30am ferry from Anacortes to Sydney, B.C. It was a beautiful ferry ride and it gave us lots of time to sip coffee and knit. We arrived at our hotel in Cowichan Bay around 1:30 pm. We were met by Andrea who was dressed head to toe in her hand knits. (Yes, from hat to leggings!)
We had a quick tour of Cowichan Bay (it's quite small), drank more coffee, and had yummy baked goods at the artisan bakery where Andrea's husband works. Over coffee, Andrea talked to us about the history of the Salish people, their culture and customs, their blankets and sweaters. We learned about why there is controversy and why when I knit a Cowichan inspired sweater, I must say "inspired.” I am not of native Coast Salish decent, so thus, my sweater will never be a true Cowichan sweater.
We learned about the origins of the fiber for the blankets (a fiber dog that is now extinct), and how hard it is now for Coast Salish to find local wool. A lot of the wool now comes from New Zealand and some are still spun by native Coast Salish using wheels made from retrofitted old treadle sewing machines.
The next morning after breakfast we headed out in search of Cowichan sweaters. We visited the farmers’ market in Duncan where we spotted many Cowichan sweaters "in the wild" as Andrea would say. The people that wore these sweaters were very friendly and were more than happy to let us photograph them and to share with us the stories about their sweaters.
We then headed over to Hill's Native Art to purchase our very own sweater. When we arrived at Hill's we were pleased to see the woman working at theshop was knitting a sweater while we were shopping! She was so kind to show us her yarn, the spinning wheel she used, and what the fiber looked like before it was spun. I was so excited that I purchased two items -- a sweater vest knitted by Erma and a sweater that was hand knit by Esther, both Coast Salish from Cowichan Bay. We finished the day with a visit to a winery, a color work lesson, and then an amazing goat roast at Andrea's friend’s farm.
Our last day in Cowichan Bay started off with coffee and a lesson on Cowichan sweater construction and pattern making. We then visited the most magical place, Whippletree Junction. Unfortunately, most of the shops were closed on Sunday, including Bamboletta (I wanted to cry!), but one place was open -- Leola's Studio. Leola is a friend of Andrea with the most amazing studio filled with fiber, looms, spinning wheels, yarn, and blankets. Everywhere you turned there was something special to see. I definitely need to visit Whippletree Junction again (and Bamboletta!).
Before we knew, it was time to head home. We loaded up Kathy's car with all our goodies and said goodbye to Andrea. A most memorably weekend. Thank you.
You can see more photos from our Cowichan retreat on Instagram, #cowichanretreat .