Cowichan Sweaters

More than an iconic Canadian symbol and winter fashion staple, the Cowichan (ko·wee·chn) sweater is a cherished First Nations art form and tradition. In the late 19th century, Scottish settlers introduced sheep to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and the Coast Salish people who inhabited the land. Cowichan sweaters evolved from Salish weaving and processing methods combined with the use of sheep’s wool and European knitting practices.

(Photo of Cowichan knitter, Dora Wilson, by Jeffrey Bosdet)
Authentic Cowichan sweaters are hand-knit in the round, in one piece, from the bottom up. This means there are no seams, except for those at the tops of the shoulders. They are resilient, and with care, can last for decades. The wool is undyed and thus comes in, well, sheep colors: cream, grey, brown, and sometimes black. Due to the fiber’s high lanolin (also known as wool wax) content, these bulky-knit sweaters are water-resistant. While Cowichan sweaters come in many different designs, a Thunderbird motif is considered classic.

Cowichan sweaters gained international recognition when they rose in popularity in the 1950s and through to the 80s. Celebrities and tourists alike donned these iconic sweaters. For this reason, many ready-to-wear, machine-made imitations were produced during this time. Consumers were largely unaware of the sweaters’ indigenous origins and could not tell authentic sweaters from the knockoffs. In recent years, Cowichan knitters have tried to reclaim the artform by trademarking “Genuine Cowichan.” Nevertheless, the appropriation of Cowichan sweaters is still relevant. 

As luck would have it, The Clothing Warehouse was graced with what we believe to be an authentic vintage Cowichan sweater (pictured below). The sweater is a tubular pullover with only shoulder seams. Most of the wool is undyed white and grey, with a blue thunderbird motif on the front, back, and both sleeves. There is also no tag, indicating it was likely hand-made. The thinner knit and blue-dyed thunderbird leads us to believe that this sweater was knit by a Coast Salish knitter keeping up with popular demand by tourists.

We have plenty other cool and unique sweaters just like this one available in store and online right now! 

 

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