Sunday, March 13, 2016

Coast Salish Knitting with Sylvia Olsen

Our local yarn shop likes to put on different knitting and crocheting classes and host different designer's trunk shows.  So when Sylvia Olsen contacted the owner about doing her trunk show and workshop at the store, of course she said yes!

Sylvia Olsen's trunk show and workshop
I joined them yesterday morning and am so happy that I did.  Sylvia not only taught us a different way to do colourwork, what she's named as Coast Salish colourwork, but also told us about Coast Salish knitters and the history of the Cowichan sweaters.  She is uniquely qualified to tell these stories as she lived side-by-side with these First Nation knitters and learned about their stories first hand as she also learned the entire process behind the making of these iconic sweaters.  If you're curious, she's written an interesting post about Cowichan sweaters on her blog.

Sylvia Olsen's trunk show and workshop
Not all of her stories are happy knitting stories.  She said that there was nothing fun about knitting to live, and trying to sell those lovely sweaters to dealers who would give these women next to nothing for their hard work.  She read us a poem she wrote out of one of her books that gave me shivers and nearly made me cry.

Knitting Stories, by Silvia Olsen
I was so fascinated by the stories she told that I decided to buy a copy of her Knitting Stories - Personal Essays and Seven Coast Salish-inspired Knitting Patterns.  I think you can get a copy from her business site she maintains with her children (who are all partners, knitters and designers).  Sylvia was even kind enough to sign mine!  It's a lovely book - I haven't gotten very far past the preface, but it's a lovely book largely comprised of stories, but interspersed with some truly interesting patterns (with her beautiful family modelling the samples).

Salish Toque, by Silvia Olsen
What is so special about Coast Salish colourwork?  Well, have you ever knit a stranded colourwork project, and had issues with it turning out too tight?  Or caught your finger in some of the strands? 

Salish Toque, by Silvia Olsen
Neither of those are a problem with Coast Salish colourwork.  Not only is there absolutely no strands to catch your digits on, but the final result is stretchy.

I'm not kidding you.

Salish Toque, by Silvia Olsen
It's a bit complicated technique, and I certainly can't explain it well enough to teach it here, but I picked it up fast enough to finish up my Salish Toque kit provided in the workshop.  I stayed up late last night to finish it, and couldn't wait for it to be completely dry before I took pictures!

My ribbing is a little loose
Sadly, my ribbing was too loose.  I've been working on loosening up my knitting, and I didn't realize that the colourwork would get so tight.  I'd go down at least a needle size or two for the ribbing next time.  That's okay though, cuz I just found a good technique for sewing in thread elastic on the inside of ribbing to tighten it up again on the techknitting site (she describes it for socks, but it's the same for a hat).

ZigZag Fingerless Mitts Kit
I uh, also bought her ZigZag Fingerless Mitts kit in a matching colourway, because I've been wanting a hardy pair of fingerless mitts for camping this year, and her sample of these in her trunk show was amazingly comfortable.

I have no willpower when it comes to yarn guys, it's bad.


  1. Replies
    1. It is! On a related note, now I really want to knit a Cowichan-style sweater.