There isn’t one single icon that represents Cowichan better than the “Cowichan sweater”. Wooly, thick and typically featuring classic Coast Salish motifs, these sweaters are as world famous as they are effective in keeping you warm and dry.
Designs on the sweaters vary greatly, but often depict the same kind of animals seen on totem poles: bears, ravens, thunderbirds and whales.
The sweaters are still made here in Cowichan by a group of dedicated knitters. Each sweater is painstakingly knitted by hand and each takes upwards of two days to complete. The wool used is exclusively from sheep and like the knitting itself, all of the wool is washed, spun and dyed by hand.
The Cowichan sweater is relatively new to the Cowichan Indigenous people, relative to their long history. Although for millennia the Coast Salish made much or their clothing by weaving dog and goat hair, it wasn’t until the late 1880s when they started knitting using wool. It is said the reason for this is because they were introduced to the practice by a Scottish expat named Jeremina Colvin.
Adding credence to the story is the fact that Colvin was from the Shetland Islands north of Scotland and the style of knitted sweater from that region is remarkably similar to the original Cowichan sweaters. So popular is the Cowichan sweater, other products knitted in the same style have emerged, including hats, ponchos, mitts and more.