I’ve been hard at work on a research/writing project for the last two weeks. After 10-hour days at the library, my brain has been either too fried or too over-stimulated to sleep right away. So each night, I’d spend a couple of hours before bed watching tv-on-dvd and knitting. And before I knew it, I had sweater!
I cast on for this sweater in March, and it started out as my Zombie Knitting. You know, that giant tube of stockinette-in-the-round that you can work on in darkened movie theatres or on bumpy bus rides? The project you don’t actually have to look at while you’re knitting? So I’d pull it out once in a while, work an inch or two of the body, and put it away.
But once I got to the colorwork and the sleeves, I couldn’t set it down.
It’s a classic Norwegian-y sweater, with drop shoulders and steeked armholes.
Here’s a glimpse of the steeking process: sew, cut, seam.
This is the first time I’ve done Norwegian-style machine-sewn steeks, and I have to say I prefer the flexibility and precision of Fair Isle steeks. And no, these particular machine-sewn steeks aren’t the prettiest (I probably shouldn’t have done them at midnight after one of those 10-hour days), but such was the irresistible pull of this project. I was driven to finish.
I also discovered that Ella Rae Classic is great for colorwork projects: wooly, affordable, thinner than Patons merino, fuzzier than Cascade 220, and it took spit-splices like a hot, slobbery dream.
Here’s a full-on modeled shot:
And a look at the innards, for those of you who care about that sort of thing:
I’m not sure I like how the drop shoulder works for a sweater this close-fitting. The sleeve facings get a bit cumbersome under the arms, which wouldn’t be an problem in the roomier fit you usually see with this style. If I were to knit another worsted-weight sweater with steeked armholes, I think I’d use a finer yarn for the facings to cut down on bulk.
According to The Opinionated Knitter (probs one of the greatest knitting resources of All Time), EZ named this motif “Siwash” because the swirls seem to spell out that word. But I recognized “siwash” as a racist slur that comes from the French word for “savage.” So of course I immediately went into research mode.
I learned that Native folks in Vancouver have a long tradition of fiber arts, and have been knitting a particular style of big heavy sweater for over a century–they even raised and herded wool dogs before European colonizers brought sheep to North America. Whites started calling these sweaters “siwash sweaters,” and kept calling them that for a long time (i.e. well into Zimmermann’s time). Today we know them as Cowichan sweaters, named for the Cowichan First Nations. Then Michele told me about a great documentary called The Story of the Coast Salish Knitters, which I snagged through interlibrary loan. People of the Coast Salish First Nations of southern Vancouver Island were the original Cowichan sweater knitters, and the film tells the story of three generations of crafters. It’s well worth tracking down.
While EZ’s simple pattern may be inspired by Cowichan sweaters, you should definitely check out what an actual, amazing, authentic Cowichan sweater looks like. They’re pricey, yeah, but as knitters, we know how much labor goes into this kind of artwork. And buying them supports Cowichan First Nations artists and crafters. I wonder what it would take to convince every douchebag who ever bought a sweatshop-made $1000 cashmere sweater from some corporate designer label to buy one of these pretty babies instead … ?