L. and I have decided to create our own knit along. We discovered a sweater knitting class offered in town at Three Bags Full but just couldn’t wait until February to start. So we’re going to start knitting our own next week.
I think these are so beautiful. And I’m sure you’ve noticed their strong re-appearance in the fashion world in the last year.
I’ve been reluctant to call these what they are: Cowichan sweaters. Cowichan sweaters have been knit right here in British Columbia for over 100 years by Cowichan First Nations women. Using fair isle techniques brought by settlers and made of thick, undyed and unplied wool, the sweaters are traditionally knit without side seams and usually feature an animal and/or geometric motif.
In truth, I’ve been mulling over what it means for me to knit my very own Cowichan sweater knock-off for a few days now. Canadian readers will likely be familiar with the recent controversy over the 2010 Olympic sweaters, Cowichan look-alikes that Cowichan women bid unsuccessfully to provide. Phrases like ‘cheap imitation’ and ‘cultural appropriation’ quickly entered the discussion (note that this is an old issue elevated to a new Olympic scale; Cowichan sweater knock-offs have been produced and sold to tourists since at least the 1940s). But does this apply to the lone knitter who is not knitting for profit?
Technically speaking, my gut tells me that, like non-Hindu women wearing bindis, like non-Chinese people getting Chinese symbol tattoos, this is indeed a form of cultural appropriation. But it’s interesting that, apart from the Olympic controversy, it seems to be a non-issue for other knitters. Even Interweave Knits has an article in the latest issue about a company that makes sweaters based on the Cowichan style, but there is no mention of cultural appropriation.
So in this instance, my inner knitter wins over my inner cultural theorist: I really want to make a Cowichan-inspired sweater. It’s possible I’m making a big issue out of nothing anyway, which I hope is true. I just want to knit an awesome sweater.