Saturday, August 31, 2013

Cowichan-Style Sweater Progress Part 2

Now normally these things take a bit of time (I do have other responsibilities, after all), but I was so excited about this sweater, and a sleeve in super bulky weight yarn is just such a tempting little morsel, that I cast on the night before last and had my first sleeve done by noon the next day.

And then I knit the second sleeve too (though I haven't gotten a photo of that one yet).  This project is really fun!  There's a new sketch pictured above as well.  Here it is up close:

This represents the planned Modified Drop Shoulder construction a bit better than the sketch in the previous post.  Notice that only the bottom two motifs appear on the sleeves, and that the color work on the shoulder just ends where the sleeves meet.  It really helped me to draw up my charts in Illustrator and plan the placement of the color work to be able to see it.  (See below for the Illustrator charts.)  

This kind of construction - modified drop shoulder - is the most traditional.  If you see what looks like a Cowichan sweater, but it has raglan sleeve shaping, it may not have actually been made by a Coast Salish person, so it might not actually be a Cowichan sweater. Then again, it could have been because they're just like all knitters - they adapt.

Since we're talking about the label, "Cowichan Sweater," I'll make a point here to say that I'm not from this region.  The sweater I'm knitting is an exercise in joyful learning about the Cowichan knitting tradition, and passing along that joy and my admiration of the tradition, but I wouldn't ever call this a Cowichan sweater.  The wording may seem fastidious and unimportant, but the way we talk about things and the words we use matters.  That's why I keep saying, "Cowichan-style" and "Cowichan-inspired".  If you want a real Cowichan sweater, come up to Vancouver Island and buy one from the folks who have handed this tradition down for generations.

(A quick note on geography and the word, "Cowichan": The Cowichan Valley is where I live on Vancouver Island, and lots of Cowichan sweaters have come from here, but the knitting tradition referred to as Cowichan was developed by the Coast Salish people who live in southern Vancouver Island, mainland BC, and northern Washington state, and are not all Cowichan people.)

I promised in my last post that I'd talk a bit about modifying a pattern written with seams to be knitted seamlessly.  It's all pretty logical - instead of casting on for the back and fronts separately, add up your numbers and cast them all on together.  For example, The Handy Book of Sweater Patterns told me (for size 36" at 3 sts = 1") to cast on 54 stitches for the back, and 27 for each of the fronts.  In order to figure out my cast on number, I could just add 54 + 27 + 27 = 108.  However, since I want a zipper closure, my facings should meet in the middle rather than overlapping.  That means I should take off an inch from each front, the width I plan to make my facings.  Since my gauge is 3 sts = 1", I took 3 stitches away from each front, so my cast on number becomes 54 + 24 + 24 = 102.

This sweater is worked without waist shaping, so once I've cast on, I just have to work even until I reach the armholes.  I can then follow the instructions to bind of for the armholes, first for the right front, then for the back, and then for the left front, all in the same row.  In my case, I'll knit 20 stitches, bind off 8 (4  for the front of the armhole and 4 for the back), then knit 42, bind off 8 again, and knit to the end.  

After that I'll work the fronts and back separately; I'll use the V-neck shaping given in The Handy Book of Sweater Patterns for my size/gauge.

For the sleeves, I didn't follow the instructions exactly, but figured out my shaping by making a grid of he whole sleeve and trying different combinations (every 4 rows so many times, followed by every 6 rows, or the other way around, etc.)

Since I'm just making my size, I went ahead and did a grid of the entire sweater in Illustrator:

This helped me to figure out all the proportions and it's pretty intuitive following this kind of visual pattern.  I don't have to go back and check through all the useful but somewhat overwhelming spreadsheets in the Handy Book.  

Here are the motifs in regular chart form:

I cast on for the body today and am delighted by how quickly this knitting goes.  The only downside is that I think I'll finish the sweater before it's cold enough to wear it.  No one wishes for fall like a knitter with a new sweater!


  1. The more I see of this sweater in progress, the more I love it!!! Andrea, I think you really eloquently explained the difference between Cowichan-style/insipred and actual Cowichan sweaters - it's something I feel compelled to try to explain to guests and friends whenever they're here on the island. The history is SO important.

    Your newest sketch looks amazing, too - hope you don't mind me fangirl-ing a bit about it! :)

  2. Thanks so much! I'm really glad you think I said it well - I agree that the history matters a lot and I don't want to leave that out!

    As for the sketch, I have to give credit to my in-house illustrator (my art-school-trained husband, that is). I can draw if forced to, but I love being able to describe something to him because he interprets what's in my head so much better than i do. Having the sketches made me really want the sweater even more.


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