Monday, January 16, 2017

Cowichan Themed Sweater

I've been thinking about and planning this Cowichan-themed sweater for years. In 2013 I did some sample knitting for Sylvia Olsen (author of Working with Wool and Knitting Stories among many other books), and in return, she spun me a sweater quantity of yarn. It was so special, though, that I was too nervous to knit with it! I tried a sweater out and had gauge problems, so I set it aside. But last fall, my friend Kirsten suggested we do a little Cowichan-themed KAL so she could knit herself a Jane Richmond West Coast Cardigan and I could finally knit a sweater with this yarn.

I knew that I wanted to stick with geometric rather than organic forms (like animals), but I wanted to think about silhouette again to be sure I was making something that would fit into my wardrobe. So I did a few sketches and got some really great feedback on Instagram (thanks!) and decided to go with cropped oversized and drop shoulders, sort of a mix of the ones shown on the left and right below.

Sketching is a big challenge for me, so I often use my Fashionary notebook for garment design.

I did a spreadsheet and had a solid plan before casting on, but I also made a few changes during knitting. The first was because my initial idea of how much ease I'd need for my sleeve was a bit off. The fabric is pretty bulky, so with the slender sleeves I originally envisioned, I had a hard time bending at the elbow. I'm a big proponent of clothes a person can move in, so that wouldn't work for me. Adding a bit more ease solved the problem, though. 

The second thing that didn't initially work out was the collar. The first one was just too tiny. I didn't want a huge collar, but I did want one that would actually fold over, so I ripped and re-knit it.

Lots of zippers to choose from

I finished the knitting a couple months ago, but I had some trouble sourcing the right zipper. The first one I bought didn't actually separate at the bottom - important for a cardigan! And my usual online stores either didn't have quite what I was looking for, or charged $25 for shipping to Canada. In the end, Caitlin French over in Vancouver offered to grab a couple options from her neighbourhood fancy fabric store & send them to me! (The knitting community is really the best.) I got the perfect zipper - black with big silver teeth and sewed it in by hand. And my sweater is finally finished!

My hand-sewn zipper was basted, then sewn down with smaller stitches, then whip stitched to the inside selvedge stitch.

I'm so thrilled with the result! It's cozy and warm and fits exactly as I'd hoped. The short row shoulder shaping and relatively slender sleeves make it flattering even though it's oversized and it's a great top layer for the middle of winter.

I have to admit, I've found myself wishing it had pockets. Like most humans, I love pockets, but I left them off because the sweater is so cropped. In order to put my hands in pockets on this sweater I'd have to bend my elbows at a 90 degree angle. But now that I've worn it for a while, it may just be fine to have bent elbows and warm hands. That's the bomber jacket look anyway, right?

I do plan to publish this as a pattern eventually. It's important that I find a yarn that's commercially available, and maybe I'll put pockets in the finished pattern. I also expect that I'll make a few more Cowichan-inspired designs in different silhouettes because I love this one, but I want all the other shapes too!

Here's to 2017 as the year of finishing old works in progress. I hope you get some finishing done too!

P.S. Karen over at Fringe Association is talking about working up another Cowichan-inspired sweater. Check it out!


  1. The finished sweater looks so great, Andrea!

  2. Elizabeth Zimmerman has a method for adding pockets after the fact! I think I read it in knitting without tears


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