Ready to move forward: Priscilla’s Cowichan sweaters book, revised edition

This past weekend, I drove out to western Colorado to attend the Artposium, about which I intend to post more as soon as I can.

While there, I stayed and visited with Priscilla GIbson-Roberts. And this is what I brought back with me to my home office:


It's a treasure box. It contains the photos and reference drawings for her book on Cowichan sweaters, originally published in 1989 as Salish Indian Sweaters. The revised edition will include the material in the original edition, additional traditional designs that Priscilla has collected in the past twenty years, and a chapter on Priscilla's own designing process for sweaters that draw on her own family and cultural imagery in the way that the Cowichan sweaters draw on the visual heritage of the Northwest natives who originated this style of sweater.

Here's a peek of what's inside that box:


And here's another:


One of my next tasks is to figure out the best way to convert the negatives to digital positives. It'll be easy once I determine the right resources to use to do the job. I have some places to start asking questions.

The charts for the book were ready a year ago. It will be great to move the project to the next phase!


23 thoughts on “Ready to move forward: Priscilla’s Cowichan sweaters book, revised edition”

  1. The Dorothy Reade book is in its final review process, and is scheduled for release by Martingale next spring. It was supposed to be a Nomad Press book (we had a contract and collaborated on the development), but when the projects came in it became obvious that a drop-in color signature (which is what I could provide in the way of color printing) was not going to do the projects justice. They’re wonderful. They need full color throughout the book.

  2. I knitted one when I started working on this project, which was probably four years ago, maybe a bit more. I wear it as a jacket through fall/winter/spring. I might have to knit another. . . .

  3. Dull would not work for me. Slight cushioning of the bumps would be fine, though. On the money: I do the work, and practice trusting the universe. A *lot.* Of both.

  4. I’ve done probably a dozen, maybe 15, over the years: most of them zip cardigans, but also a few shawl-collared, longer wraps.

    And probably two dozen toques and mitts.

    Gave them up when I got tired of sewing them together, and realized that trying to knit one in one piece would not be terribly practical (or comfortable!).

  5. That’s a lot of knitting!

    I’ve made mine in one piece. It worked great–although it’s not a summer knitting project!

    There are some really cool traditional tricks for doing that, 100% in one piece. Priscilla’s book explains those things. I think some of that information was a bit hidden in the first edition. It will take me some extra time, but I’m pondering how to make the ideas more evident in the revised edition.

    What I found, as a generally small-scale knitter, was that designing motifs that work at a larger scale is trickier than it looks. Most rewarding.

  6. Well, I’m glad to hear this is coming out! I’ve always wanted one of these sweaters…and even saw a second hand one once that I nearly bought. However, now that I’m in Winnipeg, I see people wearing them all the time! First cold day on Sunday? I saw traditional Lopi Icelandic sweaters and Cowichan sweaters out on the street…(on people, of course.) What a switch from other places I’ve lived! I love it!

  7. Cowichan and Icelandic sweaters are incredibly practical: lightweight and warm. They fill different clothing niches. I had no idea how wonderful a Cowichan-style sweater was until I knitted one. Now I want a “real” one, too. . . .

  8. I recall seeing that in the first edition, actually, but by then, I had pretty much graduated from that knitting phase of my life. Cowichan sweaters were hugely trendy here from the late 70s to mid 80s (my cream/grey/black wrap coat was a huge hit when I lived in NYC!), and that’s about when I finished knitting them.

    (Several were commissions: there’s no way I would knit that many without at least being compensated for a few of them!)

    That the White Buffalo Wool Company went under probably resulted in a lot of people being left high-and-dry who wanted to knit the sweaters but couldn’t find an appropriate yarn substitute for some time.

    A local (to me) mill produces a nice yarn that I’d certainly use now, though. Maybe it’s time to replace all those old 8 mm straight needles with circulars and start knitting them once the book’s out?

    What sort of timing are you looking for this edition?

  9. Timing: I *hope* next year. Much depends on how much freelance work I have, and its timing, which is necessary to buy me the time to work on Nomad projects.

    White Buffalo: when they were going out, I stocked up. TRULY a bummer. Brown Sheep has some nice wools that will do the trick. There are a few others that I hear of now and then. Priscilla talks about spinning the yarns, too, of course–the trick is having a wheel with a large-enough (or no) orifice, or a spindle that can handle the bulk.

    Not all of the Cowichans were as bulky as what we think of characteristically. Early ones were at 5 stitches/inch (20 to t0cm).

  10. I have her old book but it is so battered from use. Can’t wait to have the update, way better than Christmas . I spun my own wool and knit circularly and it works fine. The trick is spinning it fluffy but not weak, knitting sufficiently tightly but not boardlike. Maybe I should try knitting backwards for the patterns so as not to steek. Norwegian wool works very nicely. We’ve gone from 106 during the day to 72 and time to get the woolies out and start knitting again now that I can have something wooly on my lap…Now I want a real one, too.

  11. And the Mary Maxim sweaters were that way as well — my mother used to knit a new one every couple of years for my dad. In fact, how I started knitting was by “helping” on one, which is why I have a strange-looking (to some!) way of holding my needles. 🙂

    Custom Woolen Mills ( makes a bulky 6-strand that makes a fine replacement, although I find more than the occasional strand of plastic feed bag mixed in from time to time….

  12. Yes, spinning for a Cowichan is a skill in itself. Starts with the selection of fiber that is long enough to handle the larger grist with lower twist, yet still is soft enough to work nicely for a sweater. Although I think steeks are fantastic, they’re a bit tricky to work with on a Cowichan!

  13. I’d heard about that Custom Woolen Mills yarn, but haven’t seen it. As long as the plastic feed bag bits are easy enough to pull out, it ought to be okay. . . .

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