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The Cowichan Sweater – A Community Effort

Back in October, I shared with you the exciting news about a groundbreaking documentary The Cowichan Sweater: Our Knitted Legacy which delves deep into the rich history and cultural significance of Cowichan sweaters. You can check it out for free on CBC Gems. Fast forward to today and the impact of this documentary continues to reverberate, inspiring not only appreciation for this iconic garment but also tangible support for its contemporary artisans. Let’s take a moment to revisit the journey we’ve embarked on since then.

Award-winning writer and director Mary Galloway took us on a journey through time and tradition, shedding light on the 100-year history of Cowichan sweaters and the cultural legacy they embody. By giving voice to contemporary First Nations artists, the documentary not only celebrates the past but also offers insights into the future of this unique craft.

After being deeply moved by the documentary’s portrayal of the challenges faced by modern-day Cowichan sweater knitters we felt compelled to take action. Partnering with our community we initiated a Pay-It-Forward donation drive to provide Briggs & Little Country Roving, a great optional base material for these artisans, ensuring their craft can thrive for generations to come.

Our second installment of a 40-cake donation set to get in the hands of cowichan knitters this week.

Since the inception of our donation drive, the response has been overwhelming. In December we were able to share our first donation of Briggs & Little Country Roving and a donated Country Spinner, a locally made cottage spinning wheel specifically geared to spin bulkier yarns, kickstarting a chain of generosity that continues to grow.

Today, I’m thrilled to announce several significant updates:

  • Building upon our initial donation, this last week we made a second installment contributing an additional 40 cakes of Briggs & Little Country Roving;
  • I’ve been working with one of the film’s producers who lives and works in the community of the Cowichan knitters, and has helped distribute these donations to the women and men of this craft;
  • Our initiative has inspired further acts of kindness including the donation of TWO cottage spinning wheels, enhancing the resources available to Cowichan sweater knitters. Recognizing the ongoing need for support we are THRILLED to extended our pay-it-forward drive for an additional six months, inviting more individuals to join us in this meaningful endeavor;
  • I’ve been contacted by Briggs and Little Mill in New Brunswick to make help them make a direct donation to this effort as well;
  • To date, we’ve collected a remarkable 102 pay-it-forward donations of new Briggs & Little cakes, underscoring the power of collective action in preserving and promoting cultural heritage.
Our first collection of 30 pay-it-forward donations brought into the hands of cowichan knitters by one of this movie’s producers.

As we reflect on our journey so far, it’s evident that the spirit of community and solidarity continues to fuel our efforts. Together, we’re not only honoring the legacy of Cowichan sweaters but also weaving a brighter future for the artisans who keep this tradition alive. I invite you to join us in celebrating this local gem and making a meaningful difference in the lives of those who cherish and perpetuate this timeless craft.

Join me in celebrating The Cowichan Sweater, both learning about its knitted legacy and in direct support of this local gem. We also want to congratulate the filmmaking team behind this gem, as they have been nominated for the upcoming Canadian Screen Awards set to take place on May 31st, 2024!

Thank you for your ongoing support, and together, let’s continue to uplift and empower our communities.

4 thoughts on “The Cowichan Sweater – A Community Effort

  1. I’ve seen the documentary and read another book on Van Island fiber producers. No mill anymore. Farmers are composting, submitting their wool for other purposes due to lack of demand or sending their fleeces to Toronto for processing. What is wrong with this picture?? I truly don’t understand why partnerships can’t be made on the island to benefit the producers and the craftspersons making these wonderful pieces of art. What am I missing?

    1. Partnerships are being made. But it is up to all of us to change the systematic failures including the lack of the importance given to the wool industry by our gov’t, generational racism and rebuilding of trust and alliance amongst different players in the fibre arts, and every one of us taking an active role in the building of the community around them. Every one of us is a piece in the puzzle and it is up to you to figure out what you can have a hand in.

  2. This is AMAZING!!!
    I was born in the Cowichan valley and have a deep appreciation for all indigenous culture, and particularly the knitting.

    I cannot get over this fantastic work you’re doing. I’m clicking on Pay-it-Forward right now!
    Xox Nicole (aka Knicoleknits)

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