June 26, 2010


I've been wanting to make a Cowichan sweater for a while now.  Mine (originally made by my aunt, originally as a set for my mom and dad after they were newly married) is starting to fall apart.

The history and meaning behind the Cowichan sweater intrigues me, especially after the recent olympic fiasco that involved the Hudson's Bay Company appropriating the sweater for their $350 olympic version.  At the hostel we stayed at in Montreal, I ran into a woman who used to sell the real cowichan sweaters, made by the Coast Salish people on the west coast (I always love a conversation that involves politics and knitting).  I didn't realize that White Buffalo Yarn (not actually buffalo wool but sheep's wool, its just called that) is no more.  Apparently, the factory burnt down, and you can't but the yarn anymore- unless you find someone with a stash.

Of course, this just made me want to knit a Cowichan sweater even more.  Last weekend, we went for a drive to the mountains, and I found a wool shoppe in one of the small towns up there.  I asked the store owner if she had any patterns for the sweaters, as apparently those are hard to find too (and I'm talking the patterns made by white buffalo, for specific use with their yarn.. not Mary Maxim wannabe's).  She said she had a couple but they weren't from White Buffalo.  I got copies (which, can you believe, she charged me almost FOUR DOLLARS to photocopy a couple of pages?!) and then she persuaded me to buy some of the new, 'substitute' yarn that people use for making the sweaters.  It's from Briggs and Little- 'Country Roving'.  I only bought 2 pucks worth, as I knew that Custom Woolen Mills here in Alberta carries pretty much the same thing, which I got for waaay cheaper.

But then, this weekend, I get talking with my Aunt (who knit the sweater in the first place) and she HAS original White Buffalo patterns AND she was at a garage sale last weekend that had white buffalo yarn!!  So we went to the house that had the garage sale, and she still had a whole garbage bag full!!!  SCORE!!

annndd.. check it out.. an original receipt!!

1988 baby!  The yarn came from a woman's husband who passed away.  Apparently he was a bigtime knitter (18 pucks of white buffalo on the receipt!)
now.  how long will it take me to knit that sweater?????


Mandi said...

This makes my day. I'm so happy about your find! I can't wait to see how it turns out. :)

PrairiePeasant said...

What a score! When I was growing up, we called them "Siwash" sweaters, but googling that term now I see it is viewed as pejorative--I had no idea! My mom knit ones for herself and my dad before we were born, and for us when we were quite young. I have fond memories of these sweaters!

PrairiePeasant said...

Just to add to that, I thought the term "siwash" was the style of sweater, like "cardigan" or "pullover". I never heard the term referring to anything else connected with aboriginal people.

OffTheHooks said...

Laura, I don't think you are alone there in not knowing- a lot of people refer to them as 'curling sweaters' too.
the reason i got interested was after watching a documentary i got at the edmonton public library about their history. Maybe your library has it too.
I know there are a few films out there, here is a link to one:

hodge podge said...

that is an amazing story! i love knitting archaeology (or would it be anthropology?)...
i once was obsessed with making a sweater in one of my 1970's crochet books, but balked because it was a tiny gauge in thread crochet, and then found the very sweater at a flea market for $10!
can't wait to watch how the project evolves!

Anonymous said...

Oh such a score. Mom and I (we share patterns) have several sweater patterns if you wish me to send you copies let me know. Now the question part lol everything comes comes with a price these days. I was wonder any idea of the yardage in a white buffalo puck(ball).
My loving husband said to the guys at work about the fact I knit all the time. Well the one guy desperately wants a alpaca yarn sweater. I said no problem I will let you know the amount of yarn I need, well all my patterns say is 5balls main 2 contrast 1 second contrast. Well ummm sadly this isn't a lot of help. And well since I have no idea where he is getting the yarn I can not just ask for more if I need it bur at the price of the yarn I do not want to say hey I need a truck load. Any help would be great.
Subject line any emails white buffalo
Thank you

Khalid said...


I'm actually wearing the very cardigan pictured on the man in the photo at the top of this blog post! Found it in the closet; my mom bought it years ago. I absolutely love it -- it's practical and stylish -- and am wondering where I could by another one. Any idea where? And how much it costs?

The label inside says TUAK. Hand Knit in Canada 100% pure virgin wool. Dohnalek Enterprises Ltd. Googling "TUAK" doesn't turn up much...

Thanks and take care!