True Cowichans are made by Coast Salish knitters in British Columbia, Canada. As the story goes, the sweater style comes out of a cultural exchange in the 1850s. At the time, natives in the Cowichan Valley had been knitting leggings and blankets out of mountain goat and dog wool for centuries. When European settlers arrived, however, they learned how to knit socks, mitts, and sweaters, as well as farm wool from sheep. At some point in the late 19th century, a settler from the Shetland Islands named Jerimina Colvin taught Cowichan knitters how to embellish sweaters using Fair Isle traditions, forever changing the region’s knitwear.
Today, Cowichan sweaters are something of a mix of that history – hefty, wool cardigans with Native Canadian motifs, all expressed through low-gauge Scottish knitting techniques. They’re typically made without side seams, knitted from undyed yarns, and come with a slightly-dropped shoulder line. And unlike their Fair Isle and Shetland cousins in Europe, which are often machine-knit or hand-framed, true Cowichan knits are always completely handmade. That means a knitter, often a woman, is working with just two knitting needles and some bulky, hand-spun yarn.