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Friday, November 22, 2013

Vintage Treasures-Cowichan Sweaters

Even though my favorite vintage eras are undoubtedly the 1920s and 30s, I've always loved the 1950s too.   One 1950s item I've always had a hankering for: a cowichan sweater.   

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Cowichan sweaters hail from Vancouver Island, British Columbia.  The native Cowichan people developed the knitting technique by combining their traditional weaving with European fair-isle knitting techniques that they learned from missionaries.  Cowichan sweaters became a popular tourist item and reahced their zenith during the 1950s and 60s, when they were often knitted far away from Vancouver.  Even Marilyn Monroe posed in a Cowichan sweater:

The sweaters traditionally featured Animal or Native American Motifs, 

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but as time progressed many other images became popular.  Ice Skaters:

 Square Dancing couples:

 Even Mexican Palm Trees appeared:

 By the late 1970s and early 80s Cowichan sweaters had definitely faded from the fashion scene.   They did resurface in 1998 in the cult Coen Brother's film The Big Leowski. (My husband's favorite film and one of my favorites as well.)
Jeff Bridge's character, The Dude, definitely loved his Cowichan sweater, which he wears pretty much throughout the entire film:

Cowichan sweaters may have lost their main stream fashion status, but their kitschy appeal has insured their popularity with vintage style lovers.  Indeed today the sweaters are quite expensive, selling for as much as 500 dollars!  Since I was not about to pay anywhere near that much for a sweater and as my heart was set on an animal theme, it took me some time to find my sweater.  After being outbid many times on ebay I finally found a sweater in my price range from Sugar Shack Vintage on Etsy.  I'm not sure if it was really knit by the Cowichans, though the label does read made in Canada, but its very warm and cozy.   The perfect thing to wear for walking dogs on a cool fall day:

If you are looking for a Cowichan sweater of your own Etsy and Ebay are probably the best sources.  Experienced knitters can also find vintage patterns for sale on Etsy, Ebay, and ravelry.


  1. Those sweaters have ALWAYS been in style at our house!

  2. Those are great and we love yours.
    Have a super Saturday.
    Best wishes Molly

  3. How interesting! I didn't know any of this. Your sweater goes perfectly with your style.

  4. This post put a huge smile on my canuck face! I love cowachin sweaters so much, and not just because of their Canadian origins. They're beautiful, usually very well made and warm as day is long. If it wasn't for the fact that I'm allergic to wool, I'm sure I'd own one, too (I don't knit, or else I'd make one in an alternative fiber such as cotton or acrylic instead).

    ♥ Jessica

  5. How interesting! I didn't know anything about this sweater type, but had seen them around before. Yours is super fun with the horses!


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