The party on Sunday was a lot of fun! Many people took up the magic ball challenge and found that it was harder than they expected to choose colors without picking and choosing—Therese met the challenge by being blindfolded! I can't wait to see how their projects turn out!
[What is a magic ball? A magic ball is made by knotting together various lengths of different yarns to make a continuous thread. I heard about this technique through something by Kaffe Fassett, although I could not tell you where I found the idea in his multitudinous writings. The trick to making truly random colors work in this technique (or any, for that matter) is to control for value.]
During the party on Sunday I found myself talking a LOT about this wonderful new book: Working with Wool: A Coast Salish Legacy and the Cowichan Sweater by Sylvia Olsen. (I found my copy at Schoolhouse Press--hardback, 328 pages, $38.95) In fact, I seem to have forced everyone there to take a look at it. It struck me that I should share it with you, too.
In the background is a real Cowichan sweater from the 1970s (we think—the book includes a photo of a sweater quite a bit like this one).
Working with Wool is an examination of the Cowichan sweater traditions of the Coast Salish (British Columbia and northwestern Washington state), from their start as an extension of the blanket weaving that was central to their economy and society through the role knitting plays in modern life. Cowichan sweaters, distinctive in their motifs, construction, and yarn, became an important part of the Coast Salish economy for decades.
Olsen has had a long personal and professional connection to the Cowichan knitting tradition, and she tells the personal stories of a number of elderly knitters to illustrate the different ways knitting fit into their lives (I always prefer personal stories to general histories, so this suits me quite well!). This iconic design tradition has influenced many modern designers, and Olsen covers Starsky & Hutch, The Big Lewboswki, and other adaptations and discusses the effect mass market sweaters had on the handknitters. I love the many photographs and the historical, sociological, and economic depth Olsen provides. And I love her chapter entitled "We Sure Love Our Sweaters," about the emotional connections people make with their sweaters. As someone who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, I had the added joy of learning more about the place I call home.
Here's the central motif on my Cowichan sweater.
Close-up of the lovely handspun yarn!