Unravelling Canada: A Knitting Odyssey

Douglas & McIntyre. Sept. 2021. 224p. ISBN 9781771622868. pap. $22.95. TRAV
This craft history–slash–road trip tale details knitter and YA novelist Olsen’s (A Different Game) 2015 cross-country jaunt through Canada. Her frame of reference for knitting is the iconic Cowichan sweater, created by First Nations women in the early 20th century. Olsen spent 35 years raising her family on Canada’s west coast, in the ancestral lands of the Cowichan Tribes and among Cowichan sweater knitters. Readers will appreciate Olsen’s no-nonsense discussion of Canada’s dark history of systemic racism against First Nations peoples, and how this has affected their knitting. Interspersed among descriptions of communities and yarn shops in places like Saskatoon and Sioux Lookout are short stories gathered from workshop participants, many of whom brought a Cowichan sweater for Olsen to examine and date. One story in particular illustrates Olsen’s ideas about strict tradition versus the sharing of ideas that she claims has always been a part of Canadian knitting: a young immigrant woman from India describes how she settled in Vancouver in the 1970s and, with her family, knit hundreds of Cowichan sweaters to sell to tourists.
VERDICT Far from being a purist, Olsen delights in the evidence she finds of cross-cultural exchange and creativity and concludes that borrowing and sharing among traditions is what ties Canada together. Recommended.
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