crofthouse vest

I am an avid reader of the Fringe Association blog by Karen Templer and a few weeks ago I saw her post about a knit a long inspired by a Japanese pattern for a Cowichan style vest. As you know, I am interested in all types of traditional knitwear and Cowichan is no different. I have 2 vintage Cowichan cardigans, one I bought in Shetland from a charity shop and another I got off Etsy. I have a Japanese knitting book which I decided to use for pattern inspiration and I now I have a cowichan inspired finished vest!


This pattern on the cover was the one I wanted to try and make but I wasn’t sure about the teepee’s on the pattern. Some of Karens post’s have touched on some of the issues about Cowichan knitters and culture appropriation* when it comes to the knitwear and I wasn’t sure about how comfortable I would have felt when that is not in my culture.. especially since I wasn’t using a traditional pattern (although in all respects it is a good book – even better I’m sure if i could read it..) anyway..I had a think about it and I decided to switch out the teepees for crofthouses!


PicMonkey Collage2

I’m on a strict yarn diet at the moment so I decided to use the old J&S aran, sadly discontinued, held double, this makes a satisfyingly chunky yarn and it knit up nice and fast. And yes..I knit it back and forth so I purled Fair Isle – I KNOW, as a general rule I don’t do that, I’m not much a fan of purling in general and throw fair isle in the mix – bleuch. But actually it wasn’t too bad, the wool was pretty chunky so the horrible purling fair isle rows didn’t last too long

IMG_6875 IMG_6880 IMG_6878

I shared a few pictures of my progress on my instagram, ending with the vest on the board at the weekend:

PicMonkey Collage3

I actually quite enjoyed the construction and although the pattern and all the information is in japanese I just went for it and gave it a go, the hardest bit was incorporating the shaping and fair isle and purling so I make the top motifs a bit simpler so my brain didn’t explode. I ended up purchasing about 5 zips because I initially didnt measure it properly, so that final step was done on sunday, for the edging i just picked up 3 stitches for every 4 then cast off, the original has a crochet edging but I seriously cannot work a crochet hook to save my life so I’m pleased with how it came out.



PicMonkey Collage

My fourite part i think was the shawl collar, I really enjoyed the contruction of that and I understand it totally now so I will add it to more things, the weather is already cooling down a lot in Shetland so I think I will get a lot of wear out of my crofthouse vest!

Speak soon xxx

*as an aside, as a Shetlander I totally get it, there is nothing that annoys me more than seeing a design clearly just directly inspired by Shetland styles of knitting with no real care as to how that reflects on the people who’s actual culture this is. Naming a pattern after a random place in Shetland they’ve clearly never set foot on but merely googled is a sure fire way enrage me also. rant over. :)

33 thoughts on “crofthouse vest

  1. So then, how do designers who are not from Shetland but want to create a design using Shetland motifs go about it in an acceptable manner? While I love what you did with the vest, I think the croft houses are terrific, would you say that no one can knit a Cowichan pattern sweater unless they belong to the culture? Doesn’t that prevent the culture from being shared, appreciated, and knowledge forwarded? Just curious as to your answers as I think it’s an interesting point you raise. I would think knitting a piece from a specific culture would be a doorway into exploring that culture and understanding its history.

    1. I know what you mean and it is a tricky one to try and explain.. My issue is not with people knitting Shetland inspired things but *for example* there are a number of Rowan designs and designers who throw Shetland place names and sweeping statements about Shetland around in their pattern descriptions – especially when the construction is nothing like how Shetlanders would do it – not that there is anything wrong with that but I think as long as you are honest about how you came to be inspired no-one is going to have an issue with that. Sometimes people sort of look very patronizingly at Shetland – this post by Kate Davies sums it up for me: I was just having a peerie rant anyway, pay no attention. :)

    2. I really don’t understand why someone copying a design of another culture, with no malice or aim to make money off of it, is “showing disrespect”. The design was obvious once released to the public by that culture, or else how would we know of it. I would think that copying the design is a compliment to that culture that we found beauty in the design. I think this sociological jargon term of “cultural appropriation” is just more of the politically correct silliness of our times. It’s just knitting people!

      1. I agree Kathy, I have no issue with individuals being inspired but there are many books and patterns out there (who’s aim is to make money) that make sweeping and untrue statements about Shetland, its people, its dialect and its knitters. This means I am very aware of how I talk about other knitting cultures, I’m not saying anyone else has to feel that way, its just how I am.

      2. I am so torn by this issue, which I didn’t even realize was an issue in the knitting community. I would never try to pass off a Shetland piece as real Shetland because I am not of Shetland nor do I live there. But I would signal it as a Shetland inspired design worked with Shetland motifs. I would do the same for any other piece I made that was from a different culture than mine. I tend to think about it the way you do. However, what knocked my socks off was the sentiment that some do no want their culture shared, imitated, or the source of inspiration. I can’t wrap my mind around that kind of insular sentiment, although I would certainly respect it if told ahead of time.

      3. Chiming in again on this subject, as well as to agree with slippedstitches’ second comment. A few years back I got into Native American beadwork. I greatly admire the designs of the Plains & Southwestern Tribes Indians in the US & wanted to try my hand at it. On several sizes of bead looms, I graphed out many native designs & mounted them on fringed panels of leather & hung by thongs of leather. They were fun to make, but it never occurred to me to sell any, since I am not myself Native American. Just recently I held a rummage sale & decided to see if anyone would be interested in buying my beadwork as just ornaments to be hung, say, from their car’s rearview mirror or as just a dangling decoration. On my signage I specifically said the designs & beadwork were in the “Indian style”. I sold one design to a little boy who loved the design of an Indian kneeling by a campfire. I made sure that the grandfather who bought it knew it was not “Indian”. Later in my sale a Potowatamie Indian from a nearby reservation came to my sale & was quite taken, in a very positive way, with my work. She said I should try to sell them at her tribe’s spring pow wow. I told her that I wasn’t Indian but that I made them because I had admired the designs. She said no one would care that I wasn’t Indian & she reissued her invitation to sell at the next pow wow. (I don’t plan to do so.) So you never know what reaction you might get.

  2. I’m so glad I clicked through – I saw that pic of the pattern with the teepees in my feed and had that same “Uh-oh!” feeling you did. I was like “No. No, surely she didn’t knit something with teepees on?!” *click* I love the change to crofthouses. They look great!

    Slippedstitches – it’s a tricky question, and one that would ideally be answered by a person of Cowichan heritage, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us get a free pass to just ignore these questions of cultural appropriation. I think the pattern is designed by a non-Cowichan designer. So someone who is not Cowichan is making money off Cowichan designs. In the context of a history of exploitation of indigenous people, that’s problematic.

    This is not knitting-context-related, because I have no idea of Cowichan people’s attitude toward their traditional knitting motifs/designs, but it’s not the case that every culture wants their culture to be shared and appreciated by others outside that culture, or even certain groups within the culture. For instance, some Aboriginal groups have stories that can only be told/known by certain groups (only by women/ only by men/ only by initiated men/ only by certain skingroups, say). So it’s important to keep in mind that starting with a point of view that it is a positive thing to share/promote culutural knowledge so others can appreciate it is not a universal attitude.

    For some people, learning a story from that culture that is not yours to know would not be a doorway into that culture, but something hurtful and harmful to that culture. In a city I was living in a few years ago, street art of wandjinas started popping up. I heard an elder on the local radio explaining that they weren’t too sure who was painting them, but that wandjinas should only be painted by certain people (people with the cultural right to paint them), and the elder was concerned that something bad would either happen to the street artist or the cultural custodians who had failed to ‘protect’ the wandjina.

    1. Clare,I so agree with everything you’ve written and we all need to stop assuming we have a right to know everything and to share everything. Ethic and heritage are not always understood properly by someone outside of that group. I have great respect for protecting cultural jewels wether that is history or artifacts or even local stories. I am also very protective of others’ cultural heritage and rights. Thank you for very thoughtful comments.

  3. You did a wonderful job, love your vest!

    I totally understand your point. In the States, anyone who speaks Spanish is ‘Mexican’ and is expected to like and know about Mexican things…..I come from Colombia, a Spanish speaking country, never been in Mexico, have no relationship with it at all, there is no greater offense to me than to be profiled as one.
    ‘World Experts’ that have never set a foot outside their comfort zone annoy me to no end. It’s OK to use techniques from different cultures as long as we remain true to the facts.

  4. Hi Ella,
    Your vest looks amazing, I’d not heard of Cowichan knitting before and I can understand why you changed the motif….thank you for putting the link to the piece Kate wrote, just read it and found it very interesting.
    As an aside, it was right pippy here on Saturday and I spent the afternoon practicing my knitting while wearing one of the pairs of fingerless gloves I bought from you…my hands were kept marvellously warm xx

  5. Oh man! I saw your photos on IG while the vest was under construction, but I had no idea it was so awesome! LOVE the croft house change-up. Also, very much appreciate your rant.

  6. The Croft houses are great…… you did your own thing. I don’t know if the Mary Maxim Store is still operating out of Port Huron, Michigan, but years ago I saw one of their catalogues and they had Cowichan Kits to knit which could be ordered. Hmmmmmm…..I wonder how that affected the First Peoples. Port Huron is very close to the Canadian border so perhaps the sweaters made their way across the lake/bridge and thus became the “property” of anyone who wanted to knit them. It’s really a sticky subject!

  7. Well, well, well, I CANNOT :) imagine I hadn’t seen that post of Kate Davies as I am an AVID fan :) You did a great job on that vest and Karen Templer has quite good links to the culture of the Cowichen knitting tradition. 3 generations ago ‘my’ people left Scotland (Mckee’s) and I tell you that land is IN my blood. I am a Scottish trained midwife and not sure to this day why I didn’t stay there! by the way, I ordered the book, Real Shetland Yarns. Thanks.

  8. Its a very tricky subject! I think we all appropriate different aspects of other peoples cultures in terms of food, jewellery, craft etc. Consider exhibitions of different cultures at museums: we can buy replicas of gods, jewellery etc in the museum shops. It all boils down to respect. Personally, I think the croft houses references Cowichan knitting but respects it. Loved it.

  9. The vest you designed is an excellent twist on the Cowichen tradition. Like you it gets my ire up when everything that is knit with more than two colors is called FairIsle. Not everything is “Fair Isle” in the knitting world,and I wish the designers would stop calling it that. I’m from Norway,and as a Norwegian I see our patterns and ethnic influences called FairIsle when it is has nothing to do with FairIsle. How many of the world knitters have even been to FairIsle or Færøyene? Most wouldn’t even have a clue as to their location!!! Not to mention know even the slightest about my culture as well as theirs and this reflects on ALL designers who call patterned knits FairIsle. It’s disrespectful to my culture and to theirs. Stranded Knitting should be the appropriate name or Scandinavian knitting. Areas in my country have certain pattern sequences in their knitting that we can denote to pinpoint the area the knitting came from. Just as Shetlanders can pinpoint pattern origins. Bohus designers detest having their designs called FairIsle,Estonians are angered by the same,having their ethnic patterns described as FairIsle. Lets call it Stranded Knitting from ( country of origin) !!! I know that education is key but designers are to blame for like you say,inspired/copied designs called up after a place they have no real connection to.

  10. Hi Ella– here’s a related rant. :) There’s a 2012 book called _Aran Knits_ by Rowan designer Martin Storey that manages to use the (politically iffy and offensive to many Irish people) term “British Isles” repeatedly but doesn’t use the word “Irish” or “Ireland” once, despite the fact that Aran knitting comes from the Aran Islands in Ireland. This probably makes sense because many of the patterns, while containing cables, really have nothing specifically from the Aran Islands about them at all. But just like not all stranded color work is “Shetland” or “Fairisle,” not all cable work is “Aran.” Aran patterns are an earlyish-20th-century construct and not the ancient tradition that they were once promoted to be, but they’re still a 20th-century construct from the Aran Islands. I totally understand it if the consumer is ignorant of that kind of thing, but not the designer. I’m glad that Karen is aware of the issues of cultural appropriation of First Nations craft– by way of contrast, there are multiple levels of clueless appropriation in _Aran Knits._. OK– off my soapbox. :)

  11. Thank you so much for this post, Ella, and to everyone who has commented about the issues of culture and respect. I have been guilty of not thinking about the cultural or ethnic roots of designs and of thereby being disrespectful. I have learned an important lesson from all of the above. Thank you, again.

  12. Hi Ella,

    I grew up not far from the cowichan country and have seen lots of Teepees …the ones in the chart are definitely suspect and suggest a Japanese version. Your croft house is magnificent. Are you still doing the croft cushions….if so I would love to have one. If not is it okay if I try to do one myself. It is a very special idea and would be a wonderful reminder of my happy days in the Shetland Islands last summer. Thanks,,,gail roche.

  13. Your are right. I got so excited about your vest and would like to make it to match the Lerwick hat that Plucky Knitter posted. The charting will certainly be a challenge but the rewards…. My daughter and I were on the Amy Detgen knitting tour that visited in late September. Headed right for the thrift stores the next day and scored some nice wool accessories . Stayed in the Apex next to Armstrong’s in Edinburgh and got some nice sweaters there also. Have followed you for some time and you were exactly as I pictured you in person. May be going to Iceland in Spring with Amy so will keep your blog for reference. Loved, loved Shetland and hope to come back soon.

    Sandy Christian

  14. Ella, the sweater is just lovely and the croft houses just the right Shetland touch! In reading the other comments I must agree with Jan Bruce in believing that all must be done with respect for the people, their work and their culture. We have so much to learn from each other and our time together so brief.

  15. I love your Croft House Cowichan style vest!! You’ve taken the best of the Cowichan design & made it your own in a delightful way – I think any Knitter would be very happy to see what you’ve done. Native Knitters don’t mind you copying their designs for yourself but they do resent you marketing your copies as ‘genuine’ ‘Cowichan’ sweaters.
    That icky tee-pee design is NOT something any Cowichan knitter would put on a sweater – ever. They use snow flakes, leaves, animals, waves, geometric designs drawn from nature & everyday life. That tee-pee design is something made up by the Japanese & the name is probably a copyright infringement.

    1. I came here to say exactly this! First Nations peoples of the Great Plains traditionally lived in teepees. The Salish peoples traditionally lived primarily in enormous and impressive longhouses. Not the same culture, or people, at all. It shows a total disregard and lack of respect for the cultures at hand because it supports this Super Americana view of the 1950s “Cowboys and Indians” — it’s actually really subtle racism that the designer hasn’t even grasped they’re promoting. I don’t care if someone thinks I’m overreacting. I’m a professional anthropologist who deals with tribal politics and culture on a regular basis. Anyone I talk to who identifies as being Native would agree it’s not on-board. Don’t get me started on calling it “Canadian” — Salish culture was systematically destroyed by “Canada”, along with thousands of other First Nations cultures, until really recently (the 1990s).

      Gr. :)

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