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In MOA’s Drawers: Cowichan Sweater (Unfinished)

At the Museum of Anthropology, there are over 8,000 pieces of textile fibre arts in our collections, making it the largest such collection in Western Canada. The history of textiles, clothing and garments dates as far back as 100,000 years or even more, and MOA’s collection ranges from the ancient to the contemporary. Within this collection are magnificent pieces made primarily by women from around the world. As “women’s work,” textiles have often been subject to gendered criteria that define sculpture and painting as art, but not weaving. Since the first cloth was made, however, women have stitched and woven humanity’s history into memory, conveying spiritual beliefs, social and political status, and expressions of self-identity and culture.

Cowichan Sweater (Unfinished)

Eva Williams, 1985, Coast Salish: Quwutsun’

The iconic Cowichan sweater is the synthesis of European textile techniques and Coast Salish spinning and weaving, a practice that dates back millennia. The sweaters are made by Quwutsun’ community members in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island and by other Coast Salish women. From 1885 to 1951, ceremonial practices of the Indigenous peoples in Canada were banned by the federal government, but at some Indian residential schools, young girls were taught European knitting. After the potlatch ban ended, the government encouraged Indigenous women to sell their goods to create new economic opportunities, and the practice of knitting and selling Cowichan sweaters to locals and tourists alike flourished. This unfinished sweater was purchased in 1985 from knitter Eva Williams to demonstrate how the sweaters are made.

Find me: Case 4, Drawer 4.

MOA collection: 1147/1. Photo by Kyla Bailey.