Canada is well-known for its harsh winters. While snow and extreme temperatures are hallmarks of winters inland, coastal regions face the additional unpleasantness of a penetrating dampness. Even temperate zones where snow is rare aren’t immune to the bone-chilling cold.
When fishing crews began crossing the Atlantic from Europe to fish off Newfoundland, a key part of their gear was the wool gansey. These handknit sweaters were made according to local custom, with stitching patterns unique to the place where they were made. Designed for work and frequent repair, they kept the men warm while working and wind and moisture out. The high lanolin content wicked away moisture.
On the opposite side of the country, the Cowichan people of Vancouver Island wove blankets to protect themselves from the winter storms rolling in off the Pacific Ocean. Woven from the hairs of mountain goats and Salish wool dogs, they also featured patterns unique to their villages and heritage. With the coming of settlers from Europe in the 19th century, the blankets were joined by the new items of toques and sweaters. Just as blankets were traded, their handmade wool sweaters became valuable and iconic items.
By the early 20th century, yearning for simpler times made the humble sweater a fashionable item. Whether as pullovers or open-front cardigans, handmade wool sweaters in traditional patterns were essential accessories. Cowichan clothing began attracting interest and gave traditional craftspeople opportunities to earn income. The high-quality craftsmanship of the thickly woven cardigan sweaters gained wide appeal and became a popular and cherished part of the country’s design heritage. They continue to inspire clothing makers today.
Handmade wool sweaters? Canada stands alongside Scotland and the Nordic countries with custom knit sweaters with global appeal. Family-owned and operated, Kanata Knits is proud to stand in this tradition of quality and excellence.